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Menopause and Brain Fitness — Crisis or Just Change?

The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle ran an inter­est­ing sto­ry the oth­er day that address­es a num­ber of com­mon per­cep­tions about menopause. The one that caught our atten­tion is:

The hor­mon­al changes of menopause turn your brain to mush.
Unproven. There is some evi­dence that women with low estro­gen lev­els expe­ri­ence faster cog­ni­tive decline, and women who take estro­gen sup­ple­ments some­times do bet­ter on cer­tain mem­o­ry tests. But the evi­dence is incon­sis­tent. Accord­ing to the Women’s Health Ini­tia­tive, women old­er than 65 who took Prem­pro had a high­er risk of get­ting Alzheimer’s dis­ease and oth­er forms of demen­tia than women tak­ing dum­my pills. Oth­er stud­ies, how­ev­er, have sug­gest­ed that estro­gen use pro­tects against Alzheimer’s if it’s start­ed near the onset of menopause. Some experts now believe estro­gen can pro­tect both the brain and the heart if it’s start­ed ear­ly, before age-relat­ed dete­ri­o­ra­tion sets in, but not after that win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty clos­es.


A lon­gi­tu­di­nal study pub­lished in 2003 also con­clud­ed menopause does not cause cog­ni­tive decline. Sci­ence Blog quotes:

The study is impor­tant because it shows that there is lit­tle or no risk for imme­di­ate mem­o­ry loss dur­ing per­i­menopause,” said Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Med­ical and Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­so­ry Coun­cil, and direc­tor, Far­ber Insti­tute for the Neu­ro­sciences of Thomas Jef­fer­son Uni­ver­si­ty.

On the oth­er hand, an Octo­ber 2006 pub­li­ca­tion, found that longer treat­ment with estro­gen hor­mone replace­ment ther­a­py (HRT) in post­menopausal women pro­tect­ed neu­rons in the hip­pocam­pus against age-relat­ed cog­ni­tive decline. Anoth­er recent pub­li­ca­tion in Menopause con­cludes that tim­ing is every­thing.

Pro­fes­sor Alas­tair MacLen­nan said, “This study has shown us that using HRT ear­ly in menopause, or even just before the final men­stru­al peri­od, result­ed in bet­ter cog­ni­tive per­for­mance lat­er in life than in women of sim­i­lar age and back­ground who had nev­er used HRT.

”How­ev­er, start­ing HRT many years after menopause was not asso­ci­at­ed with any cog­ni­tive ben­e­fit.“

A great post by iqte.st based on an arti­cle from the APA points out:

While nobody thinks women should take hor­mones to improve their brain health, doc­tors say women who choose hor­mones to relieve hot flash­es should be reas­sured by recent news that hor­mones may help boost think­ing skills. And Dr. Joffe notes that every­one, whether it’s a woman dur­ing menopause or a man jug­gling mul­ti­ple respon­si­bil­i­ties, can take active steps to improve their dai­ly cog­ni­tive func­tion. The main rea­son peo­ple feel like their mem­o­ry or think­ing skills are slip­ping is usu­al­ly due to lack of atten­tion, she says. If some­thing is impor­tant, take the time to repeat it, write it down and make sure the infor­ma­tion is reg­is­ter­ing in your brain.

What can you do to stay men­tal­ly sharp?
The good news is whether or not you and your doc­tor decide to go with hor­mone replace­ment ther­a­py, lifestyle choic­es like exer­cise, nutri­tion­al man­age­ment, and brain exer­cise can help alle­vi­ate the symp­toms of menopause and aging. If you feel men­tal­ly fuzzy, try var­i­ous strate­gies for deal­ing with weak atten­tion or try some of the brain fit­ness pro­grams out there that specif­i­cal­ly work on increas­ing atten­tion and mem­o­ry.

Relat­ed Links
50 Ways to Cope With Menopause by Dr. Lin­da Hughey Holt and Ada P. Kahn
North Amer­i­can Menopause Soci­ety
Inter­view with Dr. Torkel Kling­berg, researcher in work­ing mem­o­ry
-Car­o­line

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5 Responses

  1. Angie says:

    “The study is impor­tant because it shows that there is lit­tle or no risk for imme­di­ate mem­o­ry loss dur­ing perimenopause,” said Sam Gandy, M.D.,

    I am 31 now and I was just learn­ing more about the symp­toms of per­i­menopause (http://www.perimenopause-symptoms.info/)
    I don’t know much about it yet. But your thy­roid arti­cle puts me at ease some.
    This is an inter­est­ing site by the way. I have nev­er heard of brain fit­ness. I will have to look around.…Maybe work out my brain
    Thank you

  2. Caroline says:

    Wel­come Ang­ie! We’re glad you found us! There is a lot of con­fus­ing infor­ma­tion about per­i­menopause — the infor­ma­tion we have needs to be clar­i­fied with more research. A great book that is quite read­able is The Female Brain by Louanne Brizin­dine, MD. She describes the var­i­ous research stud­ies done, as well as the pros and cons of dif­fer­ent types of treat­ment for symp­toms.

    Hap­py read­ing!

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