One of the most disturbing aspects of menopause for some women are memory loss, difficulty word finding, times of brain fog, and remembering. What was that movie I saw last week? Where did I leave my car keys?…..For some women these moments can expand into more serious cognitive decline in the form of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“In the next three minutes while you read this, 3 people will develop Alzheimer’s. Two of them will be women.” Dr Lisa Mosconi
Does that land for you? It does for me. Sex is the biggest risk factor; women outnumber men 2:1 in Alzheimer’s disease in the US (1). Neurodegeneration is NOT inevitable as we age and the question NOT being asked is why are women more vulnerable especially in perimenopause and menopause?
As we transit out of menopause to the “other side” and into the wisdom years, gals we need our brains fully on board to live joyful and satisfying lives As Dr Libby Weaver says in her new book, The Invisible Load women are the “rememberers” of their family.
We think that Alzheimer’s develops later in life but in reality, the changes in the brain start in women much earlier. To manage the epidemic of neurodegenerative disease we need to optimally nourish our brain. Genetics also play a part, along with how we rest, manage stress, move and connect.
“When women are in their 40s and 50s, there seems to be a critical window of opportunity to detect metabolic signs of higher Alzheimer’s risk …menopause causes metabolic changes in the brain that seem to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dr Lisa Mosconi.
Dr Mosconi, Neuroscientist and the author of Brain Food and the XX Brain is leading the world in researching womens’ brains. In peri/menopause, 80% of women experience some kind of symptoms that are brain related – memory problems, hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, brain fog, depression, increased susceptibility to stress, anxiety. These symptoms all start in the brain.
Dr Mosconi has highlighted the role estrogen plays as the master regulator of brain activity via stimulating glucose uptake and metabolism in the brain. As estrogen drops in menopause, a woman’s brain has substantially lower brain activity – more than 30 percent less! (2)
Lower metabolic activity equates simply to lower brain activity and a greater chance of memory, brain fog, mood issues, cognitive decline and increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
So how do you get around this problem of estrogen decline in menopause and less availability of glucose for brain activity in menopause? You can go a few ways here – take HRT or bio identical hormone replacement or try natural approaches including diet, herbs and lifestyle. One of the obvious choices is switch your primary fuel source from sugar to fat!
Fat for Fuel
Ketones, produced in the liver by fatty acids found in foods you eat or from your fat stores – YESSS! – are clean sources of fuel that can power your brain beautifully. A diet high in quality fat, adequate, uncompromising quality protein and low in carbs can trigger your body into a state of ketosis.
Becoming fat adapted, burning fat instead of carbs as your preferential fuel supply can protect your brain and body from ageing, assist weight loss, lift brain fog, improve sleep, mood, clarity and memory. It’s a plant based diet where the majority of the volume of the food on your plate comes from vegetables and where the majority of the calories come from fat.
So far there seems to be no rigorous research that validate the benefits of ketosis for menopause. Yet. But anecdotal studies abound here (3). The Mediterranean diet is the most researched approach which shows women’s brains looked younger on a mediterranean diet. Telomeres are caps on the end of chromosomes and are biological indicators of ageing. In the study telomeres were three times longer in those women eating a Mediterranean diet (4)
10 of the Best Brain Foods
Three brain facts that inform our food choices
- The brain is made of fat; from the fats we eat (especially those found in sustainably sourced animal products DHA and AA).
- It has the lowest antioxidant capacity of any organ.
- 80% of the brain is made up of water but chews through 20% of our total calories.
Here is the equation:
good quality fats + brightly coloured plants + plenty of filtered water = a healthier brain.
Include foods like:
- Dark green leafy veg – especially broccoli, cauliflower, rocket, mustard greens
- Berries – blueberries, blackberries
- Deep sea sustainable fish – Ora King salmon
- Bone broth
- Grass fed and finished organic meat
- Organic eggs
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 85% dark chocolate