How to keep cognition strong during perimenopause and beyond
Did you know that estrogen has an influence on how your brain functions? Estrogen impacts various regions of the brain involved in learning, registering, and retrieving information for judgment and language. In short, your estrogen production has a direct effect on your cognitive abilities.
So, it’s no wonder that when dealing with perimenopause, many women feel like their brains aren’t working anymore. There are many published reports and studies regarding the clinical effects of perimenopause on cognitive and physical health. As you go through perimenopause, your body's production of estrogen rises and falls. Those changes don’t just manifest in physical symptoms, they can also leave you feeling “crazy.”
But don’t lose hope! You have more agency over your body than perimenopause leads you to believe. With some simple lifestyle changes that support your mind and body health, you can support your overall cognitive function for an easier, less maddening, perimenopause experience.
1. Prioritize Sleep
Life can get pretty hectic, and our sleep hygiene is the first thing we sacrifice to make time for all our obligations. However, skipping out on hours of zzz’s will leave you less capable of doing your daily duties in the end. Sleep is your brain’s time to unplug and organize itself after a day’s worth of information processing. Without it, your brain is still recovering from your previous day while taking on a whole new one, leaving it indebted as far as energy goes. Over time, that debt grows until you’re facing total cognitive burn-out. And it’s not like you can make up for it by oversleeping another day. One study showed that cognitive decline occurs in those who sleep too little (under six hours), as well as too much (over nine hours.) Your best bet is to have set times every night to lie down and every morning to get up and you consistently honor and prioritize them. Keeping a regular schedule that your mind can rely on helps it run like a well-oiled machine.
2. Exercise Physically and Mentally
Is there anything physical exercise can’t do? In addition to helping you feel and look great physically, it also keeps your mind in its best shape! In one small recent study, women who engaged in a greater amount of physical activity performed better on several tests of memory and brain function than those who were more sedentary. But don’t make the mistake of limiting exercise to just the physical—it’s important to implement mental exercise into your daily routine. While your brain isn’t a muscle, it does benefit from regular work the way that muscles do. The good news is that mental exercise is typically enjoyable. It can be as simple as listening to music or as difficult as learning a new instrument. The important thing is to try new experiences and have fun with them.
3. Nourish Your Brain
Adding enough of the right healthy fats into your diet can give your brain the fuel it needs to function while dealing with hormonal fluctuations. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for being brain-boosting nutrients. Studies found that an increase in long-chain omega-3s in the brain reduces inflammatory cytokines, which may improve neurotransmitter function overall. The most common source of omega-3 fatty acids is fatty fish like salmon or tuna, but you can also find them in plant-based foods including flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale. Speaking of greens, you’re going to want to increase your intake of these veggies, regardless, as they are packed with folate, another brain-nourishing nutrient that can help you navigate through perimenopause. If you love curry (and who doesn’t?), you’re in luck. Curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that improve memory, mood, and overall cognitive function.
4. See Red (With Moderation!)
Oooh nooo! Not an excuse to drink red wine! If you twist my arm, I guess!
We’re pretty stoked about this one, too. As it turns out, the resveratrol you get from drinking two glasses of red wine a week helps prevent memory loss and improves overall cognitive function. Of course, two glasses a week is hardly a bacchanal, but that’s the point—overdo it with alcohol and those benefits go out the window. Through scientific study, we can say, without a doubt, that heavy drinking beyond three or more drinks a day increases cognitive impairment and can even increase the risk of dementia. So, drink with your health in mind, and keep it moderate while sticking with resveratrol-containing red wine.
5. Maintain Your Microbiome
There is a direct link between your mind and your stomach—and we’re not just talking about when you feel hangry. The gut-brain axis (or GBA) is the “bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.” Long story short: if your good gut bacteria are out-of-whack, you’re going to feel that mentally, whether it be an increase in depression symptoms, lack of emotional regulation, or just general brain fog. And when you’re going through perimenopause, changes in estrogen production don’t just affect your cognitive abilities, they can also cause imbalances in your gut bacteria. By maintaining the health of your microbiome through probiotic and prebiotic supplementation, you help reverse these imbalances and restore your body and mind to a homeostatic state.