3 Steps to Help Menopausal Women Protect Their Brain

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Last month I wrote about the conflicting news about soy products, which many women try as they go through menopause to protect against various health issues such as blood pressure, breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, gone health, coronary artery function and hot flashes. Soy appears to protect against some of these conditions, but not others. Now a new study out of Stanford University has found that daily soy supplements do not improve the overall thinking abilities of older women.


    MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine, reported on the study, which is called the Women’s Isoflavone Soy Health Trial and was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, followed 350 postmenopausal women who were between the ages of 45 and 92 for two-and-one-half years. The women were randomly assigned to two groups. Once group took 25 grams of soy protein a day while the other consumed a milk protein placebo.

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    The researchers evaluated the women’s thinking skills using a battery of tests at the start of the study. The assessment included verbal memory, visual memory, and placing letters and numbers in sequence. The women’s thinking skills were then reassessed at the end of the study. The scientists did not find a difference in overall mental abilities between the group that took soy protein and the group that took a milk protein placebo. However, a secondary analysis showed that women on soy did experience improvement in one area - visual memory. While earlier studies suggested soy may assist with executive function (decision making and planning), the Stanford study did not have a similar finding. The researchers did find that consuming soy did not harm thinking skills.


    So if you’re worried about your thinking skills, what can you do to protect your brain? Here are some tips:

    • Eat a Mediterranean diet. This type of diet involves lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, whole grains, and monosaturated fats. The Los Angeles Times reported back in February on a study found this type of diet may decrease the chance of small vessel damage in the brain. It also lowers your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The study followed 966 people who, on average, were 72 years old. The participants completed a food questionnaire and had a magnetic resonance imaging session that measured white matter hyperintensity volume that can be an indicator of small vessel damage. The researchers found that consuming a Mediterranean diet was linked with less white matter hyperintensity volume, even when they controlled for smoking, physical activity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
    • Exercise. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends physical exercise between it maintains healthy blood flow to the brain and encourages new brain cells. Exercise also significantly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The association recommends regular aerobic activity, which improves oxygen consumption and reduces brain cell loss. Recommended activities include walking, gardening, tai chi, yoga, bicycling or another activity for at least 30 minutes per day.
    • Ease stress. A study out of Yale University found that stressful life events such as a divorce or job loss can reduce gray matter in brain regions that regulate emotion and psychological functions, even in healthy individuals. The researchers did brain imaging studies of more than 100 healthy participants and found that changes in the brain are apparent soon after the stressful event occurs. These changes may also warn of future psychiatric disorders and chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Stress also has been linked to changes in brain structure and function in animal testing and to addiction, depression and anxiety in humans. The researchers noted that brain function can improve if the stress is dealt with in a healthy manner; however, if not eased, stress can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health.

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  • Alzheimer’s Association. (N.D.). Stay physical active.

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    Hathaway, B. (2012). Even in the healthy, stress causes brain to shrink, Yale study shows. YaleNews.


    MedlinePlus. (2012). Study finds soy supplements don’t boost thinking skills. U.S. National Library of Medicine.


    Stein. J. (2012). A Mediterranean diet may promote brain health: study. Los Angeles Times.

Published On: June 12, 2012