Many of my female friends complain about having poor memory after they went into menopause. There’s been lots of conjecture that these cognitive issues – as well as mood swings – may be due to changing hormone levels. But is that true?
A new study out of Stanford University looked at the effect of hormones on cognition. This study involved 643 healthy women who were not using hormone therapy. These women were divided into two groups. The first group had gone through menopause less than six years when the study started while the second group had made this transition more than 10 years before.
The researchers looked at whether differences in hormones in women after menopause may influence the brain’s cognition as well as a woman’s mood. They also wanted to see if the effects differ in women who had more recently gone through the menopausal transition as opposed to the ones who went through much later.
The study participants took part in a comprehensive neuropsychological battery and also were assed with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The women were took a serums of estrone, progesterone, testosterone, estradiol and binding globulin. The researchers looked at a variety of cognitive aspects, including verbal episodic memory, executive functions and global cognition.
They found that binding globulin was associated with better verbal memory; progesterone concentrations were positively associated with verbal memory and global cognition in the women who had gone through the menopausal transition more recently. Also, the results for the two groups did not differ significantly.
So what does this all mean? First of all, you may want to reconsider using hormone therapy as a way to protect your brain as it ages. "These study findings provide further evidence that a woman's decision about hormone therapy use during early postmenopause should be made independently of considerations about thinking abilities," said Dr. Victor Henderson, a professor of neurology and neurological science at Stanford University, who was the lead researcher.
Since this research suggests removing this therapy from your “tool kit,” what other options should you focus on to maintain your cognitive abilities. Here are some suggestions:
- Exercise! More and more research such as the study I recently wrote about is coming out that backs the idea that exercising – especially aerobic exercise -- can improve cognitive ability and actually cause parts of the brain to grow larger. Just taking a brisk walk 30 minutes a day on most days of the week can provide some protection.
- Sleep. Getting sound sleep nightly is really important to protecting your brain’s ability to function. Research has found that periods of deep sleep are the intervals when the toxins are swept out of the brain.
- Eat a Mediterranean diet. Research also has found that this type of diet – which focuses on fruits, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, and healthy oils.
- Lower your stress level. Stress has a toxic effect on the brain. Therefore, regularly finding ways to relax – whether it’s yoga, meditation, guided breathing, or a calming bubble bath – can not only calm your body, but can also protect your brain.
- Challenge yourself mentally. Exercise is as important for your brain as your body. Everyone recommends reading and crosswords as ways to protect your brain. Those are great, but I also think that it’s important to do things that challenge other parts of your brain. For instance, I started learning to knit, but have put that off a bit since I’m trying to finish graduate school. But another hobby that I’ve taken on in the past few years is geocaching, which causes you to have to use navigational skills and many of your senses to find a “treasure.”
- Socialize. Staying engaged with family members and friends also protects your brain.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Henderson, V. W., et al. (2013). Cognition, mood, and physiological concentrations of sex hormones in the early and late postmenopause. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
MedlinePlus. (2013). Estrogen won’t make women sharper after menopause.
Published On: November 27, 2013