Many women who go through menopause complain about brain fog. They describe their thinking as getting rusty and notice gaps in their mental abilities. It seems like many health care professionals have discounted these cognitive issues, but a new study suggests that some women – especially those who go through menopause prematurely – may indeed be experiencing some cognitive issues.
A new study out of France involving 4,868 women looked at menopause and cognitive function. The researchers used cognitive tests to determine the participants’ mental status and also to determine if any of the women had dementia at the start of the study. The participants were then reassessed at the two-year, four-year and seven-year mark. Additionally, researchers took into account whether the study participants went through a natural or surgical menopause and whether they used hormone replacement therapy.
The researchers found that 78 percent of the participants went through a natural menopausal transition. Ten percent had a surgical menopause, which happens when both ovaries are removed surgically. The remaining 11 percent said they entered menopause because of other reasons, such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Additional analysis found that 7.6 percent of the participants had a premature menopause when they were 40 years of age or younger. An additional 12.8 percent were found to have entered an early menopause when they were between the ages of 41 and 45. More than one in five women used hormone therapy while going through this transition.
In comparing the participants who experienced menopause after the age of 50 and those who went through the menopausal transition prematurely, the researchers found that the women who went through the transition prematurely had more than a 40-percent increased risk of worse performance on assessments of verbal fluency and visual memory. Additionally, an earlier menopause was associated with a 35-percent higher risk of decline in coordination between the brain and the body’s muscles when making a movement. This group also experienced lower overall cognitive function during the seven-year period.
The researchers also found that premature ovarian failure as well as premature menopause caused by surgery were associated with more than two-times higher risk of poor verbal fluency. Premature ovarian failure and premature surgical menopause also were linked to a significantly increased risk of poor performance in visual memory. Interestingly, the researchers did not find a significant association between early menopause and the risk of dementia.
So what about hormone therapy? Researchers found pros and cons. When used at the time of premature menopause, researchers found some evidence that hormone replacement therapy may help improve visual memory; however, they also found that this therapy also could increase the risk of poor verbal fluency.
“Both premature surgical menopause and premature ovarian failure were associated with long-term negative effects on cognitive function, which are not entirely offset by menopausal hormone treatment,” said Dr. Joanne Ryan, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hospital La Colombiere in Montellier, France, who was a part of this study. “In terms of surgical menopause, our results suggest that the potential long-term effects on cognitive function should form part of the decision-making process when considering ovariectomy in younger women.”
So what should you do if you have gone (or are going) through an early menopause? I’d suggest that you embrace the lifestyle options that are encouraged for people who are worried about dementia. These include:
- Improve your diet. Researchers have found that a Mediterranean diet is tied to brain health. Therefore, I’d encourage you to follow it closely. Try to eat more produce and fish while consuming less red meat and processed foods. Use good fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado) and avoid high-fat options (such as full-fat dairy). Add whole grains, beans and legumes to your plate regularly.
- Get regular exercise. Opt for exercises that will get your blood pumping (which are also good for your heart).
- Control stress. Try meditation or yoga to control stress.
- Build nurturing and supportive relationships.
- Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and do new things that stretch your brain. Instead of just doing crosswords, try Sudoku, delve into a new language, or learn how to knit. All of these will exercise different parts of your brain, thus building new connections that can protect your cognitive abilities long-term.
Primary Source for This Sharepost:
BJOG. (2014). Study examines premature menopause and the effects on later life cognition.
Womenshealth.gov. (2010). Early menopause (premature menopause).
Published On: May 13, 2014