The brain is clearly a very complex organ, so there is much that can go wrong. We know from research that brain function does decline as we get into our 50s and this accelerates into our 60s. During peri-menopause and after the menopause, oestrogen levels fluctuate and eventually decline. Since there are oestrogen receptors in the brain, cognitive function is going to be affected.
It’s also important to note that any nutrient deficiencies are going to exacerbate symptoms. As we approach mid-life, these deficiencies become more noticeable and encourage brain fog and other cognitive issues.
The good news is that by plugging some of these gaps and using the power of nature, there’s much that can be done.
The brain is an incredibly fatty organ, with high levels of omega-3 fats in the membranes. They are essential for the first moment of life and that significance doesn’t diminish as we get older. We also know from our National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) how deficient we are as a nation in omega-3s, and this is only magnified during menopause, worsening symptoms.
Omega-3 fats are also needed for hormonal balance, therefore are going to be super-helpful during the menopause years. The best source of omega-3s is fish oil, so eating oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines is great although many people don’t like fish or are vegan. Therefore, taking a fish oil supplement is needed if you can, or eat plenty of flaxseeds which are a great source of omega-3 fats.
One of the busy family of B-vitamins, B12 fulfils a vital function in the nervous system but also in the production of red blood cells. From a biochemical perspective, vitamin B12 is essential for some of our most complex mechanisms (one being methylation) which is also key for brain function.
Absorption of B12 is often impaired if the gut microbiome isn’t optimal (which is common). Additionally, B12 is a water-soluble vitamin so is easily excreted from the body. If you’re suffering from anxiety and brain fog, then try to increase foods rich in B12, being meat, fish, cheese and eggs. Unfortunately, if you’re vegan it’s difficult to get sufficient B12 without supplementation. Even if not vegan, taking a supplement of vitamin B12 may help cognitive menopausal symptoms.
Choline is an essential brain nutrient that works rather like the B-vitamins. It’s essential in nerve transmission, communicating between the nerves and muscles but also plays a key role in memory, mood and concentration. Again, if anxiety is causing an issue, then choline could help.
Interestingly, pre-menopause, oestrogen triggers the gene that codes for choline production, but as oestrogen levels decline, then so does choline. The body does make choline but sometimes more is required. It’s widely available in foods, with eggs being a great source, but it’s also available in beans and cruciferous vegetables.