Diet and Brain Health at Menopause
Declining oestrogen levels at menopause can lead to changes in brain health, resulting in psychological symptoms of menopause. Fortunately, simple dietary habits can help. Read on to find out more.
Menopause and brain health
Hormonal changes at menopause affect not only physical health, but mental health too. Symptoms can range from brain fog, depression and poor concentration, to loss of joy and panic attacks, and be just as debilitating as physical symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. Emerging evidence suggests many physiological symptoms are temporary through a woman’s menopause journey, and can resolve as hormone fluctuations settle.
Poor sleep experienced by many women throughout menopause can also contribute towards changes in cognition and emotional wellbeing.
A range of hormonal and non-hormonal treatment options are available to help emotional wellbeing at menopause. These can be prescribed by a British Menopause Society accredited specialist doctor, or a knowledgeable healthcare professional. However, if you are concerned in any way about your brain health, speak to your GP in the first instance.
Other factors that can affect brain health
In addition to changes that occur because of menopause, the natural process of ageing can also affect the brain. Certain areas of the brain may shrink, resulting in cognitive decline, such as your ability to learn new tasks (1). Communication between neurons, the pathways that allow signals to travel around the brain, may also become less effective in certain parts of the brain (1).
While menopause and ageing can’t be prevented, there are many factors affecting brain health that can be controlled. Smoking, excessive alcohol intake, poor sleep, a lack of exercise and a diet high in sugar, salt and processed foods can all contribute towards poor brain health.
How can diet help look after my brain health?
Eating well is essential for good health throughout a woman’s menopause journey, and the following dietary choices will also support brain function:
Eat oily fish
Oily fish contains omega 3, which is a polyunsaturated fat. Omega 3 has many roles in supporting brain health, including protecting against neurodegeneration, supporting brain cell growth, and supporting the ability for the brain to adapt. Additionally, omega 3 helps to reduce levels of bad LDL cholesterol in blood vessels, helping to support good blood flow to the brain.
Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, and trout, and should be eaten at least once a week to give the body what it needs.
Plant-based sources of omega 3 include chia seeds or flaxseeds. However, these plant-based sources must be consumed daily, in comparison to oily fish just once each week.
Fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants, which help to fight against harmful oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation and negative changes in the brain (2).
Significantly, fruit and vegetables contain antioxidant compounds known as polyphenols, as well as vitamins and minerals. Polyphenols are compounds found in plants. They are not officially vitamin or mineral, but offer a wide range of potential health benefits, including neurodegenerative diseases.
Aim to eat a rainbow of coloured fruits and vegetables. The colours reflect the nutrients found within each fruit and vegetable.
Limit processed foods
Diets high in sugar, salt and processed foods have been associated with negative changes to brain health. Processed foods such as bacon, sausages, ready meals, crisps, biscuits, and readymade sauces and cakes typically all have added sugar and salt.
Try to reduce processed foods. Swap snacks such as crisps, cakes and biscuits for nuts, yoghurt and oat cakes. Additionally, try to prepare more meals from scratch using lean cuts of meat and chicken, rather than those that have been processed.
The brain is made up of 75% water, so good hydration is essential for brain health (3). Water also helps transfer nutrients across brain cells. Some research also suggests that severe dehydration can negatively impact cognition (4, 5).
Current guidelines recommend adults drink at least 6-8 glasses of fluid each day. This can include water, flavoured water, sugar free squash, tea, herbal tea, coffee, and milk. Sugary drinks, fizzy drinks, and alcohol should be limited.
There are many factors that can affect brain health, including menopause. However, adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, staying hydrated and consuming brain beneficial foods such as oily fish, fruits, and vegetables can help.
- Lambert, R. (2021) The Science of Nutrition: Debunk the Diet Myths and Learn How to Eat Well for Health and Happiness
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