Understanding Menopause Symptoms and Preparing for Their Impact on Brain Health

by Ella

Menopause, the natural biological process marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years, affects roughly half of the world’s female population if they live long enough. However, despite its prevalence, this crucial stage in a woman’s life remains shrouded in mystery within the realm of women’s health.


At the heart of menopause’s defining moment lies a drop in hormonal levels, primarily estrogen, driving the gradual reduction and eventual cessation of fertility. Yet, the experience of menopause extends beyond changes in the reproductive organs, encompassing a broad spectrum of symptoms, including hot flashes, brain fog, mood swings, exhaustion, and sleep disturbances, during the perimenopausal phase leading up to menopause.


Interestingly, it was not until relatively recently, in 1996, that researchers unveiled the profound influence of estrogen on the brain, a revelation that came decades after men’s lunar landing.


Lisa Mosconi, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience and the Director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, and her team embarked on a groundbreaking journey to explore the effects of menopause on women’s brains. They conducted brain imaging studies involving over 160 women aged 40 to 65, spanning the spectrum from premenopausal (still experiencing regular menstrual cycles) to perimenopausal and postmenopausal (having ceased menstruation for over a year).


What they discovered was nothing short of remarkable and groundbreaking: women’s brains undergo a process of remodeling during menopause, characterized by areas shrinking, others expanding, and regions undergoing rewiring. While Mosconi’s findings were initially published in Nature Scientific Reports in 2021, her research database continues to expand with additional women’s brain scans.

Mosconi emphasized that menopause is just one phase, the third of what she calls the “three P’s” — the three major phases the female brain undergoes in life: puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause. While these phases are often perceived differently culturally and socially, they share significant commonalities from a neurological and brain perspective, encompassing substantial changes not only in the body but also in the brain.

Notably, the changes occurring during menopause can have lasting implications for brain health in later years.

Now, for individuals who are assigned female at birth, here are Professor Lisa Mosconi’s top five recommendations to navigate this profound midlife shift with grace:

1. Say ‘No’ to Tobacco: Foremost among Mosconi’s recommendations is the avoidance of cigarette smoking and passive smoke exposure. She emphasizes that smoking disrupts ovarian tissues, impairing follicle development and potentially accelerating the onset of menopause. Smoking also worsens menopausal symptoms and has detrimental effects on brain health due to increased oxidative stress.

2. Get Moving: Regular exercise, particularly aerobic activities like brisk walking, plays a pivotal role in supporting hormonal and brain health. It can alleviate the intensity and frequency of hot flashes, address brain fog, memory lapses, and enhance cognitive function. For improved sleep, flexibility, stress reduction, and balance, Mosconi suggests yoga or Pilates, while resistance bands or light weights are ideal for building strength.

3. Eat Right: A balanced, plant-based diet rich in whole foods is a cornerstone of good health. Such a diet, abundant in fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants, is especially beneficial for women’s health. Plant-based foods, with their fiber content, help regulate estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels, and they are rich in antioxidants, vital for countering oxidative stress, which affects the brain.

4. Prioritize Sleep: Quality sleep is crucial for hormonal health and has far-reaching benefits for the brain and overall well-being. Adequate rest supports immune function, maintains a healthy body weight, and consolidates memories.

5. Consult a Healthcare Provider About HRT: Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which fell out of favor in the past, has experienced a resurgence in recent research findings. It can effectively alleviate troublesome menopausal symptoms when administered at the right time and to the right individuals. Estrogen and testosterone play vital roles in brain health, keeping the brain active and youthful, in addition to their reproductive functions.

In conclusion, menopause represents a significant transitional phase in a woman’s life, and how it is managed can have lasting effects on overall health and brain function. By adopting these five recommendations, individuals assigned female at birth can proactively prepare for the changes associated with perimenopause and beyond. Navigating this natural life stage with a focus on well-being and brain health is a step toward a fulfilling and thriving post-reproductive life.


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