Menopause is a process that marks the end of the female reproductive years. While menopause is commonly associated with physical symptoms like hot flashes, menopause also brings about significant changes in the brain. These changes are not as widely discussed as the physical symptoms, but they can have just as much of an impact.
One of the biggest factors that contributes to changes in the brain during menopause is the overall decline in estrogen levels. Estrogen has far-reaching effects on various parts of the body, including the brain. It plays a vital role in maintaining brain health, and as estrogen levels decrease during menopause, the brain undergoes structural and functional alterations.
Throughout life, women outperform men on cognitive tests designed to measure verbal memory. However, the level of advantage decreases with the onset of menopause. Many women feel like they are experiencing brain fog or forgetting more than they used to. Depending on when your menopause begins, you might notice neurological impacts sooner or later than your peers.
Menopause can also impact your mood and emotional well-being. Fluctuating hormone levels can lead to mood swings, irritability, and an increased risk of developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Because estrogen influences the production and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, it can be challenging to regulate your mood as you did before. Decreasing estrogen levels can disrupt the delicate balance of these neurotransmitters, which leads to changes in your mood and emotional stability.
Additionally, menopause is associated with an increased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Estrogen has neuroprotective properties, and declining levels during menopause can make your brain more susceptible to diseases. Alzheimer’s impacts almost 6 million people in America, and 2/3 of that figure is women. Researchers are currently trying to determine if decreasing estrogen is a potential factor.
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