In answer to the first question, it is a resounding no!
However, it got you here, so I hope you’ll stick around and read about menopause and you.
A twenty-year study has shown that there is no such thing as a Gender Brain. Although they are the same, in some respects, they do differ.
70% more women develop so-called Dementia. So, for every man that is diagnosed, there are around two women.
A Lisa Mosconi, a neuroscientist, set up, The Women’s Brain Initiative at Weil Cornell Medicine in New York City to find the reasons why.
The first fact to be considered and investigated was why women’s brains age differently from men.
Many see and treat the brain as isolated and independent from the rest of the body. Actually, the brain is constantly in an interactive state with every other part of the body. All the body systems work in unison, not as the world of medicine has historically endeavoured to isolate and treat independently.
One such system is that of reproduction. In women, there seems to be a link between this and their ageing brains.
We know that hormones govern the reproductive system, and these differ between men and women. Where men have more testosterone, women have more estrogens.
What is interesting about these hormones is that they vary in lifespan. As we all know, testosterone in men doesn’t run out until very late in life, and this has minimal impact on the man’s health. In contrast, estrogen starts to fade in midlife, what we know as menopause. With this, most will experience systems that affect daily life, and some are major. Some of these are night sweats, insomnia, memory lapses, depression and anxiety, to name but a few.
This process is all about the changing role of the ovaries. This seems logical because birth becomes a greater risk to life for both the child and mum as a woman gets older.
The system is the Neuro-Endocrine System. This is a system where the brain and ovaries are continually connected. The one acts directly on the other, like all human systems.
Now I’ve mentioned that women have more of the hormone called estrogen. Well, estrogen has a more significant impact on the brain than you may first think. Estrogen increases the brain’s potential to burn glucose to make energy. When estrogen is high, brain energy levels are high, but brain energy levels are also low when estrogen is low. The research has shown that when the brain cells start to slow down to such an extent, they begin to age faster.
This process of brain cell ageing is more significant in the hypothalamus. This is the region of the brain that regulates temperature, as well as many other things. When estrogen levels fall, this has an impact on the bodies ability to regulate temperature.
There is also a connection with lowering estrogen levels over time within the brain stem—an area that controls sleep.
Then there is also an impact of ageing brain cells within the amygdala, close to the hippocampus and is the brain’s emotional centre. Mood swings, forgetfulness, temperature problems, and insomnia are directly associated with lower estrogen levels and the impact of ageing brain cells within those areas.
This is how the system operates and interacts. This is the brain’s anatomy of menopause.
Brain scans, such as a PET scan, shows energy levels of the brain. In women, there is seen, on average, a 30% drop in energy levels from before to after menopause, regardless of age.
So, apart from the chronological ageing, we all go through. Women have this hormonal change that impacts their ageing brain too!
This process of change can and does impact dramatically for many women. It is understandable why some will think they are going mad!
No, I can never know what this time of life feels like, but I can say categorically, you are not going Crazy!
Harking back to my piece on, The Mad House, which is not too long ago. I would suggest that many misdiagnosed women ended up there. Do you think there could have been some connection? I do!
Another interesting finding. Some might assume that you who have endured menopause and now with brain energy levels of around 30% lower must also have cognitive abilities that are 30% lower! However, the study shows that there is no change in cognitive ability due to menopause. So, although you may feel a bit more tired, you’re still just as sharp!
An area where I have a great interest is the relationship between menopause and Dementia. The central research area is in an increase of amyloid plaques. Brain scans showing where these plaques may be, indicate that women have a 20% increase in these plaques during menopause.
But, please note; not all women get this increase, and not all women who do will develop Dementia. This is important!
The question is, what if anything can be done? I can not comment on HRT, hormone replacement therapy. However, from what I have heard first hand and from what I’ve read, for many, it helps.
Does this have any impact on slowing that brain ageing process? I don’t know, and I can not find any definitive answer or research addressing this.
The buzzword at this moment in time is Lifestyle. It’s being used for everything, and I suppose it should be. A significant part of what happens to us during our lifetime is down to the life we lead.
So, there is obviously more areas of research needed to be undertaken! The processes of amyloid-beta, methods of stimulating neurogenesis and neuroplasticity and most importantly, prevention. Hopefully, women learn to maintain a healthy brain and not just accept the negative impact of menopause as an inevitable downward step of life. It’s not!
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