THE BLOG
07/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

You Don't Have to Live With Menopausal Madness

One of the most distressing aspects of aging is noticing your own cognitive decline. This is especially true for women. Whether you momentarily forget a grandchild or a colleague's name, or can't remember where you put the car key -- or worse, the car -- these "senior moments" are distinct signs of an aging brain. Cognitive decline can also include an impairment in judgment or executive functioning: the ability to make the right choices in life. When judgment is affected, people begin to make bad decisions that can affect their marriage, their relationships with their children, their careers, or even their health.

Even though the symptoms of cognitive decline are associated with old age, we now know that the changes in the brain that affect memory, attention, processing speed, and decision making begin much earlier. Many women will recognize some attention deficit or memory loss as early as 30 years old. It's all linked to declining hormone levels which begin during the earliest stages of menopause and perimenopause.

The link goes like this: when the ovaries stop producing the right levels of estrogen and progesterone, it affects the entire body. You may be familiar with some of the physical changes women go through, including night sweats, hot flashes, and weight gain. Menopause and aging in general also affects your brain because the fewer hormones you produce lead to a decline in brain chemical production. This can take a toll on your emotional life: how you feel about yourself, as well as your memory, attention, and your overall mood. I refer to these changes as "menopausal madness" because so many women report a sense that feel out of control, especially when they recognize that their mind isn't as sharp as it used to be.

The good news is that while getting older is inevitable, aging doesn't have to be. The latest research is showing that there is real cause for hope. A deeper understanding of neurogenesis -- the regeneration of brain cells -- has opened the door for a new attitude towards aging. Neurogenesis teaches us that we can recover, or even improve, full intellectual capacities as we age. That means that growing older might mean growing smarter in many ways, especially in your ability to increase your memory and attention to higher levels than you have ever experienced.


Reversing an Aging Brain

Just as illness throughout the body can be reversed, so can imbalances in the brain. And the earlier you can reverse an aging brain, the better. My unique approach enhances all aspects of brain health, including memory and attention, by improving brain chemistry. In my books, YOUNGER YOU and THE YOUNGER (THINNER) YOU DIET, I show exactly how you can reverse aging throughout the body, including deterioration in the brain, quickly and effectively.

If you are frustrated with a declining memory, you can make simple changes to your diet that will yield big results. Many of the foods we eat are precursors to the brain chemicals dopamine and acetylcholine, both of which an aging brain needs more so that you can look and feel younger and more vibrant. Last week I talked about the foods that were high in tyrosine and phenylalanine, the precursors to dopamine. These foods are high in protein, including meats and poultry, which provides the brain with power. A second important nutrient group are those that are the precursor to acetylcholine, the brain chemical that determines the brain's speed. Speed measures how fast electrical signals are processed from the brain to the body. It directly affects how we think and how we retain information. But when the brain loses speed, it loses power (and dopamine), disrupting the flow of electricity. When your brain speed slows due to an acetylcholine deficiency, you might become forgetful, or experience a loss of mental quickness.

Acetylcholine also provide the lubricants and insulation for our muscles, bones, and other internal systems in the form of fat. This is one of the reasons why foods with healthy fats are an important part of any diet. But when we are running low on acetylcholine, the body cannot naturally produce enough internal lubrication, and we literally dry out. You'll recognize this feeling if you begin to crave fat and fatty foods: your brain is telling you to provide the necessary extra layer of lubrication. Sometimes we get the message but get carried away eating too much fatty foods.

The Younger (Thinner) You Diet provides for well-rounded meals with just enough fat to keep your acetylcholine levels stable and your memory sharp. When you follow it you will focus on healthy fats that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like fresh water fish, eggs, and fish oil supplements, which have been shown to be essential for cognitive development and normal brain functioning. Fish consumption has long been associated with lowering the risk of dementia and stroke. Recent studies have suggested that consumption of one omega-3 fatty acid in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is important for memory performance.

Spices and teas act as anti-inflammatories, literally taking the swelling and excess water out of the body and the brain. Lemon balm, an herb used commonly in tea, has recently been studied as a possible treatment for Alzheimer's. Lemon balm is an antioxidant that stimulates acetylcholine receptors, and it also works as a mild sedative. Turmeric and cumin have been proven to help unclog amyloid, which is the garbage in the highways of the brain. Without this amyloid, your thinking is much clearer.

Here is a list of spices that may improve your brain speed. Try to incorporate them into every meal, every day:

• Basil
• Black Pepper
• Lemon balm
• Rosemary
• Sage
• Tumeric
• Mint
• Salvia

By taking care of your brain during menopause, you'll be able to forget all about your forgetfulness, and look forward to creating new memories long into the future.

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