Jeanne Tripplehorn 06.10.1963

Posts Tagged ‘menopause’

Menopause Mind Proof: Not Losing Memory, But Brain Works Harder


Although we’ve been convinced that the Menopause Mind is real for a while now, hence this blog, finding empirical support for the connection between menopause and memory declines has been as easy as finding those car keys you left in the fridge.


Well, it seems like we’re both right and wrong. The Los Angeles Times just ran an piece on the findings of a recent study designed to examine whether or not post-menopausal women complaining of memory problems performed significantly worse on memory tests than women who did not share these complaints.  Researchers at the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 22 women while they worked on various memory tasks. It turns out that the performance of the 12 women who complained of memory problems on these tests was no different from that of the 10 women who claimed that their memory was fine.

But, the researcher’s also found that the brains of the complainers were much more active than the non-complainers. Specifically, the action was increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in intellectual functioning and working memory, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in a variety of autonomic  functions (think blood pressure,  heart rate) and cognitive functioning including decision making, learning and emotion.


So, what does this mean for you? Even though you feel like your memory is shot  (the subjective experience of menopause mind), it may not really be that bad (your objective memory ability), but your brain is probably working overtime to compensate for memory slips.  To us, this translates to the following:  if you feel like you have memory problems, they probably exist, but your brain kicks into high gear to make up for them. Keep in mind that this study was done with 22 women, all of whom were post-menopausal. They did not compare post-menopausal women with pre-menopausal women  This does not yet support the theory that physiological changes during menopause cause memory deficits. But it seems we’re one step closer to grasping the workings of the mind’s mysterious metamorphosis during and after menopause than we had been–although not entirely there.


The LA Times piece also includes a discussion of the findings from another recent study that examined hormone changes and brain matter. To put it very simply, they examined the brains of women before and after a brief round of hormone therapy (increased estrogen). They found an increase in the density of grey matter after hormone therapy. This suggests that hormones may influence brain’s functioning by playing a role in how much grey matter–the more grey matter, the better your cognitive functioning. But it’s still unclear what exactly is going on.  The University of Vermont and Vanderbilt researchers plan to test hormone therapy as a way to improve memory among the complainers.  Or, maybe they’ll just get them to stop complaining. We’ll keep you posted.

Solution for Insomnia and Other Menopause Symptoms: Yoga?


A recent study in the journal Menopause found that post-menopausal women who participated in a yoga program reported less insomnia and fewer menopausal symptoms than those who did not.  These findings suggest that yoga might help ease those pesky menopausal symptoms!

The researchers assigned 44 post-menopausal women to three groups: 15 were assigned to do yoga twice a week, 14 women were assigned to a stretching program, and the last 15 did nothing . After four months, the women in the yoga group reported fewer symptoms than women who did nothing.


Now, before you get yourself tied into a knot, keep in mind that this was a small study and that there were no significant differences found between women in the yoga group and those in the stretching group on menopausal symptoms. It may be that the physical stretching alone could be beneficial. Yoga has been shown to help relieve stress and actually lead to changes in the body’s physiological response to stress via the sympathetic nervous system. At the very least both yoga and stretching allow you take a break from the daily grind to focus on how your body feels, increasing your mindfulness. These exercises usually encourage deep breathing, another scientifically supported method of stress relief. An added bonus: muscle movement and deep breathing can lead to a bump in the release of endorphins, those feel good neurochemicals that help relieve pain and stress.


So instead of rolling your eyes the next time you see those yoga groupies looking perfect in their Lululemon gear, you might consider joining them! We’re sure you can still roll your eyes while in downward doggy or whatever the heck they call that.

Feeling Alone in the Menopausal Abyss? Throw a Party!


Going through menopause not only can make you feel like you’re losing your marbles, it can also be pretty isolating. Memory lapses, irritability, fatigue, and a host of other physical symptoms can leave you frustrated, burnt out, and a acting little demented…which can send your friends and family hightailing it to the hills!


Instead of the typical social withdrawal, why not throw a party?

Ellen Sarver Dolgen, author of Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness, has been bringing women together to teach them about growing older with menopause-themed parties. Or, as we call them here, menoParties!  It’s a time to vent, share your menoPaused moments, get informed, feel supported,  and boost each other up, all while having a merry time.


Not unlike a support group, these shindigs  can help to “normalize” your menopause experience. This is psychology speak for: you’re not the only one going through this and you’re not a freak of nature…you’re simply menopausal.  And you can share how it’s anything but simple with women who get it.


Want to throw a menoParty of your own? Invite your gal pals over, have some tasty eats and sips, and read through Menopause Mind together for  titillating discussion topics! (How’s that for a plug?)

Hot Flashes May be Linked to Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer


Most women don’t look forward to hot flashes…they probably dread them. Well, there is some early evidence from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle that suggests that women who experience hot flashes may be at reduced risk for developing breast cancer–as much as 50% lower risk!

Women betwen the ages of 55 and 75 were asked about their menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep disturbances, changes in mood, and vaginal dryness. The only symptom statistically associated with breast cancer risk was hot flashes. This lends support to the idea that the higher the estrogen level, the higher the breast cancer risk.

Keep in mind that this is early evidence– which in research speak means that we’ll need more studies to see if there are other factors that may be contributing to the lower risk.  You should still continue screening for breast cancer. But maybe the next time you heat up, this information can give you a little piece of mind.

Improve Your Menopause Memory With Exercise


If you think that as you get older your brain cells slowly die and there is nothing that you can do about it – you’re wrong!

There is a way to create new brain cells … aerobic exercise!

Aerobic exercise can create new brain cells in the region of the brain that is critical for memory – the hippocampus. It’s the hippocampus where learning new information and retaining it takes place.  In fact, it’s where Alzheimer’s disease begins.

The Salk Institute in La Jolla can be thanked for discovering the initial link between exercise and new brain cell growth.  Researchers compared adult mice who ran on hamster wheels to those who didn’t. The mice who ran on the wheels developed significantly more new brain cells in the hippocampus.

But the key here is that the exercise must be aerobic!

To  improve your menopause memory you need to get out there and huff and puff.  Increasing blood flow and getting oxygen to the brain is how this all works. With increased blood flow to the brain comes more oxygen and more growth factors from all over the body that contribute to the birth of new cells, including brain cells. And, as I tell my patients, walking the dog and stopping at every tree doesn’t count as aerobic. You’ve got to break a sweat at least 150 minutes a week. This can be broken up into smaller chunks of time, like  20-25 mintues a day or 50 minutes three times a week. For brain cell growth, the magic really seems to happen after exercising regularly between 3 and 6 weeks.

Now, I know exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea– finding the right form exercise is critical to both staying injury-free and motivated. My favorite form of aerobic exercise is the elliptical machine. It was designed to be easy on the knees and you can use it rain or shine.  With your arms and legs going and your ipod plugged into 80s music, you can feel like you’re dancing.  The problem is that you may also feel like singing.  As my husband likes to point out, I may be wearing headphones but he isn’t.  If you have balance problems or physical difficulties, you can try a recumbent elliptical machine.  You sit while working out so there’s no danger of falling. My patients have told me that they used them in physical therapy and were hooked in no time. If you have access to a pool (an indoor pool if you’re in those chilly climates), you can also try jogging in the water.

When the weather is nice (or if you don’t want to buy a piece of exercise equipment that costs more than your first car)  power walking is a great form of aerobic exercise. Bend those arms, pump them like pistons, bend the knees and step lightly heel to toe to save your knees.  You may look like you urgently need a restroom, but just think of those new brain cells…and toned legs!

So stop complaining about your menopause memory, get an okay from your doctor and get out there! Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for to keep your brain fit.

Hot Flashes, Hot Flushes, Night Sweats: “Hot Women” Takes On New Meaning



I will never forget my first major hot flash. I was in my office interviewing a distinguished and very serious couple who were clearly distressed about the wife’s memory problems. As I was addressing their concerns in my most professional manner—WHAMMM! Suddenly my heart began to race, and my whole body was on fire,   I turned bright red and the sweat started pouring down my face.   My wool suit became unbearably itchy and I wanted nothing more than to rip off my clothes and put my head in the sink.  Instead, I calmly took out a tissue, wiped my face and tried to ignore the husband’s horrified expression.


Do you know why we have hot flashes during perimenopause? You’re not alone; no one else does either. That’s why there isn’t a pill specifically designed for hot flashes. When a drug company gets close, I’m buying up their stock. Can you imagine the demand?


What we call hot flashes, hot flushes and night sweats are all vasomotor symptoms. These vasomotor symptoms occur in about 88% of perimenopausal women and 74% of menipausal women.   For some women they diminish after one year – for some women they last 30 years!!


What we do know is that we have a thermostat in our bodies that closely regulates our body temperature.  We have also known for some time that estrogen plays a key role in hot flashes which is why Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) is viewed as the most effective tried and true method for controlling them.


Here’s the good news for us “Hot Women”: now that we are beginning to understand how other factors such as neurotransmitters affect our thermostat we have additional ways to combat hot flashes.


Anti-depressant medications, specifically those that alter neurotransmitters (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRIs) can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes by up to 50%.  A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology* reported that SSRIs have been shown to minimize hot flashes, but it seems that citalopram (A.K.A  Celexa or Cipramil) might stand out above the rest. The added benefit is that SSRIs have been shown to improve mood, sleep, anxiety and overall quality of life in menopausal women.


Unfortunately, so many women I know refuse to go on SSRI’s because they consider it admitting defeat or failure.  But, like in most areas, women need to let themselves off the hook.  They need to admit that their neurotransmitters are out-of-wack and that it’s not their fault.  The simple fact is that SSRI’s can help to give you back your premenopausal self. So if you’re feeling particularly steamy these days, go make an appointment with your doctor and check out your options.