Menopause and Alzheimer’s: a neuroscientist’s perspective

Anna Mooney.

Ever had the fleeting thought: is this brain fog the start of Alzheimer's? Neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi has been researching this subject for years, and her findings are at first alarming, and then empowering. Read on....

When neuroscientist Dr Lisa Mosconi’s book Brain Food was released earlier this year, I was immediately hooked on the strapline’s promise: How to Eat Smart and Sharpen your mind.

Dr Mosconi is associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where she specializes in early detection and risk assessment of Alzheimer’s.

We receive messages and emails every week from women who describe the menopause  "brain fog"  as the one symptom they just didn't expect.  The one that has them walking into a room and wondering why on earth they might be there. The one that puts names, car keys, passcodes, appointments frustratingly beyond reach, and never at a convenient time. The one that can play havoc with your sanity and your self-confidence.

So if there’s a prescription out there that reduces the risk of those awkward " senior moments", I'd say you could count a few of us in. 

And when Dr Mosconi reveals her special research interest in the links between menopause and Alzheimer’s (spurred by her grandmother’s rapid decline into dementia) it's time to really tune in. Who of us hasn't had that throught tiptoeing the back of our minds: is this midlife fuzziness the start of my dotage, or could it be Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer's and aging: not inevitable

It turns out that the Alzheimer’s “ epidemic” (currently 46 million people affected worldwide and counting – and projected to be a staggering 130m by 2050) affects women twice as much as men. 

If menopause and Alzheimer’s uttered in the same sentence causes your anxiety levels to shoot through the roof, here's the good news: Dr Mosconi challenges the assumption that Alzheimer’s is an inevitable consequence of getting older or bad genes.  In fact, she points out, only 1% of patients develop Alzheimer’s because of a genetic mutation. For others, genes play some part, but increasingly the evidence points to lifestyle and dietary factors as significant culprits.

She draws on research that estimates that 1 in every 3 cases of Alzheimer’s could be potentially prevented by lifestyle modifications and a brain-protective diet. As a trained integrative nutritionist and holistic healthcare practitioner, this is a subject she can get passionate about.

“The brain has its own carefully selected diet, so what’s good for our brain is good for the rest of our body, but not necessarily the other way around. A brain-healthy diet optimizes brain fitness over the course of a lifetime, while reducing the risk of developing age-related cognitive impairments and dementia.” she explained in a recent interview with Goop magazine.

The menopause bit

And so to the menopause-specific part of the story. Estrogen is neuro-protective, so with menopause, the loss of estrogen at menopause will of course diminish that neuro-protection, leaving us more vulnerable to brain aging. Since none of us can avoid menopause, is there anything else we can do?

For women in perimenopause the news is good: the research Dr Mosconi draws on indicates that adopting a neuro-protective diet before menopause offers a significant reduction in risk for developing the disease.

For women in menopause and beyond, where neuro-protection is already diminished, brain food is a critical part of the plan to keep dementia at bay. Here's how you can start....

Related reads: more  on Brain fog and Brain health during perimenopause from Catherine O'Keefe:

Six "brain foods" to start today:

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Flaxseed Oil: rich in Omega 3s and Vitamin E.

2. Water: so important for brain performance, even mild dips in hydration levels can result in brain fog, fuzziness, forgetfulness and distractibility.

3. Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries are all antioxidant-rich and provide the low GI source of glucose the brain needs for energy.

4. Alaskan Salmon: Omega 3 rich, the ideal brain food.

5. Dark leafy greens: Kale, spinach, sprouts, cabbage are packed with vitamins, fibre and minerals. To ensure the richest source of all three nutrients, choose organic.

6. Turmeric: its active ingredient curcumin helps protect against cognitive loss and dementia by keeping neurons healthy.

Find lots of Dr Lisa's brain food recipes in her book: Buy on amazon:  Brain Food: How to Eat Smart and Sharpen Your Mind

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