Menopause has its classic physical discomforts. First, there are the usual suspects — hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and unwelcome weight gain, to name a few. But menopause can also make you feel as though you are losing your mind.

Menopause impacts the body’s functions on multiple levels including the brain. Many of my patients 40 and older come in complaining of depression, anxiety and brain fog. Most of them think that these issues are due to the inevitable aging process, or external factors like family, relationship or work issues. However, they are usually quite surprised to learn that their current state of mental well being is caused by the way the brain reacts to the hormonal imbalances that occurs during menopause.

It may be hard to believe that hormones can affect the brain so profoundly that we are completely thrown off our game at times. Hormones are our body’s software and they govern practically all of our body’s systems. Affecting every physiological, psychological and emotional aspect of our lives, out-of-balance hormone levels can significantly alter our mental acuity and sense of emotional wellbeing.

The good news is that we do have control over menopause’s mental symptoms of depression, anxiety and foggy brain. These issues can be effectively treated naturally by restoring key hormones to a more balanced state.

It is crucial that women who are in (or think they may be in) menopause know more about the potential mental effects in order to have a meaningful conversation with their doctor, who can perform blood analysis and develop a safe and effective treatment plan. Here are some key facts to know:

The depression connection: Depression during menopause may have several interrelated causes. Hot flashes and night sweats interfere with quality sleep and result in extreme fatigue and irritability. Weight gain, which averages 30 pounds in menopause, can cause self-esteem to plummet. However, depression is also caused by lower estrogen and other related hormones that affect the thyroid and adrenal glands during menopause. Instead of resorting immediately to anti-depressants, seek out a doctor who is willing to get to the root cause of your depression. He or she can perform a complete blood analysis that will give you both a better sense of what is going on in your body. This means assessing the levels of all the key hormones in the body, not just estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Once this data is in hand, a plan for re-balancing them can be established. Bio-identical hormone replacement and natural supplements along with some simple lifestyle changes can work in tandem to restore balance and provide real relief.

The age of anxiety: Anxiety can become a major disability, and like depression, it is also related to decreased estrogen levels in menopause. This drop in estrogen directly affects the brain’s ability to regulate moods and emotions. Anxiety can seriously interfere with already compromised sleep, often leading to fatigue and depression. Again, it is essential to determine the root cause and find a doctor who will not only perform comprehensive blood analysis for diagnosis, but will also take the time to find out what is going on in your life. Treatment may involve a customized program of bio-identical hormones combined with natural supplements as well as incorporating other healing strategies such as integrating yoga, mindfulness and breathing exercises in to your routine.

Cognitive cloud: Forgot where you parked or what you were going to say? Having trouble remembering a name or a simple word? “Brain fog” is all part of the cognitive decline caused by decreased estrogen and hormones in menopause. Interrupted or insufficient sleep may also be to blame. The good news is these kinds of memory and concentration issues are usually only temporary. You can keep your mind stimulated with new challenges like learning a language, mastering a new game like bridge, tackling crossword puzzles or Sudoku, and reading more. Most importantly, as with depression and anxiety, ask your doctor to perform a complete blood analysis and to recommend the right bio-identical hormones and natural supplements. These will help regulate the brain’s neurotransmitters and serotonin levels for better sleep.

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