Brain fog, anxiety and low mood are among the common symptoms surrounding menopause which can affect you doing your day-to-day activities. Jenny Carson, senior nutritionist at Viridian Nutrition discusses how modifying your diet and lifestyle can help your bodies adjust to hormonal changes.
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Why do we experience brain fog?
Do you struggle to recall a word, a fact that is on the tip of your tongue, or forget where you put your keys or mobile?
Brain fog is the lack of sharpness of memory and where recall is slow or clunky.
Brain fog is also a common symptom of the menopause , where women experience a fall in the production of hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone.
It can be quite disconcerting as you may not feel like yourself and are unable to think clearly. These signs may indicate that your brain is not functioning in an optimal manner and it can be more common than you think.
How do nutrients support the brain?
The brain is the most energy demanding organ.
It functions predominantly on glucose which can be easily supplied by fruit, root vegetables and whole grains in your meals.
These foods are rich in starchy carbohydrates which are perfect for a balanced and slow-release supply of energy.
The brain also requires a selection of nutrients that play a role in the intricacies of brain cell function: such as memory, knowledge acquisition and remembering where you put your mobile.
So, if the brain isn’t able to get these necessary nutrients in the right quantities through your diet then it can be more likely that you’ll experience brain fog and forgetfulness.
Which nutrients nourish the brain?
The key nutrients which nourish the brain are:
- B vitamins, especially vitamins B12 and B6
As well as these, omega 3 essential fatty acids are necessary to support the structure of brain cells too. Omega 3s are best in the form of eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA). EPA and DHA are found in oily fish and marine algae, although flax, walnuts and almonds are also good sources of omega 3s in the form of alpha linolenic acid which must be converted to EPA and DHA.
Which nutrients can help overcome low mood and anxiety?
Anxiety is manifested as feelings of worry, and when you experience these feelings, it can be difficult to remain upbeat and happy.
If you’re experiencing long-term anxiety and low mood it’s always best to see a healthcare professional to see if treatment with medication is the best option for you.
However, optimising your diet or introducing food supplements can be implemented either alone or alongside medication – just make sure this is overseen by your healthcare professional.
Several research studies show that those who follow the traditional Mediterranean diet appear to experience a protective effect from conditions of cognitive decline.
In fact, the greater the adherence to the diet showed the slowest onset of cognitive decline.
To explain the mechanisms responsible for the effect the authors stated, ‘It is indicated that specific food or nutrients that take part of the traditional Mediterranean diet (i.e., fish, unsaturated fatty acids, and the nutrients, vitamin E, vitamin B12, folates, carotenes, and flavonoids) may have a potential protective effect against dementia or cognitive decline’.
In addition, certain nutrients, and botanicals in the form of food supplements may also be supportive.
Together with B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc, magnesium is considered a foundational nutrient in supporting the processes involved in stress management, worry and mood.
Magnesium is referred to as the ‘spark of life’ through its effect to lift mood, support energy and promote sleep.
Considered essential for over 300 body processes the amount required can be underestimated, especially as magnesium requirements increase with stress, hormonal changes, or illness.
Some clinical case histories reported a resolution of mood issues in response to 125-300mg of magnesium taken with each meal for a maximum of 7 days.
However, to ensure a daily intake of magnesium, meals should include several different coloured veggies, legumes and nuts and seeds. If you find this quantity of fibrous foods overbearing on your stomach, food supplements or powders can be good options.
The B vitamin family is a group of vitamins that closely resemble each other, and they are intricately involved in cellular function and subsequently mood, anxiety, and stress.
The vitamins have been investigated in research with promising findings reported for folate, choline, inositol plus B2, B6, B5 and B12.
B vitamins are widely spread throughout food, but in the vegan diet they can be limited, and vitamin B12 is absent, therefore it would be good idea to consider supplements to fill these nutritional gaps.
Folate and vitamin B12 are essential to produce the neurotransmitters that play a role in generating the feelings of wellbeing. In several research studies high folate was related to a low rate of depression.
Choline is essential to produce acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that works in memory and learning. Low acetylcholine is related to forgetfulness and poor problem solving.
The role of vitamin D, ‘the sunshine vitamin’ in mood shows up with the rise of seasonal affective disorder during the winter months.
Vitamin D also plays a role in immunity, specifically in regulating inflammation.
This is key in brain issues as often these brain issues include inflammation which then manifests as worry, stress or feeling down.
The importance of adequate vitamin D intake is recognised at a national level, and so Public Health England recommends that every person should supplement with 400iu (equivalent to 10 micrograms/mcg ) daily of vitamin D during the British winter.
Further reading: Take a look at Jenny's guide to Vitamin D to find out more about its benefits and how much you need for health.
Maca is a traditional root vegetable grown in the High Andes inn Peru, known to fuel the hard work of the mountain communities.
It is known to lift mood, support energy and boost libido.
A study specifically on postmenopausal women reported a reduction in the stress hormone, cortisol, improved menopause symptoms and balanced disrupted hormones.
The participants also reported a reduction in depression and irritability!
What these results show too is the importance of balancing your hormones during menopause as it’s these disrupted hormones which are causing the mood issues and anxiety.
Saffron is a spice associated with middle Eastern cuisine and in traditional medicine it is used to improve mood.
A review of studies showed saffron acted as an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety similarly to anti-depressant medication, yet with fewer side effects.
So if you’re aiming to improve mood issues then research is showing that the effects of supplemental saffron can be comparable to several commonly prescribed anti-depressants.
For low mood, anxiety and stress then you can’t go wrong by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables in a range of colours, snacking on a small handful of seeds and nuts while including wholegrains and root vegetables to support energy requirements plus oily fish for a good provision of essential fatty acids.
Where possible, steer clear of smoking, excessive alcohol or sugar consumption as these are associated with lowered mood and poor brain function.
Once you’ve optimised your diet and lifestyle then it may be at this point that food supplements may further contribute to improvements.
Look for high quality food supplements which provide 100% nutrition and are free from additives, sugar and bulking or flow agents. To discuss your personal food supplement requirements, contact your local health food stores by visiting www.findahealthstore.com
About the author: Jenny Carson, MRes, BSc (Hons) is a Senior Nutritionist at ethical vitamin company Viridian Nutrition. She has over 5 years’ experience supporting people with nutritional health advice. She recently completed a Master of Research (MRes) in Public Health, giving her a wide understanding of public health nutrition. Her other focus areas include ageing, dealing with stress, peri and post-menopause, detox and mood. For more information visit www.viridian-nutrition.com
This article is for information purposes and does not refer to any individual products. The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.
This article is a paid partnership with Viridian Nutrition.
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