8 Top Foods to Beat Menopause Brain Fog
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The term “brain food” used to refer to the nutritious foods needed during exams or other activities involving critical thinking. Now we know that foods that are beneficial to your brain are essential on a daily basis throughout life. Menopause is a particular time of life when your brain could use a boost, to protect it from the natural changes that may come with aging and midlife, and help clear up the brain fog, forgetfulness, and concentration problems so many women complain (and worry) about. If it feels like you are losing your mind, you’re not alone. In one study, sixty percent of midlife women reported an undesirable change in memory over the past few years. During perimenopause, when hot flashes and sleep issues can be at their worst, brain fog may be even more acutely felt.
Even if menopause symptoms like brain fog are under control, women need to take brain health seriously. Two-thirds of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are women. A woman in her 60s is twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's over the course of her lifetime than breast cancer. Alzheimer’s can begin 10 to 20 years before symptoms start showing up.
Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals can help boost your brain health, so it’s a good idea to incorporate a wide variety of foods that contain them into your diet. Odds are, you already eat many of these foods - and if not, they can easily be added!
Some of the best foods for your brain during menopause
Green Leafy Vegetables
Kale, spinach, collard greens, and mustard greens are excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect eyesight and memory as you age. A 2015 study of over 950 older adults for five years found that those who ate at least two servings of dark leafy greens per day experienced a slower decline in brain function than those who didn’t eat any leafy greens.
Salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are packed with the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Omega 3 fats have been shown to be beneficial in improving brain function in cases of mild Alzheimer’s disease and major depression, by increasing antioxidant activity and reducing inflammation. In Blue Zones, areas of the world where there are clusters of people who live to be over 100 years-old, fish is a staple of their diet, with very little, if any meat consumption. If you don’t eat fish, algae-derived EPA and DHA supplements are another great source of brain-boosting omega 3 fats.
Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are rich in phenolic compounds, which are known to have antioxidant properties that can help prevent disease and reduce inflammation. Berries are also high in anthocyanins, antioxidant-rich pigments that give them their purple, red, and blue coloring. Research shows that anthocyanins can effectively reverse age-related deficits in certain aspects of working memory. Anthocyanins and other flavonoids are thought to work by inhibiting neuroinflammation, activating synaptic signaling, and improving blood flow to the brain. Anthocyanins are able to cross the blood-brain barrier allowing the compounds to have a direct beneficial effect. The more colorful your berry variety, the better! Try to buy organic when you can to reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides.
A great source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fat, as well as other compounds that are good for your brain. A study conducted on 708 people between 2012 and 2014 found that those who consumed fifteen percent of their calories from walnuts daily for two years delayed the onset of cognitive decline, compared to those who did not eat any walnuts. Walnuts may actually improve the communication between nerves in your brain, while reducing inflammation and boosting creation of new neuron pathways.
High in ALA, an omega 3 fat and precursor to EPA and DHA, flaxseeds are also the best plant-based source of antioxidants. Eat ground flaxseed versus whole as it is much better absorbed. You can purchase them already ground or buy them whole and grind them yourself. Keep ground flaxseeds in your refrigerator or freezer to increase their shelf life. Flaxseed oil has been shown to improve the levels of brain neurotransmitters. Read more about this midlife superfood here.
Sometimes criticized for being high in fat and calories, don’t be turned off by eating avocados! Avocado consumption has been shown to increase the density of lutein in the brain. A 2017 study found that daily consumption of one avocado led to a 25% increase in lutein from baseline over six months, compared to consumption of one potato or one cup of chickpeas. The avocado group also had improved memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. Avocados are also rich in folate, a nutrient that may be linked to an increased risk of depression and dementia in elderly adults.
A great source of ALA, vitamin K, and choline, broccoli can help keep your memory sharp. Choline appears to boost brain function in adulthood, prevent loss of age-related memory, and have neuroprotective effects in degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have shown the ability of broccoli to slightly reduce brain inflammation in rats.
An Indian spice easily identified by its vivid yellow-orange coloring, turmeric has powerful health properties. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric and has been studied for its many health benefits, including on the brain. Curcumin has been shown to reduce beta amyloid protein, a biomarker in the brain for Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that consuming curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits due to its poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination. For example, combining curcumin with black pepper, which contains the ingredient piperine, is associated with an increase of 2000% in the bioavailability of curcumin.
Incorporating a wide variety of colorful plant foods into your regular routine may not just help you feel better and improve your overall wellbeing - it may just do wonders for your brain, too.
For more information about brain health during menopause, and healthy foods to eat for your best midlife, check out the community over at Lisa Health!
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and speaker who helps families transition to plant-based lifestyles. She can be found at laurenpanoff.com or on Instagram @chronicplanet.
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Flax Seeds: Your Midlife Superfood
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