January 23, 2017

Menopause: Is It All In Your Head?

You can be 54 and still be an attractive woman and feel full of energy. What may surprise you is that for some, menopause feels like a haze has been lifted and you see in a way that you haven’t been able to see before.

Until menopause, hormones, physical touch, emotions and the synapses to care, fix and help others have programmed a woman’s brain. But, in later years the brain circuits that have provided the foundations for these impulses are no longer being fueled.

Menopause is characteristically the moment 12 months after a woman’s last period and 12 months after the ovaries have stopped producing hormones that have boosted communication circuits, emotion circuits, the drive to tend and care, and the urge to avoid conflict at all costs.

All the main brain circuits to run the course are present, but the fuel for running a highly efficient engine for tracking the emotions of others has begun to run dry. As estrogen decreases through menopause, so does the calming affect of oxytocin. Even the rush of dopamine from enjoying life has diminished.

This biological truth is one of the greatest mysteries to women at this age – and to the men around them – as how the changes in hormones affect thoughts, feelings and brain functions.

Perimenopause Reward

Starting at about age 43, a woman’s brain becomes less sensitive to estrogen, accompanied by a variety of symptoms for months to years, including hot flashes, joint pain, anxiety and even depression.  The rocket fuel that feeds the sex drive (testosterone) also drops and estrogen withdrawal symptoms start with the shortening of the menstrual cycles by a day or two.  The brain’s response to glucose changes dramatically too, giving energy surges and drops, as well as cravings for sweet and carbs.

Since estrogen affects the brain’s levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine other neurotransmitters that control mood and memory, it is no surprise

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