Lowering levels of oestrogen and progesterone in menopause have a direct impact on our brain neurotransmitters which can bring on psychological symptoms. The following information will help you support your brain health.
Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Women dealing with anxiety may benefit from including rich sources of tryptophan, such as eggs, turkey, fish, dairy, tofu, legumes, salmon, nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, into their diets. These protein rich foods also help satiety and regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels. Including at least three serves of oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, anchovy, mackerel) a week will help to meet the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) recommended a daily intake of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA, plus an additional 100 to 200 mg of DHA. By eating fish (rather than supplements) you will also consume vitamins A, D& B as well as some minerals. Vegan sources of Omega 3 ALA include flax, pumpkin, and chia seeds walnuts, as well as leafy green vegetables, soya beans, algae
Blood Sugar Balance
If you get the post-lunch energy slump and cravings for simple carbohydrates like crisps, bread, chocolate and caffeine it may be an indicator that your blood glucose (sugar) levels are erratic. Eating three nutritious low GI meals per day plus a protein-based snack or two may help stabilise your mood and keep blood glucose levels stable. Erratic meal times and skipping meals may trigger overeating and binge-eating which will make the blood sugar rollercoaster continue.
Choosing low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates (www.glycemicindex.com)
Sugary processed foods and drinks are high GI foods. They are quickly absorbed, especially if eaten on an empty stomach, creating glucose spikes and dips that may contribute to symptoms of anxiety as well as affecting sleep and energy.
Sipping water throughout the day will protect against dehydration and constipation. Even mild dehydration can cause irritability, tiredness and restlessness.
Attention needs to be taken with caffeine and alcohol intake. Tea and coffee contain antioxidants but also contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. Other common caffeine-containing drinks include coffee, cola, soft and energy drinks. 400mg of caffeine is the recommended safe limit for most people. Caffeine increases stress hormones which is associated with an increased risk of anxiety. Approximately the average mug of black tea contains 50mg caffeine and the average cup of instant coffee contains 30 to 90mg (fresh coffee can have much more). Remember that ‘decaf’ tea and coffee can still have <10mg caffeine)
Caffeine has a long half-life of 3–7 hours which means half of the caffeine you drank at 12pm will be in your body 5-7 hours later. Caffeine may contribute to insomnia if consumed in the afternoon or evening.
Alcohol and mental health have a complicated relationship. Mental health problems can not only result from drinking too much alcohol, they can also contribute to people drinking too much. It is sometimes used by some to help ‘numb’ emotions, thoughts and feelings. Alcohol has a depressant effect and, if abused, can lead to rapid deterioration in mood. Alcohol interferes with sleep patterns which can lead to fatigue. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, and this can make your moods fluctuate.
Your gut, your second brain
The microbiome-gut-brain axis, is the new(ish) ‘kid on the block’ for improving brain health. Studies show that what you eat will change the composition and metabolic activity of the gut microbiota, with significant health consequences.
A diet rich in fermentable fibres (prebiotics) such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and fermented foods (probiotics) such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir, is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Eating a varied healthy diet will keep your gut micrbiome happy and healthy.
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
Vitamins and minerals perform a number of essential functions, including assisting essential fatty acids to be incorporated into the brain and helping amino acids convert into neurotransmitters.They play a crucial part in protecting mental health due to their role in the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose, fatty acids into healthy brain cells, and amino acids into neurotransmitters.
Deficiencies in micronutrients have been implicated in a number of mental health problems.
Depression is the most common mental health problem in the UK. Talking therapies and self-management approaches such as mindfulness and meditation are popular alternatives or additions to using anti-depressant medication. Interventions that focus on the mind/ body link such as exercise, massage and complementray therapies like acupuncture are also helpful.
A low dietary intake of folate may be a risk factor for severe depression. This also indicates that nutrition may have a role in the prevention of depression.
Similar conclusions have been drawn from studies looking at the link between depression and low levels of zinc and vitamins B1, B2 and C, as well as studies looking at how standard treatments have been supplemented with micro- nutrients resulting in greater reduction in symptoms in people with a diagnosis of depression and bipolar disorder.
Neurotransmitters -messengers in the brain
Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers and their functionality is vital for mental health.
SEROTONIN is a key neurotransmitter that is involved in the regulation of sleep, appetite and aggression. Serotonin imbalance is a common contributor to mood problems, and pharmacologic agents that alter serotonin levels are among the most commonly used class of drugs prescribed for anxiety and depression.
High stress, insufficient nutrients, fluctuating hormones and the use of stimulant medications or caffeine can all contribute to the depletion of serotonin over time. When serotonin is out of range, depression, anxiety, worry, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, carbohydrate cravings, PMS, difficulty with pain control, and sleep cycle disturbances can result.
GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter found in the CNS and, as such, is important for balancing excitatory action of other neurotransmitters.
High levels of GABA may be a result of excitatory overload. These high levels result in a ‘calming’ action that may contribute to sluggish energy, feelings of sedation, and foggy thinking. Low GABA levels are associated with dysregulation of the adrenal stress response. Without the inhibiting function of GABA, impulsive behaviors are often poorly controlled, contributing to a range of anxious and/or reactive symptoms that extend from poor impulse control to seizure disorders. Alcohol as well as benzodiazepine drugs act on GABA receptors and imitate the effects of GABA.
DOPAMINE is largely responsible for regulating the pleasure reward pathway, memory and motor control. Its function creates both inhibitory and excitatory action depending on the dopaminergic receptor it binds to. Memory issues are common with both elevations and depressions in dopamine levels. Caffeine and other stimulants, such as medications for ADD/ADHD, often improve focus by increasing dopamine release, although continual stimulation of this release can deplete dopamine over time.
Common symptoms associated with low dopamine levels include loss of motor control, cravings, compulsions, loss of satisfaction and addictive behaviors including: drug and alcohol use, smoking cigarettes, gambling, and overeating. These actions often result from an unconscious attempt to self-medicate, looking for the satisfaction that is not occurring naturally in the body.
Elevated dopamine levels may contribute to hyperactivity or anxiety and have been observed in patients with schizophrenia. High dopamine may also be related to autism, mood swings, psychosis and attention disorders. L-DOPA is a precursor to dopamine, and is used therapeutically for low dopamine conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. These medications can cause elevations in dopamine.
NOREPINEPHRINE, also called noradrenaline, is an excitatory neurotransmitter produced in the CNS, as well as a stress hormone produced in the adrenal medulla. It prepares the body for action by relaying messages in the sympathetic nervous system as part of the autonomic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response. High levels of norepinephrine are often linked to anxiety, stress, elevated blood pressure, and hyperactivity, whereas low levels are associated with lack of energy, focus, and motivation.
EPINEPHRINE, often better known as adrenaline, is synthesized from norepinephrine in both the CNS and the adrenal medulla. Much like norepinephrine, this excitatory neurotransmitter helps regulate muscle contraction, heart rate, glycogen breakdown, blood pressure and more, and is heavily involved in a stress response. Elevated levels of epinephrine are often associated with hyperactivity, ADHD, anxiety, sleep issues, and low adrenal function. Over time, chronic stress and stimulation can deplete epinephrine stores leading to difficulty concentrating, fatigue, depression, insufficient cortisol production, chronic stress, poor recovery from illness, dizziness and more. http://nordiclabs.com/
Did you know you can test your neurotransmitter levels? The below test is an example of a test I sometimes use with clients to get a clearer understanding of what is happening in the brain.
I’m hoping it’s becoming more well known that anxiety can be a symptom of menopause.
Susannah Constantine, who shot to fame with the Trinny & Susannah TV show and known more recently for her new career as a writer and author, spoke openly and honestly about her anxiety.
She wrote about it in her monthly column for Femail in the Daily Mail newspaper.
Susannah came to me for diet, fitness and lifestyle advice and support when her anxiety got worse with the menopause.
In her article I shared some tips for women to help them reduce their symptoms which I’ve shared below.
Please do go and read the full article “It’s time for me to confess: my life’s been crippled by anxiety” here.
What helps anxiety? No coffee after lunch and a magnesium soak.
Tanith Lee, aka Mrs Menopause, is a nutritional therapist and fitness trainer who specialises in women’s health in mid-life. These are her top five tips for beating menopause anxiety.
Magnesium is known as Mother Nature’s relaxant because of its calming properties for both body and mind. But many women in midlife tend to be magnesium depleted because their busy lives mean they often aren’t eating properly.
This is an easy one to fix by eating more leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood, dark chocolate and wholegrains. There are also magnesium supplements available, including a spray for the skin.
A good way to reduce anxiety is with an Epsom salts bath or foot bath. This has a doubly calming effect — while you’re absorbing magnesium in the salts through the skin, you’re also reaping the soothing benefits of a warm bath.
Many of us love caffeinated drinks as they give a great boost, but they’re also likely to exacerbate feelings of anxiety for several reasons. Caffeine can have a negative impact on good quality sleep, has been known to trigger hot flushes and cause palpitations.
It can also mask tiredness meaning we’re more likely to keep going and put ourselves under pressure when we should be relaxing, which can also lead to anxiety. My advice is to cut out caffeine altogether or vastly reduce your intake.
If you must drink caffeine, stop at lunchtime as one cup of coffee can stay in the system as long as six hours.
Try green tea instead. You’ll get a mild caffeine boost, but it also contains a compound called L-theanine, which has calming properties.
Breathing — most of us breathe from high up in the chest, which isn’t optimal for staying calm and in control. On the other hand, breathing properly can reduce feelings of anxiety instantly.
At times when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, try ‘square breathing’. Breathe in through the nose for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out through the mouth for a count of four and then hold for a count of four. Repeat until you feel calmer.
Increasingly, links are being made between gut health and the brain. Some studies have even drawn a link between gut health and anxiety.
But during the peri-menopause many women find their gut works less well and they start suffering from IBS symptoms such as bloating or constipation. One reason is that fluctuating levels of oestrogen can compromise how well the gut is able to move on food.
At the same time, stress and anxiety can also impact on digestion. It’s a circular problem. Pay attention to diet, ensuring it’s rich in a variety of nutritious foods. These should include plenty of fibre such as fruit and vegetables, protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. And it’s worth taking a probiotic supplement.
It’s well known that exercise stimulates ‘feel good’ endorphins and I cannot stress enough the benefits of keeping the body moving as a way to combat anxiety.
For a start, while you are exercising it’s impossible to think of anything else so it helps break the cycle of anxiety, and then afterwards you reap the benefits of serotonin, which creates a feeling of wellbeing.
Exercising to the point of getting sweaty is ideal, but even a walk at lunchtime will bring benefits. Exercise can also help with feelings of negative body image — just knowing you are taking action can make you feel better and more positive.
OMG, OMG, OMG ….. i’ve just had a first glimpse at my new website!!
I created Mrs Menopause blog back in 2011 when I was in the throes of early menopause. I created it as a platform to share my experience and stories and to reach out to other women going through the same thing.
I had no idea that I would create a business from that little idea!
My poor blog has limped along with minor changes and tweaks and it is looking a little jaded.
I’ve given my own life, body and mindset a reboot over the last nine months and I wanted my website to reflect my growth.
I cannot wait to share it with the world very soon.
The last nine months have been tranformational for me personally.
After a pretty crap 2018 with my mental health, physical health and family traumas I knew I wanted 2019 to be different. I wanted my next decade in sobriety to be even bigger and better.
That decision was taken back in September 2018. I knew for me to have a radically different year would take a radical step forward and a new mindset.
I needed help. I found help. I invested in a coach.
For the last nine months I’ve been fully focused on me. Selfish? Maybe ….. but I needed to be to create big change. I wasn’t willing to ‘just get by’, ‘survive’ or ‘get through the days’ anymore.
★ I’ve said no to lots of people even when I knew they wouldn’t like it.
★ I stopped doing ‘stuff’ for the sake of it and because ‘they’ are.
★ I’ve turned down work because it no longer fits with who I am or what I do.
★ I’ve learnt to trust myself and learnt what self compassion and self love means to me.
★ I’ve learnt what I need when I need it.
★ I’ve called bull 💩 on my limiting beliefs and stories.
★ I’ve glimpsed my potential and I am excited about what that will bring.
At the eve of a new year I didn’t set any resolutions because I already started them a few months back 😜
Yay to celebrating life and all the ups and downs and side ways…
“To thine own self be true”
My biggest discovery has to be the power of my thoughts and beliefs. I had no idea that my old negative stories and mindset was creating more of the same. As much as I wanted to feel happier, healthier and wealthier I was unaware that to create that I had to teach my body to experience those feelings and desires as if it was already true.
I had to break the cycle and to do that I have to act as if my dreams had already come true!
You brain doesn’t not know the difference between your imagination and reality.
In research by Pascual-Leone, A. (1995 article) “Modulation of muscle responses evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation during the acquisition of new fine motor skills.” Journal of Neurophysiology, vol 74(3) 1037–1045, people who mentally rehearsed piano exercises two hours a day for five days had almost the same brain changes as people who practiced on a real piano.
Today I know I can be happier if I choose to be. I can take some quiet time and rehearse mentally (think) and physically (feel/emotions) how I want to ‘be’ in the world.
You and I have been conditioned into believing that we need a reason for joy, a motivation to feel gratitude, grounds to be in a state of love. That’s relying on external reality to make us feel different internally…The new model of reality challenges us…to change something within us — in mind and body, in our thoughts and feelings — before we can experience the physical evidence with our senses. Can you give thanks and feel the elevated emotions associated with a desired event before it occurs? Can you imagine that reality so completely that you begin to be in that future life now? – Dr Joe Dispenza
I’m currently deepening my learning and practice of this by following Dr Joe Dispenza’s work. He explains more in this blog post https://drjoedispenza.net/blog/mastery-es/when-you-stop-looking-and-start-becoming/
I’m hosting an event for women who want to know more about the menopause.
There is still so much fear and confusion around menopause even with the wealth of information available. Many women are still struggling and don’t have access to someone who understands them and can empathise with what they are experiencing. Someone who can reassure them that they CAN feel BETTER, have more energy and be free of the symptoms.
Most women don’t know where to begin their journey. What to try first or feel a ‘failure’ because they have to use HRT.
Tanith will give a talk about the basics of menopause and how you can either prepare for the change or how to support yourself whilst going through it.
Then the floor will open for questions, sharing and discussion. This is POWERFUL as so many women feel alone and like they are the only one experiencing hormonal hell.
If you feel confused, overwhelmed or even a little fearful of what the menopause is then this is the talk for you.
Peri-menopause – the good, the bad and the ugly
Monday 29th April
Cafe Rouge – Haywards Heath (upstairs function room)
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A message from Tanith
Founder, Mrs Menopause
Your forties are a time of change, I’m sure I read once that’s when the fun starts. The body changes and you cannot stop it. I want to help you accept it and embrace it…..cellulite, flabby bits and all!