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Is Your Brain “On Fire”?

03/   December, 2015

One of my patients recently cracked me up when she told me she is now known among her family as the one whose “brain is on fire”. What???

What she’s talking about is the mental sharpness that she has acquired from the well-rounded hormone balancing program that we have started doing together. I have only been working with her for a few weeks, and she wasn’t even feeling particularly crummy when we started. Even her husband commented that he didn’t know her “foggy brain” thing would get better with hormone replacement.

This is the kind of result that makes me love my work!

I’m not going to share with you exactly what I do for her, because her program is individually tailored to her. But I will share some pearls.

Let me say the briefest of words about why I am not talking about a dementia type of memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Oversimplifying here, a person needs to be evaluated for dementia if they are putting their keys in the refrigerator or not remembering how to get home from work or another similar example of a severe loss of memory combined with a lack of orientation.

What I am talking about is the more familiar “senior moment” of not remembering someone’s name that you know you have met before or not being able to think of exactly the right word (when you know that you know the word).

Hormones That Help Brain Sharpness:

Here are the top three hormones that help brain function.

They are estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormone.

Estrogen:

This is a hormone that declines for women as we get older, with a really sudden drop-off around the time of going into menopause. Symptoms of lack of estrogens like hot flashes and night sweats are pretty well known, but the cognitive effects are not as well known.

As with many other things, most doctors treat the symptoms (ADD medications in this case of “brain fog”) without also assessing and addressing the underlying root cause.

In addition to many other known benefits of estrogen, the effect of this hormone on memory and brain function is well-documented.

Studies of memory and women going into menopause show the loss of word recall and mental sharpness that happen at this time of life. After a woman’s period stops completely and she is fully in menopause, things seem to settle down and her brain function improves, although not necessarily to the level it was at before.

Testosterone:

This is also a hormone that declines (more gradually) for women as we get older.

There is also a gradual lifetime decline of testosterone for men. Where a particular man will notice this lesser-known symptom of low testosterone is very individual.

Testosterone supplementation can have great benefits for both men and women in the areas of mood and energy as well as cognitive function.

Thyroid hormone:

This is possibly the single most important hormone (or set of hormones, actually) for optimal mental function.

There are so many steps in the process of the manufacture and cellular usage of thyroid hormone that it’s really important that your doctor not only checks one test (TSH) and if it’s in the range, tell you that you don’t have a thyroid issue.

There are many ways to treat low thyroid symptoms. If you are working with a doctor who includes addressing your thyroid hormone levels, you can expect improvement in mental sharpness.

 

Restorative Sleep

Obviously, there are many other influences on brain function that we are not talking about today. The biggest non-medical thing you can do to benefit your mental functioning is SLEEP (see my past articles on how to improve your sleep if you want your brain to be at its sharpest).

Where I live and practice here in the Silicon Valley, women and men at midlife are competing in the workplace with women and men in their 20s and 30s. Staying mentally sharp directly affects their livelihood.

Consider checking and keeping your levels optimal for estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormone, if you want your brain to be “on fire”.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions below!




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