Menopause affects both gray and white brain matter, study finds

caption arrowCaption
MedlinePlus defines menopause as the time in a woman's life when her period stops.

The effects are permanent for about 20% of the women tested

Because pregnancy brain isn’t enough.

If you’ve ever had a bun in the oven, you know pregnancy brain is real. You couldn’t concentrate or remember things easily. Well, hold on to your hormones, because you’ll likely experience it again. This time, however, it will be menopause brain.

ExplorePulse: a digital magazine for nurses in the Southeast

Researchers at Weill Cornell and the University of Arizona found menopause transition affects not only the brain’s gray and white matter but also connectivity and the body’s energy metabolism.

All women will undergo menopause, either through the aging process or through medical intervention, such as a hysterectomy. The transition occurs in stages — premenopause, perimenopause and postmenopause —characterized by unique endocrine properties that affect aging trajectories of multiple organ systems, including the brain.

“While menopause is a reproductive transition state,” the researchers wrote, “it is also a neurological transition, as evidence by the fact that many menopausal symptoms are neurological in nature, such as hot flashes, disturbed sleep, mood changes and forgetfulness.”

The researchers also noted that during perimenopause, women may experience depression, brain fog and the inability to focus.

ExploreWomen turning to cannabis to manage menopause symptoms

Lisa Mosconi and her team performed brain scans on 160 women from age 40 to 65. They then compared those scans to those of 125 men of the same age.

“What was really eye-opening was that the gray matter of the brain was high in premenopausal women, dropped during perimenopause, and then in many parts of the brain either stabilized or even recovered after menopause,” Mosconi told the Wall Street Journal.

The good news, the team found, was that the effects are temporary for most women. “Our study suggests that the brain has the ability to find a new normal after menopause in most women,” she said.

The phrase “in most women” means there is bad news for other women. The study found the gray and white matter in 20% of the women didn’t rebound during postmenopause. But that’s not all.

“For women with a predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, there’s a tendency for women’s brains to start accumulating Alzheimer’s plaques during the menopause transition,” Mosconi said.

ExploreStudy links early menopause to heart problems

Pauline Maki, former president of the North American Menopause Society, told the Washington Post, “We need a better understanding of who is vulnerable to persistent menopause-related cognitive changes and why, so that we can personalize strategies for maintaining cognitive health into the post-menopause.”

The study was published last week in the journal Nature’s Scientific Reports.

For more content like this, sign up for the Pulse newsletter here.

About the Author

Editors' Picks