Too often when we hear the words “anti-aging,” they’re spoken in relation to protecting our outward appearance from the passage of time. Many people mistakenly assume that while they can do something about wrinkles, crepey skin, and belly fat, they can’t do anything about the loss of memory and brain function that frequently accompanies aging.
The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are many anti-aging strategies we can implement that will help us keep our cognitive abilities sharp as we grow older. The term “cognition” covers many mental abilities and processes, including decision making, memory, attention, and problem-solving.
While it’s perfectly normal occasionally to forget your glasses or why you entered a room, a significant decline in overall cognitive function is not normal and is a serious health concern.
Alzheimer's (1) is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. It is a progressive disease that worsens over time, and while treatments are available, there is no known cure.
As we explained in a previous article, hormone imbalance can play a factor in cognitive decline and may put you at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
Hormones and Brain Health
Neurotransmitters, the building blocks of our brain’s cognition, are directly affected by estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels in the brain (which can be found in higher levels in the brain than in other areas of your body). Let’s take a deeper look at these hormones and learn what you can do to protect your brain health as you age.
The word "estrogen" is really shorthand for a group of several different but related hormones that perform similar functions within the body: Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2), and Estriol (E3). Estrogen circulates through the bloodstream and fits estrogen receptors throughout the body. In women, it affects not only the breasts and uterus, but also the brain, bone, liver, heart, and other tissues. Estrogen controls the growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the menstrual cycle, causes changes in the breasts during adolescence and pregnancy, and regulates various other metabolic processes, including bone growth and cholesterol levels.
Estrogen also plays a role for men in supporting healthy cholesterol, brain function, and bone health. In women, estrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat tissues. Men produce estrogen in the testes through a process involving an enzyme called aromatase that transforms testosterone into Estradiol (E2).
Estrogen may also play a role in the significant age and sex differences observed in both cognitive ability and brain disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Society (2) women experience higher rates of depression and Alzheimer's disease than do men; however, the more estrogen a woman is exposed to as she lives, the less her risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Estrogen levels climb when women have children and in one study, women who'd had three or more kids were 12% less likely to develop dementia symptoms than those who'd only had one child. Additionally, women who started menstruating later in their youth and were therefore exposed to less estrogen were more likely to have Alzheimer’s or dementia than women who started menstruating at an earlier age. There was also a 28 % greater dementia risk for women who experienced menopause at age 45 or younger, compared to women who started menopause after age 45.
In the past, physicians routinely prescribed synthetic estrogen to women as a protective measure against cognitive decline but researchers (3) have since discovered that women who started HRT between ages 65 and 79 actually showed a reduction in global cognition, working memory, and executive functioning.
Fortunately, a safer, more natural approach to estrogen replacement is now available through bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Bioidentical hormones are safe because, like your own hormones, they fit perfectly into the hormone receptor “locks” of the cells in the body where they do their work. The hormones are produced from plants (specifically a plant molecule called “diosgenin,” that is found in wild yams). This specific molecule does not trigger any of the negative side effects associated with synthetic hormones.
Testosterone is the best-known of a group of sex hormones called "androgens," which also includes DHEA. We tend to think of testosterone as the "male hormone," and indeed it is the primary hormone responsible for male physical and sexual development. However, women require testosterone, as well, to maintain a healthy mood, sex drive, and healthy muscles and bones: the difference is in the quantity.
Women naturally produce 0.25 milligrams of testosterone daily, while men may produce 4 to 7 milligrams: ten to forty times that amount! In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and in men, it is produced in the testes and adrenal glands.
Women and men both reach their peak of testosterone levels in their 20s and thereafter levels drop approximately one percent a year. With optimal levels of testosterone, both men and women benefit from increased energy, reduced fat, healthy libido, and a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels.
Mild cognitive impairment is believed to be associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's, as an estimated 6% to 25% of individuals with mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer's disease compared with a conversion rate of 0.2% to 3.9% in the general population. In a recent study (1), patients with cognitive impairment who received testosterone showed a significant improvement in cognitive function after treatment.
Researchers (4) are also assessing the effect of testosterone supplementation on reducing amyloid – a protein that develops in the part of the brain that affects memory and learning. Beta-amyloid accumulation in the brain is a known cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
Progesterone’s main functions are regulating menstruation and supporting pregnancy in the female body.
Progesterone is produced in the corpus luteum of the ovaries. This is a temporary gland that’s produced following the release of an egg from the ovary. The adrenal glands and the placenta can also produce this hormone.
Progesterone promotes regular sleep patterns, prevents bloating, maintains the libido, fosters a calming effect on the body, stimulates bone building, and thickens the uterine lining to promote survival of a fertilized egg (ovum).
Many common hormone problems, such as PMS, irritability, and weight gain, are related to progesterone. Estrogen & Progesterone operate like two sides of a seesaw, shifting up and down throughout the course of a woman's monthly cycle. When your body produces the optimal amount of each, you feel healthy and balanced. As you get older, the amount of estrogen and progesterone your body produces can change from month to month and year to year. When your progesterone gets low, that side of the seesaw hits the ground, and negative symptoms stemming from estrogen dominance can arise: for women, that typically means poor sleep, fatigue, anxiety, heavy periods, weight gain, uterine fibroids, irritability, and even rage.
In men, progesterone is produced in the adrenal and testicular tissue. As men get older, falling progesterone levels lead to a drop in testosterone levels. As both progesterone and testosterone decline, the levels are not enough to balance out the circulating estrogen, and men also become "estrogen dominant." The solution is to supplement with bioidentical progesterone cream to get your hormone levels back to normal again so the seesaw shifts back into equilibrium again, relieving and eliminating your symptoms.
Progesterone has also been documented (5) as playing an important role in cognition since it influences brain regions involved in memory. In one study (6) of the effects of progesterone on cognition in the early stages of menopause, researchers found that progesterone was positively related to verbal memory and global cognition.
There are millions of hormone receptor sites throughout the body, including the brain. When the production of needed hormones declines due to the aging of the ovary or testes, your brain's hormone receptors go lacking, and the result is impaired mental acuity. Maintaining optimum hormone balance no matter your age is a critical first step to supporting optimum cognitive function for life.
In addition, consider discussing some of these supplements with your clinicians:
Supplements For Brain Health
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and plays a role in over 300 metabolic processes. Boosting the brain’s magnesium level is vital to healthy cognition and promotes better long and short-term memory, learning, stress management, and sleep.
Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble phospholipid found in high concentrations in the brain and nervous tissue. Phosphatidylserine is a precursor for nerve cell function and helps to support normal cognitive and nervous system function. Phosphatidylserine is used clinically to enhance memory.
Pregnenolone is important for the function of the brain, nervous tissue, liver, pancreas, reproductive tissues, pituitary, and skin. Pregnenolone is found in higher concentrations in the central nervous system compared to the peripheral tissues which may reflect its importance in brain function. As with many hormones, pregnenolone production declines with age. It is estimated that pregnenolone production is about 60% less at age 75 than at age 35. Pregnenolone levels may also decline under various conditions of physiological stress, such as acute and chronic infections and trauma.
Improve Your Cognition With Dr. Randolph
At Dr. Randolph’s Wellness Store, we offer natural, supplements that can help with a variety of problems. Be sure to call for a tele-consultation and get a real-time view of your hormone balance. Our experts will recommend the supplements you need to achieve balance. We believe in the importance of long-term mental acuity and healthy aging.
Invest in your health and take the steps now that will keep you young at heart and healthy for years to come. We wish you well!