Can you change how well your brain works during menopause by what you eat? A new study says yes – at least a little.
African Americans, white, Chinese and Japanese women were followed during menopause and their diet was recorded as well as tests of their brain function called cognitive testing.
In this report, the researchers reported how much phytoestrogen (plant estrogens) the women ate. Phytoestrogens include isoflavones (in foods like soy) coumestrol (found in soy, legumes, brussels sprouts and spinach) and lignans (found in flaxseeds and sesame seeds, wheat, rye, oats, barley and some fruits like apricots).
The researchers did cognitive testing which is a way of telling how well the person’s brain is working. Here is what they found.
Asian women consumed 10 to 25 times as much coumestrol and isoflavone as the non-Asian women. The Asian women who ate more isoflavones could process information faster. The same was true for the non-Asians who ate the highest levels of isoflavones.
But during that same time, the high isoflavone eaters performed worse on verbal memory.
In late perimenopause, the women who ate the most lignans did better in verbal memory.
Coumestrol had no affect on cognitive performance.
To me these results are encouraging. They suggest that the food we eat can have an impact on our brains and how well we think and recall. It is still early in stages of good science to evaluate, as Hippocrates said, food as medicine and medicine as food. But we are getting there.
For the meantime, isoflavones appear a good food to incorporate in the diet of women in perimenopause and menopause and eating whole foods and avoiding fast food is a great prescription for health till we find out more details.