We asked our biochemist for the lowdown on anxiety and why it’s such a prevalent ‘thing’ during the meno years. With the advent of COVID-19 many of us will be experiencing more of the signs of peri/menopause including anxiety.
The Psychological Signs of Menopause
The main physical signs of menopause such as hot flushes, sweats, irregular periods and weight gain are generally well known and understood by most women, and their men too. But it is the psychological signs that tend to cause the most distress. Often these signs are unfathomable and bewildering, and bring on a feeling of being “not myself”. This is very disconcerting, to say the least and sometimes so bad it drives women literally insane. Anxiety and nervousness are at the top of the list of recognised signs and these are made worse by insomnia and fatigue.
The psychological signs of menopause can be unfathomable and bewildering, and bring on a feeling of being “not myself”. Click To Tweet
For The Guys
For you men out there, we can be forgiven for dismissing this as being ‘all in her head’, or treating it as if it is not serious and ‘she will get over it’.
Mark Twain once said:
“I’ve lived a long and difficult life filled with so many misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
And he is so right – much of our anxiety is about things that are actually so unlikely to happen that after the fact we wonder why we worried about it so much in the first place.
But, psychological signs are not rational.
In women, these signs are a direct result of fluctuating hormone levels and are indirectly impacted by some of the physical signs. For example, night sweats that interrupt sleep can leave you feeling tired and vulnerable the next day, and this may trigger nervousness and anxiety.
So what is happening in our heads that causes these feelings of anxiety?
The Missing Link—Neurotransmitters
There are billions of cells in our brains that talk to each other and pass along information using chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.
When one brain cell wants to send a message to another, it releases the correct neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter floats across a tiny space between the two cells (the synaptic cleft) and the receiving cell ‘catches’ the message in one or more of its ‘catcher’s mitts’ (neuroreceptors).
Although this sounds like a SLOW process, it actually happens at the speed of light.
Your body has over 50 neurotransmitters. Following, I give you an overview of the major players and the nutrients they’re made of:
Function: regulates your appetite, mood, sensory perception and immune function.
Deficiency may cause: depression, eating disorders, chronic pain, sleep disorders, emotional problems, anxiety and aggression.
The recipe: the amino acid tryptophan, B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and iron.
Gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA)
Function: a calming effect on mood.
Deficiency may cause: anxiety, over-excitability, seizure disorders and mania.
The recipe: the amino acid glutamate, vitamin B6, manganese, biotin, lysine and taurine.
Function: controls your arousal, movement and hormonal responses.
Deficiency may cause: muscular and cell rigidity, tremors and Parkinson’s disease.
The recipe: the amino acids tyrosine or phenylalanine, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, copper, magnesium and zinc.
Function: Controls electrical activity of your brain and is vital for memory storage.
Deficiency may cause: memory loss, depression, confusion and muscle incoordination.
The recipe: the amino acid choline, vitamins B6, B5 and B3, manganese, lysine and threonine.
Medications Manipulate Neurotransmitters
The reason psychiatric drugs achieve their intended effect is that they artificially manipulate your levels of neurotransmitters.
For example, some antidepressants block your re-uptake pumps from vacuuming up leftover serotonin. By forcing serotonin to hang around between your brain cells, many people feel ‘happier’. These are called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).
A better approach
What people don’t realise is that when you help encourage proper levels of neurotransmitters in your body, you can feel a whole lot better if you are suffering from mental health disruptions like unhappiness and anxiety.
Addressing the root cause, the hormone imbalances have to be the top priority.
Here are three ways to balance those hormones:
- Reduce stress. Stress increases the hormones cortisol and adrenalin which are also known as the stress hormones for this reason. Stress increases signs and side effects of peri/menopause and can also cause you to hold onto weight.
- Develop an exercise plan – numerous studies show that gentle exercise is a powerful anxiety buster and antidepressant. Having a plan helps you stay consistent, even at those times when you don’t feel like exercising. Choose a form of gentle exercise you enjoy and do it regularly. Some good ones are walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga, dance, or even gardening. Read our blog here on this topic.
- 40+ and 55+ are non-drug herbal support for menopause that are scientifically researched to support the body’s natural response to hormonal changes including mood. There are other herbal remedies you could try as well but I will say that if your signs of menopause persist please do go and see your healthcare professional.
Nutritional Support For Your Psyche
Apart from balancing the hormones, good nutrition plays an important role in managing the psychological signs of menopause.
Fluctuating blood sugar levels are a common trigger of mental health challenges. If you find yourself craving sweets, coffee and/or cigarettes (all of which can affect your blood sugar levels) this may be an issue for you.
Common signs of spikes and drops in blood sugar include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Palpitations or blackouts
- Chronic fatigue
- Mood swings
- Angry outburst or crying spells
Make sure you have a diet of real foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy if you can tolerate it, and if you eat meat, then fish and chicken) and ditch the refined carbs. Real foods result in a much slower, even, steady supply of glucose to your bloodstream. They will also help supply the nutrients for your cells to make those much-needed neurotransmitters.
There are also a number of vital nutrients that you need for good mental health. These are:
Vitamin D is very important for your mood. In one study, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to depression than those who had normal levels. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to sunshine deficiency. Our bodies produce vitamin D in the skin when exposed to direct sunshine. This is why depression and SAD are more prevalent in the winter – the winter blues. Getting out in the sun is the perfect way to optimise your vitamin D, but be careful not to overdo it. You certainly don’t want to get burnt. Getting the right amount depends on a lot of factors, including the season (sun angle), your skin type and the amount of skin you expose. As a rule of thumb, if your shadow is longer than you are (ie in winter or morning and evening in summer) then you are not producing vitamin D. Generally, shorts and T-shirt at midday for 10 minutes per day (or 20 minutes every second day etc) is enough.
Check out this link for more details on this topic.
If the sun is not shining then taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement is highly advisable. It’s why I included Vitamin D3 in 55+. And if you’re not sure your levels are high enough ask your doctor for a vitamin D blood test.
Vitamin B12 is absolutely crucial to brain and nervous system function. It helps control a process in your body called methylation. Methylation is vital to the formation of many neurotransmitters, and methylation abnormality is a factor behind mental health problems.Vitamin B12 is crucial to the brain and nervous system. It helps control a process called methylation, an abnormality of which contributes to mental health problems. Click To Tweet
Low B12 levels can cause a wide range of signs including:
- Lack of energy
- Memory problems
- Mental fog or confusion
Current studies report that as many as 25 percent (1 out of 4) people may have or are seriously close to developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Again you can be tested for this.
Zinc is only needed by your body in trace amounts, but it’s crucial to your mental wellbeing. It plays a role in at least 80 different enzyme reactions and is a brain neurotransmitter, helping your brain send messages to different areas of the body.
Zinc deficiency can lead to irritability, chronic anger and poor memory, among other things.
Vitamin B6 is involved in over 100 different enzyme reactions in your body, including the all-important one that converts the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin (your body’s natural antidepressant).
It’s no surprise experts estimate that 95 percent of your body’s serotonin is found in your digestive tract.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is VERY serious and can lead to irritability, depression and confusion, as well as a weakened immune system.
Magnesium is needed for several enzyme reactions, calcium and potassium absorption, bone formation and nerve transmissions.
A low magnesium level is linked to attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD), autism, depression, fatigue and learning disabilities.
Although it’s best known for helping to build strong bones, calcium is also needed for proper functioning of your nerves and muscles, including nerve conduction and messaging throughout your body.
Deficiencies in calcium have been linked to anxiety, mental confusion, depression, memory loss and hallucinations
Good luck with your anxiety and remember Team Meno-Me® and our community is here to help especially during this time of lockdown. Stay connected with us and reach out at any time. One of the best ways to do this is by joining our private Facebook group: 40+ Goddesses. Click here to do so.
MenoMe Nutritional Biochemist.
Stay safe out there. #wereallinthistogether