Brain Expert: Why Women Are More At Risk Of Alzheimer's & Cognitive Decline | Dr. Lisa Mosconi

Added: Apr 4, 2024

Dr. Lisa Mosconi, a brain scientist specializing in brain imaging, has conducted groundbreaking research on the impact of menopause on women's brain health. Through her studies, she has shed light on the neurological effects of menopause and how it can influence cognitive aging and the risk of Alzheimer's disease in women.

Key takeaways


Menopause is a neuroendocrine transition affecting not just the reproductive organs but also the brain, leading to significant changes in brain health and cognitive function.


Using PET scans, Dr. Mosconi's research has visualized the decline in brain energy metabolism in women post-menopause, highlighting the impact of menopause on brain health.


The three pivotal times in a woman's life - puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause - involve significant brain and hormonal system changes, crucial for women's brain health and longevity.


Menopause research is underfunded, receiving less than 0.08% of the total budget for women's health, underscoring the need for more studies on its neurological effects.


The Grandma Hypothesis suggests menopause evolved to shift women from reproductive roles to supportive roles in society, contributing to the survival and longevity of the human species.

Understanding Menopause as a Neuroendocrine Transition

Dr. Mosconi emphasizes that menopause is not just about the ovaries but also involves significant changes in the brain. She explains that menopause is a neuroendocrine transition, where the brain and hormonal system undergo a transformation as women transition from a reproductive to a non-reproductive state. This transition affects not only the reproductive organs but also the brain, leading to various neurological symptoms experienced by women during menopause.

Mapping Brain Changes During Menopause

Using positron emission tomography (PET) scans, Dr. Mosconi and her team have been able to visualize the metabolic changes in women's brains as they go through menopause. By comparing brain scans before, during, and after menopause, they have observed a significant decline in brain energy metabolism in women post-menopause. This reduction in brain activity highlights the impact of menopause on brain health and cognitive function.

The Three P's: Puberty, Pregnancy, and Perimenopause

Dr. Mosconi introduces the concept of the three pivotal times in a woman's life: puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause. She explains that these transitions are crucial for women's brain health and longevity, as they involve significant changes in the brain and hormonal system. Puberty and pregnancy lead to brain remodeling to prepare for motherhood, while perimenopause marks the transition to menopause, accompanied by various neurological symptoms.

Factors Influencing Menopausal Symptoms and Happiness Index

Dr. Mosconi's research has identified several factors that can influence women's experience of menopause and their happiness index during this phase. Genetics play a role in determining the onset and severity of menopausal symptoms, with a strong familial link observed in the age of menopause onset. Additionally, lifestyle, stress, and mindset can impact how women navigate through menopause, with some women reporting a higher happiness index post-menopause.

Challenges in Menopause Research and Funding

Despite the significant impact of menopause on women's brain health, Dr. Mosconi highlights the lack of research and funding dedicated to studying menopause. She points out that menopause research receives less than 0.08% of the total budget for women's health, underscoring the need for more studies in this field. She advocates for a shift in priorities to better understand and address the neurological effects of menopause.

Learning from Different Societies and Cultures

Dr. Mosconi suggests that Western societies can learn from Eastern cultures that have a more positive attitude towards menopause. In many Eastern countries, menopause is viewed as a natural transition in a woman's life, leading to fewer and milder symptoms. By embracing menopause as another phase of life, women can approach this transition with a more positive outlook and better outcomes.

Lifestyle and Brain Health

Dr. Mosconi highlights the crucial role of lifestyle in maintaining overall brain health. She explains that the brain differs from other organs in the body as neurons do not regenerate, making consistency in lifestyle choices essential for long-lasting effects. She emphasizes the importance of avoiding toxins like smoking, which can have lasting effects on brain health, especially during menopause.

Exercise for Brain Health

Discussing the benefits of exercise for brain health during menopause, Dr. Mosconi mentions three types of exercises that can be particularly helpful: aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Aerobic exercise is effective in reducing brain fog and memory lapses, while strength training can improve mood and metabolism. Flexibility exercises like yoga and Pilates can aid in stress reduction and sleep quality.

Menopause Transition

Dr. Mosconi explains that menopause is a complex and dynamic process that can span years or even decades. She highlights the importance of recognizing the early signs of perimenopause, such as changes in menstrual cycles and sleep disturbances, as indicators of the upcoming transition. Lifestyle interventions during the perimenopausal phase can significantly impact the severity of menopausal symptoms and overall brain health.

Impact of Environmental Toxins

Dr. Mosconi discusses the role of environmental toxins, such as endocrine disruptors and xenoestrogens, in influencing menopausal symptoms. She emphasizes the need to avoid exposure to these toxins, which can mimic estrogen in the body and lead to reproductive health issues. Making conscious choices to reduce exposure to plastic, cigarette smoke, and other harmful chemicals can protect women's health during menopause.

Living a Low-Tox Lifestyle

Drawing from her personal experience, Dr. Mosconi shares how she made changes in her household to create a low-tox environment for herself and her daughter. She emphasizes the importance of using glass, ceramic, and other non-plastic materials in the kitchen to minimize exposure to harmful toxins. By adopting a low-tox lifestyle, individuals can safeguard their brain health and overall well-being during menopause and beyond.

Diet and Brain Health

Dr. Mosconi stresses the significance of a clean diet that includes predominantly organic foods, whole foods, and homemade snacks. She emphasizes the importance of avoiding processed foods and opting for natural, nutrient-dense options. By cooking at home and involving her daughter in meal preparation, she ensures that they consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to support brain health.

The Role of Antioxidants

Antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting the brain from oxidative stress and free radicals. Dr. Mosconi recommends consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and nuts to combat aging and support cognitive function. These foods not only benefit brain health but also contribute to overall well-being.

Fiber and Hormonal Balance

In addition to antioxidants, fiber plays a vital role in regulating estrogen levels and supporting a healthy microbiome. Dr. Mosconi explains that fiber helps maintain the balance of sex hormones in the bloodstream, which is essential during menopause. By consuming a diet rich in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, individuals can support hormonal balance and overall health.

Protein and Muscle Health

While discussing the importance of protein, Dr. Mosconi highlights its role in satiety and muscle health. Protein-rich foods, whether from plant or animal sources, can help quench hunger and support lean muscle mass. She emphasizes the need for adequate protein intake, especially as individuals age, to prevent muscle loss and maintain overall health.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Dr. Mosconi delves into the topic of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and its impact on brain health during menopause. She explains that estrogen, often viewed solely as a sex hormone, plays a crucial role in cognitive function and brain health. While HRT can be beneficial for some women experiencing menopausal symptoms, it is essential to understand the risks and side effects associated with hormone therapy.

Dr. Mosconi highlights the Women's Health Initiative, a large clinical trial launched in the 1990s to test the effects of HRT on cardiovascular disease, dementia, and other health issues in menopausal women. The study had to be halted prematurely due to unexpected results showing an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, and dementia in women undergoing hormone replacement therapy.

The negative outcomes of the Women's Health Initiative study were sensationalized by the media, leading to widespread fear and skepticism surrounding HRT. As a result, only 4% of menopausal women in the United States are currently offered or prescribed HRT for symptom relief.

Dr. Mosconi emphasizes the importance of understanding the role of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in the body, especially during menopause. She explains that HRT can be safe and beneficial for women who are eligible and within the right age range.

The North American Menopause Society recommends HRT for women experiencing menopausal symptoms, as long as they are within 10 years of their final menstrual period. Dr. Mosconi stresses the need for individualized treatment and monitoring to ensure the therapy is well-tolerated and effective for each woman.

Contrary to popular belief, HRT can provide significant relief from menopausal symptoms and may even offer benefits for brain health. Dr. Mosconi's research shows that hormone replacement therapy, when administered correctly and at the right time, can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia in women.

The Grandma Hypothesis

Dr. Mosconi introduces the Grandma Hypothesis, which suggests that menopause may have evolved as a way for women to shift from reproductive roles to productive roles in society. By ceasing reproduction and focusing on supporting their offspring and grandchildren, women may have contributed to the survival and longevity of the human species.

Neurological Changes in Menopause

Dr. Mosconi discusses the neurological changes that occur in menopausal women, including increased empathy and emotional mastery. She explains how the brain undergoes structural and functional changes during menopause, leading to greater emotional stability and control over negative emotions.

Empowering Women Through Knowledge

Through her work at the Alzheimer's Prevention Program and advocacy efforts with Maria Shriver, Dr. Mosconi aims to empower women with knowledge and resources to navigate menopause with confidence. She encourages women to seek information, undergo brain scans for early detection of cognitive issues, and consider hormone replacement therapy as a viable option for symptom relief and brain health.


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