The brain produces hormones and responds to hormones in the blood. When there is a hormone imbalance, it affects the brain. And, conversely, when brain health is compromised, it affects hormone levels. A healthy brain and hormone balance go hand in hand.
We might only think about brain health when we get older and experience changes in memory or cognition. However, if you pay close attention, you might notice the relationship between your hormones and brain health before deficits start.
You may have noticed brain changes throughout your cycle. Perhaps focus and brain energy are heightened during the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle (roughly the first two weeks starting with your period). Or maybe you’ve experienced “pregnancy brain” or “mommy brain” when brain fog sets in during times of significant hormonal change.
This article will show you how to keep your brain and hormones healthy simultaneously. Learn more about how to improve brain function, plus get the scoop on my top brain health supplements.
How Hormones Affect the Brain
Hormones affect how the brain functions and it’s overall health, and the brain produces hormones. Brain health is essential for both hormones entering the brain and the hormone signals leaving the brain and keeping everything running smoothly.
Brain Health for Healthy Hormone Levels
The brain is a neuroendocrine organ, secreting hormones into the blood stream, producing effects elsewhere in the body. The brain, specifically the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, signals other endocrine glands to produce hormones.
For example, the function of the hypothalamus in the brain is to interpret signals from the environment and send hormonal alerts to the pituitary gland. The pituitary then sends hormonal signals to other endocrine glands.
Pituitary brain hormones and their functions include:
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) – TSH is produced in the brain and signals the thyroid gland to produce and release thyroid hormone.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) – FSH and LH communicate with the ovaries, promote ovulation, and the production of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) – ACTH is released from the pituitary in response to stress and signals the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol.
- Prolactin – Prolactin stimulates breast milk production.
- Antidiuretic hormone vasopressin (ADH) – ADH, also called vasopressin, regulates sodium and fluids, affecting blood pressure.
Another example is the pineal gland in the brain responsible for melatonin production, which promotes drowsiness and sleep, regulating the circadian rhythm.
Healthy Hormone Levels for a Healthy Brain
Hormones produced outside the brain affect brain function, mood, memory, and more. Hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, insulin, cortisol, and thyroid hormones, cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to receptors on neurons (brain cells).
The effects of estrogen and progesterone on the brain help explain some of the differences between female and male brains. Estrogen and progesterone have neuroprotective properties and support mechanisms such as:
- Mental health and brain function
- Regulation of the immune system
- Cellular metabolic process
- Brain communication (synaptic neurotransmission)
- Learning and memory
- Formation of new brain cells and connections (neurogenesis)
A healthy brain has plasticity, or the ability to learn new things and adapt to a new environment—even throughout adulthood. The brain-related symptoms of perimenopause tend to subside once the brain adjusts to the new hormonal landscape of menopause.
Brain Health Tips
Let’s discuss how to keep your brain healthy to support hormonal health. Good nutrition and lifestyle habits improve brain function and potentially help with the prevention of cognitive decline.
The first tip to improve brain health is to increase brain-healthy foods in the diet. A Mediterranean diet for brain health is a well-studied template. This diet is anti-inflammatory and packed with antioxidants to help with brain protection.
A Mediterranean diet is composed of an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce, olive oil, omega-3 fats from fish and seafood, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A brain health diet includes protein from plants and quality animal foods, high amounts of fiber, and healthy fats, ideally with each meal.
Good Sleep for Brain Health
We can’t underestimate the importance of good sleep for a healthy brain. Sleep is the time when the brain cleans up cellular waste, repairs, regenerates, and forms memories. Even a single night of sleep deprivation can negatively affect brain function the following day.
Poor sleep affects not only the brain but hormones as well. Poor quality sleep may increase stress hormones, which has downstream effects on thyroid and sex hormones. In addition, women are more at risk for sleep disturbances during times of hormonal change, such as postpartum and perimenopause.
My favorite tips for improving sleep are:
- Set a reasonable bedtime and stick to it.
- Make your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable.
- Limit screen time before bed.
- Create a nighttime ritual of relaxation. I like a cup of herbal tea, a hot bath, and a good book after the kids are down.
Get some good sleep for brain health!
@drjolenebrighten Exercise activates your thyroid hormone, improves your insulin, supports healthy estrogen levels, and helps keep stress hormones in check. One workout, that’s all it takes to start improving your hormones. #hormoneimbalance #hormonalimbalance #hormonehealth #weightloss #pcosweightloss #thyroidhealth #thyroidtips #hormonedoc ♬ Anti-Hero – Taylor Swift
Stay Physically and Mentally Active
Regular exercise supports your hormones and the brain. An exercise routine helps to improve mental health, nourish the aging brain, and prevent brain-related disease. In addition, the benefits of exercise extend to your hormonal health. You can even sync your exercise routine to your menstrual cycle.
In addition to physical activity, stay mentally active to keep your brain engaged and adaptive. Here are some ways to keep your brain busy:
- Reading and synthesizing new information
- Brain games
- Social interactions and new conversations
- Trying a new skill or hobby
- Traveling and exploring
Reducing and Managing Stress
Stress increases inflammation and free radicals that contribute to an aging brain. When you are stressed, your brain interprets a threat, and its top priority is survival. While this is a beneficial response in the short-term, chronic stress may be detrimental to the brain.
Reducing and managing stress supports a healthy nervous system, hormonal balance, and overall well-being. Many tools, choices, and behaviors help to reduce stress and build resilience in face of the stress you can’t avoid.
Some ideas include:
- Movement and exercise
- Spending time with friends and loved ones; being a part of a community
- Mindfulness, meditation, and gratitude practices
- Acupuncture, massage, and other bodywork
- Time in nature
- Setting boundaries and saying “no”
- Taking care of your body in a loving way
Importance of Balancing Hormones
Because of the connection between hormones and brain health, addressing underlying hormonal imbalances supports brain health. Your provider can help you with a brain health assessment to understand the root causes and the role hormones may play.
The topic of hormones is broad, and it’s important to work with your provider for a clear picture of what may be out of balance for you. Common patterns I see in my practice are:
- Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone)
- Estrogen dominance
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- HPA-axis dysfunction (“adrenal fatigue”)
@drjolenebrighten Which do you practice regularly? #brainhealth #brainhealthtips #hormones #hormoneimbalance #hormonebalance #hormonedoc #hormonedoctor #hormonas #thyroidproblems #thyroidhealth #amenorrhea #amenorrhearecovery ♬ Music For a Sushi Restaurant – Harry Styles
Hormone Balancing Supplements
Different supplements support different hormonal pathways. Some to consider for women’s hormonal health include:
Benefits of Brain Health Supplements
In addition to looking at hormones, you can use targeted supplements to support healthy brain and nervous system function. Let’s look at specific nutrients and vitamins for brain health.
A standard American diet tends to be high in omega-6 fats and lower in omega-3s, which could lead to inflammation. Many of us would benefit from adding an omega-3 supplement while shifting toward a whole food diet that limits processed food. This shift in fats supports brain, hormones, and total body health.
Omega Plus is a concentrated fish oil supplement containing therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA and lipase enzymes to assist in fat digestion.
A well-functioning brain requires B vitamins. B complex vitamins support:
- Brain metabolism and energy production
- Neurotransmitter synthesis
- Methylation and genetic expression
- Hormone production and balance
Since B vitamins are water-soluble and the body excretes excess amounts, we need to be getting them daily in our diet. Supplementing B vitamins is an option for supporting brain and hormone symptoms.
B-Active Plus contains the active, coenzyme forms of the various B vitamins, so they are efficiently utilized by cells, including brain cells.
Magnesium is a critical mineral for hundreds of body processes and one that many of us aren’t getting enough of through food alone. Magnesium is essential for a healthy mood, sleep, hormone balance, metabolism, and more.
Magnesium supplementation is safe and an excellent place to start for brain health support. Magnesium Plus contains highly absorbable magnesium for the best possible results.
We typically think of vitamin D regarding calcium absorption and bone health. However, vitamin D plays critical roles throughout the body, including the brain. Vitamin D and brain health go hand-in-hand. Vitamin D supports immunity, mood, cognition, genetic expression, and more.
Most women in my practice require vitamin D supplementation to maintain optimal vitamin D levels in the blood. I recommend taking vitamin D3 along with vitamin K2 for synergistic results. A liquid supplement makes it easy to adjust the dose per your provider’s recommendations.
Everything in the body is connected, including our brain and hormones. Brain health is necessary for hormone health, and hormone balance supports a healthy brain.
Use the brain health tips and supplements discussed here for a clear, focused mind, and balanced hormones. When you learn how to take care of your brain health, your whole body will benefit.
KEEPING IT REAL, WHILE KEEPING YOU EDUCATED
Featuring a 28 day plan to take back your cycle and dozens of charts, checklists, and diagrams to help along the way.
- McEwen BS, Milner TA.. Understanding the broad influence of sex hormones and sex differences in the brain.. J Neurosci Res.. 2017. 95(1-2). 24-39.
- Hampl R, Bičíková M, Sosvorová L.. Hormones and the blood-brain barrier.. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2015. 21(3). 159-164.
- Toffoletto S, Lanzenberger R, Gingnell M, Sundström-Poromaa I, Comasco E.. Emotional and cognitive functional imaging of estrogen and progesterone effects in the female human brain: a systematic review. Psychoneuroendocrinology.. 2014. 50. 28-52.
- McEwen BS.. Hormones and behavior and the integration of brain-body science.. Horm Behav.. 2020. 119. 104619.
- Mosconi L, Berti V, Dyke J, et al.. Menopause impacts human brain structure, connectivity, energy metabolism, and amyloid-beta deposition.. Sci Rep.. 2021. 11(1). 10867.
- Petrella C, Di Certo MG, Gabanella F, et al.. Mediterranean Diet, Brain and Muscle: Olive Polyphenols and Resveratrol Protection in Neurodegenerative and Neuromuscular Disorders.. Curr Med Chem.. 2021. 28(37). 7595-7613..
- Rasch B, Born J.. About sleep's role in memory.. Physiol Rev.. 2013. 93(2). 681-766.
- Cousins JN, Fernández G. The impact of sleep deprivation on declarative memory.. Prog Brain Res.. 2019. 246. 27-53.
- Lord C, Sekerovic Z, Carrier J.. Sleep regulation and sex hormones exposure in men and women across adulthood.. Pathol Biol (Paris).. 2014. 62. 302-310.
- McEwen BS.. Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain.. Physiol Rev.. 2007. 87. 873-904.
- Bauer I, Hughes M, Rowsell R, et al.. Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults.. Hum Psychopharmacol.. 2014. 29. 133-144.
- Grosso G, Galvano F, Marventano S, et al.. Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: scientific evidence and biological mechanisms.. Oxid Med Cell Longev.. 2014. 2014. 313570.
- Kennedy DO.. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review.. Nutrients. 2016.
- Guerrera MP, Volpe SL, Mao JJ.. Therapeutic uses of magnesium.. Am Fam Physician.. 2009. 80. 157-62.