The Mental Health Connection
During perimenopause, fluctuating hormone levels, especially oestrogen and progesterone, can wreak havoc on our mental well-being. For some, these hormonal changes can lead to perimenopausal depression – a state where our emotions seem to be riding a wild rollercoaster.
Perimenopausal depression is not just “all in our heads.” It’s a real and serious condition that can affect our daily lives and overall happiness. The science behind it is quite complex, and that’s where the glymphatic system comes into the picture.
Say Hello to the Glymphatic System
Sooo…the glymphatic system?!? Sounds made up – I know! Well, it’s the brain’s own personal cleaning crew! Just like our lymphatic system helps remove waste and toxins from the body, the glymphatic system does the same for our brains.
This incredible system was discovered relatively recently by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. They found that during sleep, our brain cells shrink, allowing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flush through the brain and remove harmful waste products that build up during our waking hours.
Think of it like a nightly power wash for your brain, leaving it refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of a new day. But here’s the kicker – the glymphatic system is most active during deep sleep, and guess what perimenopause often disrupts? Yep, you guessed it – our sleep!
The Sleep and Hormone Tango
As if hot flashes and mood swings weren’t enough, perimenopause also tends to bring along sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or waking up frequently during the night. It’s like a dance of hormones and sleep deprivation, and our poor glymphatic system might be caught in the crossfire.
When we don’t get enough deep sleep, the glymphatic system can’t do its job effectively, leaving waste products to accumulate in our brain. Over time, this buildup can lead to cognitive issues, memory problems, and possibly even contribute to the development of mood disorders like perimenopausal depression.
The Oestrogen Factor
Now, let’s talk a bit more about oestrogen, the superstar hormone in our perimenopausal journey. Oestrogen plays a crucial role in regulating mood and emotional well-being. When its levels fluctuate during perimenopause, it can impact neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for mood regulation.
The glymphatic system’s functioning might also be influenced by oestrogen levels. Studies have shown that oestrogen enhances the clearance of toxic proteins from the brain, making it an essential player in the brain’s waste disposal system.
So, imagine when oestrogen levels are all over the place during perimenopause, the glymphatic system may not be able to keep up with the waste clearance. This could potentially contribute to mood swings, irritability, and even perimenopausal depression.
A Ray of Hope: Managing Perimenopausal Depression
Now, before we get too gloomy, it’s important to remember that perimenopausal depression is manageable. There are ways to support our mental health during this phase:
1. Prioritise Sleep: Creating a sleep-friendly environment and practicing good sleep hygiene can promote better sleep and support the glymphatic system’s cleansing abilities. Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark (or use an eye mask), as quiet as possible and have a routine bed time.
2. Bring movement into your day: Physical activity not only improves mood but also supports brain health and overall well-being.
3. Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can help reduce stress and promote emotional balance.
4. Seek Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing persistent mood changes or depression.
5. Reduce Inflammation: Eating anti-inflammatory foods such as brightly coloured fruits and veggies, reducing toxin exposure and looking after your gut health all helps.
6. Connect with Others: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family. Sharing experiences can be therapeutic.
In conclusion, perimenopausal depression is a real and challenging aspect of the menopausal journey. The glymphatic system adds an intriguing dimension to this topic, highlighting the intricate connection between hormones, sleep, and mental health.
So, if you’re navigating the perimenopausal waters, know that you’re not alone, and there’s a wealth of knowledge and support available to help you through this part of your life cycle. Embrace self-compassion, prioritise self-care, and remember that this, too, shall pass. Here’s to riding the waves of perimenopause with resilience and grace!
Susie Garden | Clinical Nutritionist & Naturopath
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