by Sue Cahaly October 19, 2020 3 min read

Having a "senior moment" is something we often joke about when something slips our mind, but the truth is that age isn't the only factor contributing to brain fog. Hormones and hormone levels can also play a key role when it comes to clear thinking and memory.

Read on to find out what you can do to help your body!

The Impact of Hormones on the Hippocampus & Memory

One common hormone imbalance that can lead to fuzzy thinking or memory lapse involves the thyroid gland. Neurons in the hypothalamus signal for the production of the thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH). TRH stimulates the release of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland. This binds to TSH receptors on the thyroid which signals for the creation of thyroid hormone, T4 (thyroxine).

T4 is then converted to the active form, known as T3 (triiodothyronine). When the body isn't able to convert T4 to usable T3, or if these hormones are under-produced, low thyroid hormone levels occur which have repercussions such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Brain fog
  • And more

The hippocampus, located in the mid-brain, is primarily responsible for memory and has a large concentration of thyroid hormone receptors. Low thyroid levels have been shown to reduce rapid cell growth in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampal brain region.

The dentate gyrus is thought to process, analyze, and categorize sensory information before passing it on to the hippocampus to be stored as memories. As you can imagine, when the cell count of the dentate gyrus declines, so does your brain's memory and its ability to orientate itself.

TSH hormone imbalance is caused by a variety of factors including stress and diet. Foods high in vitamin B-12 and selenium can boost the production of thyroid hormones. This includes:

  • Wild Salmon
  • Pasture raised chicken and eggs
  • Brazil nuts

Listen to the Cabral Concept Podcast Episode 1496 to learn more about factors that influence your thyroid

Stress & Memory Recall

When the body becomes stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, triggering the fight or flight response. The response leads to the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Immediately following this, signals from the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, or HPA axis, are sent to the adrenal cortex to produce the glucocorticoid cortisol. Cortisol causes T3 hormones to be converted to inactive reverse T3 rather than the active and usable form of T3. This is why prolonged stress, via cortisol, can impact thyroid function.

Furthermore, cortisol can increase the development of memories but also obstruct their recall. Cortisol binds to the mineralocorticoid receptors in the hippocampus. The resulting response from this hormone and hormone receptor interaction differs depending on the timing and the level of emotional response to the stressor.

Studies have shown that the acute stress response reduces the body's ability to retrieve memories following a stressful period. Therefore, these impairments in memory recall are thought to be caused by high cortisol levels.

To manage and reduce stress, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Additionally, try to incorporate a balanced whole food diet. There are foods and supplementation that have shown to help balance cortisol levels and modulate the stress response. These include:

Listen to the Cabral Concept episode 935to learn more about foods that balance female hormones

Estrogen Receptor Decline

Sex hormone receptor levels can also play a large role in issues with memory. The brain's hippocampus and prefrontal cortex regions are hubs for estrogen hormone receptors. Several studies show that in rats, the amount of these estrogen receptors drop with age. In humans, differences in estrogen receptor expression as well as changes in pathway activation are thought to contribute to memory decline.

Although it was originally thought that estrogen hormone replacement therapy could decrease the effects of estrogen receptor reduction as we age, it has since been proven that this degradation cannot be prevented unless administered during a very brief time period during perimenopause.

The body and mind work together, so when one isn't pulling its weight, the other suffers. It is important to keep both of them running efficiently and a good place to start is by keeping your hormone levels in check.

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