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The Menopause Exchange Blog


The menopause and the ageing process have many aspects in common. This article concentrates on just two: skin changes and memory problems.

This article was included in issue 75 (winter 2017/18) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Skin ageing
Ageing causes your skin to become loose and less elastic. Your skin also becomes more fragile and heals much more slowly compared to how it was when you were younger. During the menopause, your oestrogen levels fall, which affects the collagen content of your skin, resulting in worsening of any wrinkles and your skin’s overall appearance.

Looking at this in more detail, doctors know that skin cells have special binding sites that recognise the oestrogen molecule. In this way, oestrogen can have beneficial effects on your skin cells. Doctors also know that these binding sites decrease both in number and in effectiveness during the menopausal years.

There’s a lot of interest in a logical consequence of this: that supplementing your body with oestrogen may reverse these changes, perhaps by improving the function of the collagen.

However, in medicine things aren’t that simple. The effectiveness of oestrogen treatment in stimulating collagen remains controversial. In one experiment, for example, researchers treated a group of 40 post-menopausal women with an oestrogen-based cream, applied on their face, once a day for 24 weeks. Another group of 40 women were treated with sham treatment (placebo). At the end of the 24-week period, it was found that the treatment didn’t have any positive effects on wrinkles. However, other research has found the opposite effect, namely that using oestrogen after the menopause increases the collagen content of the skin and improves skin thickness, elasticity and dryness.

Progesterone is another hormone involved in the menopause. Studies show that topical 2% progesterone applied on the skin can increase elasticity and firmness in the skin of peri- and post-menopausal women. Progesterone creams may then be a good treatment for slowing down skin ageing after the menopause.

Memory matters
Iron and zinc are two useful minerals when it comes to memory. Low iron has been associated with a depressed mood, as well as memory problems. Researchers reviewed many human trials using iron and zinc supplements. Out of 11 experiments, seven were found to present positive results in mood and cognition following iron supplementation. Three experiments found improvements in mood after zinc supplementation, particularly in post-menopausal women with a previous zinc deficiency. So overall, there seems to be evidence for the effectiveness of both iron and zinc in depression and memory after the menopause.

Phytoestrogens are another well-researched nutrient. These are oestrogens found in plants such as soy. They have antioxidant properties and can also affect the oestrogen-binding sites on the brain (and skin) cells, as mentioned above. This results in improved cognition and memory. Some research showing no benefit of oestrogens on memory has been criticised for not being conducted properly and therefore the results were suspect.

Different types of soy (such as tofu and tempe) also play a role: tempe may have better effects on memory compared to tofu. The length, dose of treatment and age of the individual also play a part, so it may be best to tailor-make the treatment to the patient’s own needs.

Sense imagery
To help consolidate memory information already stored in your brain, you can use the technique of ‘sense imagery’.
* Recall a face that you know really well. Then spend a few minutes thinking about the particular characteristics of that face and try to recreate the face in your mind. Instead of using a face you may think of:

  1. A well-known scene, such as your house, garden or neighbourhood.
  2. Geometrical shapes like triangles, spheres, pyramids, stars etc.
  3. Tones of voices, such as the voice of a well-known person. On this occasion you should really make an effort to sense the tone. Other hearing mental images include a familiar voice calling you by your name, the shouts of the traders in the market or the noise of an airplane.

* Try to recall in your mind the smell of some common objects, such as your soap, your house and others such as freshly cut grass, the smell of cooked eggs and bacon, surgical spirit etc.
* Tastes. Can you recall, in turn, the taste of bread, ketchup, salt, sugar, beer and vinegar?

In my view, relying only on products such as pills, nutritional supplements etc., isn’t enough. Memory and other cognitive processes need to be exercised, just as you exercise your body. There are many brain and memory exercises available online (see the box on the left) for you to do as well as taking suitable supplements.

The same is true for the skin aspect of ageing. Using creams alone isn’t enough. It’s necessary to follow a general healthy lifestyle to protect your skin, such as avoiding too much cold or sun exposure, eating a good appropriate diet, avoiding smoking etc. What’s relevant here is to use an approach that’s inclusive of many other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, rather than just relying on pills or creams alone.

General tips
Sometimes a research study looking at a particular product or remedy may not be supportive, but another study may be supportive at another time. My suggestion is to try a specific product or therapy under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

If a particular approach isn’t working, stop using it and try something different, even if official research may still be inconclusive. Obviously if research shows that a product is dangerous or has severe side effects, then it’s to be avoided. But if it’s just a matter of not having enough research to back it up, it may be worth giving it a try.

About the author
Dr Marios Kyriazis is a biomedical gerontologist and anti-ageing physician, working on all aspects of ageing and health.

Created Winter 2017/2018

Copyright © The Menopause Exchange 2018

Acta Derm Venereol. 2014 Jan;94(1):4-8. doi: 10.2340/00015555-1614.  Long-term topical oestrogen treatment of sun-exposed facial skin in post-menopausal women does not improve facial wrinkles or skin elasticity, but induces matrix metalloproteinase-1 expression.  Yoon HS, Lee SR, Chung JH.

Effects and side-effects of 2% progesterone cream on the skin of peri- and postmenopausal women: results from a double-blind, vehicle-controlled, randomized study.  Holzer G, Riegler E, Hönigsmann H, Farokhnia S, Schmidt JB.  Br J Dermatol. 2005 Sep;153(3):626-34.

Nutrients. 2014 Nov 14;6(11):5117-41. doi: 10.3390/nu6115117.  Increasing iron and zinc in pre-menopausal women and its effects on mood and cognition: a systematic review.  Lomagno KA, Hu F, Riddell LJ, Booth AO, Szymlek-Gay EA, Nowson CA, Byrne LK.

Further general reference for the mental exercises etc is found in my book:https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f5b8/60fd4444f6437162fd5c331a29dbf8865c8d.pdf


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