Midlife How Our Brains Catch Fire

Health + Fitness

Christiane Northrup 200x200
Christiane Northrup, M.D.

By Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Dr. Christiane Northrup will be speaking at The Women’s Conference 2009.

Our brains actually begin to change at perimenopause. Like the rising heat in our bodies, our brains also become fired up! Sparked by the hormonal changes that are typical during the menopausal transition, a switch goes on that signals changes in our temporal lobes, the brain region associated with enhanced intuition. How this ultimately affects us depends to a large degree on how willing we are to make the changes in our lives that our hormones are urging us to make over the ten years or so of perimenopause.

There is ample scientific evidence of the brain changes that begin to take place at perimenopause. Differences in relative levels of estrogen and progesterone affect the temporal lobe and limbic areas of our brains, and we may find ourselves becoming irritable, anxious, emotionally volatile. 

Though our culture leads us to believe that our mood swings are simply the result of raging hormones and do not have anything to do with our lives, there is solid evidence that repeated episodes of stress (due to relationship, children, and job situations you feel angry about or powerless over, for example) are actually behind many of the hormonal changes in the brain and body. This means that if your life situation—whether at work or with children, your husband, your parents, or whatever—doesn’t change, then unresolved emotional stress can exacerbate a perimenopausal hormone imbalance. 

In a normal premenopausal hormonal state it’s much easier to overlook those aspects of your life that don’t really work, just as you can overlook them more easily in the first half of your menstrual cycle—the time when you’re more apt to feel upbeat and happy and able to shove difficult material under the rug. But that doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there.

Like PMS, as inconvenient as these are, these pains are our allies, begging us to look up and see what’s not working in our lives.  

Once we determine what the unmet needs are, we must acknowledge their importance – whether they relate to getting more sleep, having more fun, or to something else entirely. We must then simply commit to getting those needs met. We must make meeting these needs our new priority.
Check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication to learn how to skillfully acknowledge your needs and enlist others to help you meet them.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 
All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.
Excerpted with permission from The Wisdom of Menopause.
© Christiane Northrup, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn, is the author of Women's Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause, as well as Mother-Daughter Wisdom, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause and The Secret Pleasures of Menopause Playbook. For more information about Dr. Northrup and her Women's Wisdom Circle go to

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  • Being 54 and wondering why I have been so out of balance the past year - this really helped. Thank you Dr. Northrup.

    Posted by Liz1256, 23 July 2010.