Change in Memory: Herbal self-care in menopause
Menopause is a natural part of women’s ageing but can present physical and psychological symptoms that may persist for several years. These are often experienced with little support. Common symptoms include hot flashes, sleep problems, and low mood. Problems with memory and concentration in particular can make working life challenging. This project tackles memory and concentration problems by investigating the potential value of treatments using rosemary extracts, which may alter brain chemistry to help improve memory.
About the project
The menopause is a natural part of the ageing process for women. It usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55 years of age, and is a result of changes in hormone levels. Women stop having monthly periods and are no longer able to get pregnant naturally. However, this change in ‘fertility status’ is only the tip of the ice berg for many women. Menopause is linked to a wide range of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms that may persist for a number of years as women go through the ‘change’. The most common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, sleep problems, low mood, anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration.
Throughout history, women were expected to ‘grin and bear it’, and even today, with a range of medical and psychological interventions available to support menopausal women, many still find it embarrassing on inappropriate to seek help. This situation is perhaps not helped by the fact that menopause is a taboo subject when it comes to the workplace. Employers offer little or no support and working women experiencing the menopause may feel uncomfortable raising an issue that they may find to be negatively affecting their work performance for fear of putting their job at risk.
During the menopause transition, many women find problems in learning and remembering new information is particularly challenging in the workplace. Imagine being given new instructions or things to do and being unable to recall them; or staring at a spreadsheet of numbers and not being able to concentrate on what you are supposed to be doing. These are the sorts of things women report whilst going through the menopause. And it isn’t just for a day, or a week. These problems can continue for months and years, and can affect work performance, confidence in one’s abilities, anxiety about getting things wrong. All these things can affect job-satisfaction and can lead to time off work whilst trying to recover from this natural time of life. The associated impact on income, family life and overall wellbeing can be considerable and unpleasant. Hormone therapy is available, but this has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and is not recommended for addressing cognitive problems.
We want to see if help might be found in one of our most popular herbs, rosemary. It has been shown to improve memory and concentration in people who are not experiencing problems. It is not yet known if rosemary is able to reduce memory and concentration problems. The research will address this.
First, we want to measure exactly what problems are being experienced. We will do this using a specialist online set of tests and questionnaires. Then we will compare two different methods of administering rosemary and what effects they might have on later completions of the same tests that participants will take over subsequent weeks. One way will be through the daily drinking of water that contains rosemary extract. The second will be through the breathing of rosemary essential oil aroma. We have previously found that both methods can aid mental performance in people without existing problems. We also know that rosemary contains natural molecules that can positively affect brain chemistry, and we think this is how it can help memory.
We aim to identify if either of these methods produces better objective performance and/or more positive subjective feelings than that observed in a no treatment control group. If rosemary can reduce the problems with memory and concentration experienced during the menopause, then the women taking the treatment might feel better about work performance, and this might positively affect job satisfaction and mood. As a result, they may find their life generally is better, because they have had the stress and worry associated with the memory problems removed. It could be that nature can offer a helping hand at a time when a natural event is providing a challenge.