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The Girlfriend Doctor w/ Dr. Anna Cabeca

Jun 30, 2020

Emerging research shows that our early years have a lasting impact on not only our mental and physical health, but our health, wellbeing, and lifespan. I’m joined by Dr. Sarah McKay, a neuroscientist based in Australia, to discuss the intersection of nature, nurture, and a woman’s brain.

About Dr. Sarah McKay

Dr. Sarah McKay sums up her research with the words, ‘Nature, Nurture and Neuroplasticity’. Sarah is a neuroscientist and science communicator who specializes in translating brain science research into simple, actionable strategies for peak performance, creativity, health, and wellbeing.

As the director of The Neuroscience Academy, Sarah offers training in applied neuroscience and brain health for ‘helping professionals’. Sarah has authored the popular science book, The Women's Brain Book - The Neuroscience of Health, Hormones, and Happiness, which explores women’s health from 'womb to tomb' through the lens of neurobiology. In 2019, she hosted an episode of ABC’s flagship science TV show Catalyst exploring biohacking, brain health, and longevity. 

In 2020, Sarah will take part in Homeward Bound, a women-in-STEMM leadership expedition to Antarctica. Sarah grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand, and after completing her neuroscience degree at Otago University, won a scholarship to Oxford University for her Ph.D. training. After 5 years of medical research in Sydney, Australia, Sarah hung up her lab coat to build a science communications business.

Sarah combines a wry sense of humor with an uncompromising mind, and whether she's writing or speaking on the TEDx stage she tells science stories in a fun and compelling way. She features in print media such as The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Sydney Morning Herald. Sarah is also on SBS Insight, ABC Radio National, ABC Catalyst, and Channel 7 Mornings.

Sarah lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia with her Irish husband. Together they're raising two boys and a cocker spaniel, and they spend time sailing, surfing, mountain biking, or skiing.

First of all, Sarah explains what neuroplasticity is. It’s a relatively new avenue of neuroscience that Sarah’s dedicated her studies to. She shares how her studies brought her to start her own science business.

While there is increasing evidence that the first few years of our lives impact our health and wellbeing, Sarah provides evidence of how the love and care of someone outside your immediate family can help turn your life around. This gives a strong argument to the nurture side of the debate - and how important activating with love and kindness to others has such a lasting impact.

From a family first point of view, we talk about how new mothers and new families need to have support systems put in place immediately. As opposed to returning to work just weeks after giving birth, an emphasis on connecting and building love within the family unit will help solidify that new baby’s positive mental health later in life.

We discuss the links between puberty and perimenopause and how girls and women should have support during these times in their lives. Our brains and bodies are undergoing some intense transformation that should run as naturally as possible. 

Sarah explains what actually causes the hot flashes that women experience during perimenopause. While there could be an argument for taking artificial hormones to suppress these and other effects that come with perimenopause, I believe it’s important we don’t suppress our hormones during these incredibly changing times.

How can you show love and support to those around you at all times? How do you manage your perimenopause symptoms? As always, you can ask me anything and let me hear your thoughts in the comments on the episode page. If you have questions, email


In This Episode:

  • What neuroplasticity is
  • How the love and care of one other person can turn someone’s life around
  • What support systems we need to put around a new mom and family
  • How the social constructs around a child impact their mental health throughout puberty
  • How puberty and perimenopause are biologically linked in the brain
  • What causes hot flashes during perimenopause
  • What happens when we suppress the hormones present during perimenopause



“Now we have very clear evidence that, yes, what happens in those first few years of life are a strong determinant, not the only determinant, but they are a large determinant to your mental and physical health, and loosely, health, wellbeing, and lifespan.” (19:56)

“A lot of the culture with managing emotions that we see in young people is just a bit of a mental mishmash between the emotional part of the brain developing faster than the top-down control part of the brain.” (36:05)

“There’s more that we don’t know than what we do know. Really it’s about being educated and informed and working with a healthcare provider that will help you make the right decisions for you.” (53:23)


Resources Mentioned

Buy The Women's Brain Book by Dr. Sarah McKay

Get The Applied Brain Science Toolkit

Find Dr. Sarah McKay Online

Find Dr. Sarah McKay on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn

Join the KetoGreen Community on Facebook

Buy Keto-Green 16


Check out the full episode page

Find Dr. Anna Online

Follow Dr. Anna on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter