Brain Fog During Menopause

Menopause | | Clara Wang
4 min read

When most people think about menopause, hot flashes, night sweats, low libido, and mood swings come to mind. However, another aspect of menopause that is less discussed in the media is brain fog- although up to two thirds of females going through menopause experience this symptom.

If you’re going through menopause and finding it more difficult than usual to focus, or forget where you left your keys a bit too often, you’re not alone.

Let’s break down the connection between menopause and brain fog, and some ways you can proactively combat brain fog and improve cognitive function as you age and go through natural changes of life.

What is brain fog, and how does it relate to menopause?

While brain fog isn’t a medical term, it’s commonly used to refer to changes in cognition or memory.

Anybody can experience brain fog, but it’s especially common as people age due to the physiological changes that cause our brains to glitch in a way that didn’t happen in our youth. You may not be able to recall people, places, or facts as quickly. You may become more forgetful. This may be especially noticeable when you hit menopause.

Menopause officially begins when your period has stopped for 12 months, which can happen from 45 to 55 years of age. The stage before menopause is known as perimenopause, when your period may start being less regular, there may be spotting, and menopausal symptoms such as mood swings and hot flashes start appearing.

As you go through perimenopause and then menopause, your levels of the two main female hormones – estrogen and testosterone – begin to drop.

Estrogen keeps your neurons firing, stimulates brain activity, and formation of new cells as well as new connections in existing cells. Estrogen also drives your brain to burn more of its main fuel, glucose. When estrogen levels fall in midlife and then take a nosedive during menopause, your brain goes into a deprivation state, resulting in lower brain energy levels as well as the other common symptoms of menopause you may be familiar with like night sweats, hot flashes, depression, and anxiety.

Another hormone that steeply declines through menopause is the hormone testosterone, which contributes to mental sharpness and clarity (and overall energy levels) by strengthening nerves in the brain. Testosterone also protects against memory loss, since it fortifies arteries that supply the brain with blood.

As these hormones decline during menopause, your cognitive ability and memory is impacted. Luckily, there are certain lifestyle changes that can support brain health and slow cognitive decline as we age.

How to improve brain function and disperse brain fog

Regular cognitive stimulation

Stimulation has been proven by many studies to retain and improve memory, making it no surprise that people who participate in a range of mental activities are better at recalling things.

Think of your memory as a muscle – the more active it is, the better it will work. Just like switching it up with your workouts produces better results, the more different ways you use your mind, the stronger your memory will be.

Some exercises that can help sharpen your mental faculties include:

  • Doing a mental exercise such as a word search, crossword, or quick every day
  • Learning a new activity that involves hand-eye coordination like knitting, tennis, or painting
  • Memorizing new words, or learning words in a new language
  • Engaging in mentally challenging games like chess

Feeding your brain properly

When you feed your brain well, it builds better connections. The brain runs on essential fats, glucose, and phospholipids. Eating a diet full of vitamins and micronutrients like B vitamins (crucial for mental and memory performance) and magnesium and zinc (essential for neurotransmitter function) can improve your attention span, concentration, and memory.

The National Council on Aging recommends the MIND diet, which is based on the Mediterranean and DASH diets, for better cognitive function as we age. 

Foods rich in antioxidants E, C, and A can combat free radicals that exacerbate cellular damage in your body. These antioxidants can be found in deeply colored vegetables and fruits like spinach, kale, red peppers, and berries.

Essential fatty acids and folate are vital for brain and nervous system function, so fill up on salmon, sardine, avocados, and mackerel. Soy, which could stimulate estrogen production, may also help with memory in menopausal women.

Deep sleep

Sleep is crucial to memory, and disturbances in sleep or lack of deep sleep can impact cognitive function.

One common complaint for people going through perimenopause and menopause is trouble sleeping. The hormones estrogen and progesterone help to regulate sleep, so it makes sense that sleep would be affected as your body goes through these changes (those hot flashes and night sweats probably don’t help).

If you’re struggling with getting adequate amounts of sleep, then you’re probably not getting the deep sleep that helps to regenerate your brain. Plus, if you’re cranky and sluggish, it’s harder to pay attention to things that you’re supposed to remember.

Limiting screen time before bed, having a healthy sleep schedule, and finding ways to manage your stress level can help improve your sleep, and thus your memory.

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