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  • Writer's pictureLynn Ashwell

Brain fog: What causes it and what can we do about it

Updated: May 14, 2023


Brain fog in menopause

I was writing a birthday card for a friend I've known since infant school, but when it came to addressing the envelope, I simply couldn't remember her surname. It didn't matter how hard I tried; my mind was completely blank. Of course, not being able to locate my address book to look it up didn't help either, but after around thirty minutes, the name suddenly popped into my mind from nowhere, and luckily I didn't miss the post! This is what they call menopausal brain fog. Various physical and emotional factors can cause it, but as we menopausal women know, one of the main culprits is hormonal fluctuations and our estrogen levels steadily declining. It affects our brain's ability to function properly, whether in the guise of simply not remembering words or names, forgetting where we placed things or upcoming appointments, or simply being unable to concentrate and focus. It seems this rather essential hormone for keeping things in balance, which we know as estrogen, plays a crucial role in many cognitive functions. Hence, as our estrogen levels drop, so does cognitive decline. So, brain fog: what causes it and what can we do about?

Unfortunatley, it's not just the decline of this all-encompassing hormone that we have to deal with as other factors, most likely spurred on by the fall of estrogen, also become prominent during menopause. And it's these other factors that rather unhelpfully fuel the brain fog, including:


Lack of sleep: As part and parcel of menopause, insomnia and lack of sleep also rear their ugly heads. It can be due to night sweats, hot flushes, anxiety, or a disrupted sleep cycle. This continual lack of sleep leads to fatigue, which can, in turn, affect our cognitive function, adding to the problem.


Stress and anxiety: Dealing with menopause can be stressful, with changes in hormone levels, physical symptoms, and emotional upheaval. It also comes at a time in our lives when we're dealing with ageing parents, teenagers and juggling work, all adding pressure that leads to chronic stress and anxiety that, in turn, exacerbates the brain fog.


Depression: Of course, this is something that can happen at any time during our lives, but it's also prevalent during perimenopause and menopause, adding to our declining memory and concentration.


Poor nutrition: Everything leads back to what we eat, so eating a balanced diet is essential for brain function. So, not getting enough of the right vitamins and minerals can add to cognitive decline, so as this is an easy one to rectify, make sure you're getting enough of the vitamins and minerals to see you through.


Lack of exercise: There are probably a hardcore few dedicated to exercising, but for most of us, it's perhaps something we feel we have to do rather than want to do to keep ourselves healthy. But, whether we like it or not, exercising is particularly beneficial, with studies showing it's good for overall health and, more specifically, for managing menopause symptoms, including brain health. And you don't even need to make it complicated; go for a walk or get outside and do some gardening!

The severity of menopausal brain fog can vary from person to person, with some women experiencing mild forgetfulness and others having more severe cognitive decline symptoms that affect their ability to work. However, some of the most common symptoms of menopausal brain fog include:


Forgetfulness: You may forget things you usually wouldn't, such as important details or appointments, where you put your keys, or why you entered a room.


Difficulty concentrating: Menopausal women can have trouble focusing on tasks at work or home, resulting in mistakes or errors that are out of character.


Slower thinking: Menopausal women may find it takes longer to process information or respond, often struggling to find common words in conversation.


Slower thinking: Menopausal women may find it takes longer to process information or respond, often struggling to find common words in conversation.


Word-finding difficulty: A particularly common symptom is menopausal women having trouble finding the right word to express themselves. Words you know simply don't come to mind.


Decreased productivity: A symptom that is effectively a result of brain fog is that menopausal women often find they're not able to get as much done in a day as they used to, becoming easily distracted or overwhelmed.


Decreased socialisation: Another symptom that is a result of brain fog and cognitive decline is that many menopausal women withdraw from social situations to avoid embarrassment, struggling to find the right words in conversation or fear of being misunderstood.


Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom, and there are several things you can do to curb the symptoms of menopausal brain fog. Here are some tips for dealing with brain fog during menopause:


Get enough sleep: Now, I know this is extremely difficult during menopause, with insomnia being a very common symptom of overall menopause. However, try to establish a regular sleep routine to ensure you get enough sleep each night if you can. And if this is impossible, seek advice from your healthcare practitioner or look for natural sleep remedies which may help.


Reduce stress: Try and reduce stress and anxiety levels by practising deep breathing, meditation, or yoga techniques. And however the day goes, make sure to take time for yourself each day to relax and recharge.


Exercise regularly: I have mentioned it earlier, but try and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. As I say, this can include housework, gardening, or a fast-paced walk, so no one is expecting you to go running or to the gym daily unless you want to! Try and stay active, especially if your job means you're sedentary much of the day. Studies show that exercise can help improve cognitive function, reduce stress, and improve sleep, so it's a good one to incorporate daily.


Eat a healthy balanced diet: Make sure you're getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals to support your menopause journey. Ones to particularly watch for are calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, Zinc and B Vitamins. If you don't think you can get sufficient amounts from your diet, look for high-quality supplements and preferably without fillers or binders.


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