As if going through significant bodily changes isn’t stressful enough for menopausal women, another very common side effect of menopause is brain fog. Cognitive impairment at an older age can be scary. You may be wondering, “Is it an early sign of dementia? How reliable am I going to be in my day-to-day life?”
Fortunately, menopause brain fog is normal and, for the most part, harmless. If you’re feeling like you need to work harder to think and remember things during menopause, here’s what you should know.
What brain fog looks like
“Brain fog” is a non-technical term that can encompass a wide range of symptoms related to cognitive impairment. Not everyone will experience brain fog in the same way, which can make it somewhat challenging to understand or diagnose.
Not every woman going through menopause will experience brain fog, either, which can make some women feel isolated or ashamed. However, menopausal women should understand that brain fog is normal and there are ways around it.
Symptoms of menopause brain fog may appear as:
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short-term memory problems
- Losing track of items
- Difficulty making or committing to plans
- Trouble multitasking
- Difficulty expressing coherent thoughts
- Slow learning
- Decreased alertness
The root of brain fog
The main cause of menopause brain fog is a decrease in estrogen levels. Estrogen isn’t only useful in reproductive processes. It actually affects a wide range of bodily systems, including the brain. Reduced estrogen has been linked to changes in activity in the hippocampus—a region of the brain that has strong ties to learning and memory.
Brain fog typically occurs among women in their 40s and 50s, which is when estrogen levels begin to fluctuate the most. This means it can begin to affect you during perimenopause and continue into and after menopause. It is believed that some women are more susceptible to low estrogen levels than others, which is why some people experience brain fog while others do not.
Aside from this root cause, menopause brain fog can be worsened by factors such as poor sleep and hot flashes—two symptoms that are also common in menopausal women. Together, brain changes and menopausal symptoms can cause frustrating cognitive impairment.
Is there a way to stop brain fog?
There isn’t a way to completely prevent menopause-related brain fog. As the body goes through its changes and hormone levels fluctuate in your 40s and 50s, some cognitive impairment may be unavoidable.
The fortunate thing about menopause brain fog is that it is not permanent—you are unlikely to experience it after your body has worked through menopause. Experts have found that the post-menopausal brain adjusts itself to the new, low levels of estrogen, and brain fog tends to stop.
Unfortunately, menopause is not a fast process. This can make navigating the decade or so of cognitive impairment during perimenopause and menopause exceedingly difficult. Thankfully, there are a few ways women may be able to minimize their brain fog during menopause if it is significantly affecting their day-to-day lives.
Temporary hormone therapy, which includes taking low doses of estrogen and/or progestin, may be useful in increasing hormone levels enough to tide the brain over during the time of transition. Unfortunately, hormone therapy has been linked to more serious health problems, so it may not be the best option for everyone.
Instead, there are a few natural ways to treat brain fog.
- Eat a healthy diet: Your diet may play a role in causing or preventing brain fog. High-sugar diets tend to lead to brain fog more often, regardless of age. Cutting down on sugar may help prevent your brain fog from worsening, and eating a healthy diet filled with omega-3 fatty acids, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains (like the Mediterranean diet) may help combat brain fog.
- Moderate exercise: Studies have shown that light to moderate daily exercise can have positive effects on learning, memory and cognitive abilities. Physical exercise remains extremely important as you age, and it may help clear brain fog during perimenopause and menopause.
- Balancing supplements: Natural supplements formulated for hormonal balance may help relieve the symptoms of menopause by leveraging isoflavones. These isoflavones are naturally occurring plant compounds that are similar to female sex hormones and can bind to their receptors, helping to maintain balance during these times of change. Adaptogens—herbs that help maintain homeostasis in the body—may also be useful in promoting balance and alleviating brain fog.
- Sleep better at night: Sleep quality has a big impact on cognitive health. Women of all ages experience less brain fog when they’re able to fall and stay asleep at night. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep to help you stay focused and improve short-term memory. If you have trouble falling asleep, replace screen time right before bed with other wind-down activities like reading, meditation or a warm bath.
- Reduce hot flashes: It can be hard to focus when a sudden spike in core temperature causes you to sweat through your clothes. Hot flashes aren’t always avoidable, but a few tricks can reduce their severity and the impact on your cognitive function. Wear layered clothing with breathable fabrics to help you cool off. Keep a glass of ice water handy and set up a portable fan in your workspace. Limit alcohol and spicy foods, as these can dilate the blood vessels and worsen hot flashes.
If you’re experiencing brain fog symptoms during menopause, speak with your doctor. They may want to test you for other cognitive diseases to ensure the problem is truly rooted in hormone changes. Once you’re cleared from those, you and your doctor can identify a solution that works to clear your mind and help you navigate your transitional period more easily.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in November 2019. It has been updated to include more relevant and comprehensive information.