How many times have you forgotten where your keys are? Lost your glasses only to find that they are on top of your head? Become lost for a words mid-sentence? It can be scary if you think it’s a permanent situation. Many women secretly wonder if these ‘senior moments’ are the beginning of dementia and are truly frightened. In fact, memory loss or brain fog is one of the most frequent symptoms of the menopause. You are not losing your marbles.
What is menopause brain fog?
If you’re a woman in your 40s or 50s, you may be going through perimenopause or menopause moving towards the ending of your menstrual cycles. The average age to go through this change is 51.
Menopause symptoms are unique for each woman and include anything from hot flushes, ; night sweats, to weight gain to insomnia to thinning hair. Many women also report feeling forgetful or having a general “brain fog” that makes it hard to concentrate.
Memory issues or “brain fog” is more common than you might think.
In one study published in menopause, researchers share that some 60 per cent of middle-aged women report difficulty concentrating and other issues with cognition. These issues spike in women going through perimenopause and can have a knock-on effect on confidence and ability to cope at work.
However, it should be remembered that perimenopause is the stage just before the menstrual cycle stops entirely. The women in the study noticed subtle changes in memory, but the researchers also believe that a “negative effect” may have made these feelings more pronounced.
The researchers explain that women going through menopause may generally feel a more negative mood, and that mood may be related to memory issues. Not only that but “brain fog” may also be connected with sleep issues and vascular symptoms associated with menopause, like hot flushes.
What’s causing this foggy thinking?
We all start to forget things as we age , say the experts. When asked to memorise a list of 75 words read out five times, the average 18-year-old scores 54, a 45-year-old scores 47 and 65-year-old scores just 37. And the reason? No -one knows for sure, but it’s thought most memory problems at this time of life are due to poor concentration, lack of motivation, tiredness, anxiety or stress, rather than loss of brain cells. Feeling fuzzy-headed is also thought to be related to the hormonal ups and downs associated with menopause. Some parts of the brain particularly involved with verbal memory are rich in oestrogen receptors, so there could be a genuine physiological link between hormonal status and brain function.
The link between hormone levels and brain function is confirmed by research undertaken by Dr Sandra File at Guy’s Hospital in London.
As we grow older, our circulation slows down, thus less oxygen reaches our brain cells, so it’s no surprise we aren’t as sharp. Many of us don’t stretch our brains as much as we could. Like muscles, our brain needs to be used to function at optimum levels. The positive news is forgetfulness doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older. Don’t despair, you may not be able to prevent the “brain fog” associated with menopause, but there are lots you can do to help yourself. Following a nutrient-dense and phytoestrogen-rich diet, leading an active lifestyle and keeping your brain well exercised will help keep you sharp.
Eat a well-balanced diet
A diet that’s high in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and fat may be bad for both your heart and your brain. Instead, eating more wholesome foods and healthy fats.
The Mediterranean diet, for example, may help with brain health because it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other unsaturated fats.
Good food choices include:
- Foods rich in the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E help mop-up free radicals, the rogue molecules that can cause excessive cell damage in the body, including the brain. Good sources include richly coloured vegetables, such as bananas, red peppers, spinach and oranges.
- Oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as folic acid, all of which are vital for the smooth functioning of the brain and nervous system. Good sources include sardines, salmon, herring, pilchards and mackerel.
- Including foods rich in phytoestrogens will help balance your oestrogen levels, so adding foods rich in soy tofu will make a difference. Adding 100 mg of soy into your diet every day can fool your body into believing it still has circulating oestrogen. Including these foods means that the symptoms caused by low oestrogen will subside.
Get enough rest
Your sleep quality may make your “brain fog” worse. With sleep problems high on the list of symptoms associated with menopause, getting in enough rest can be a tall order. In fact, some 61 per cent of postmenopausal women report insomnia issues.
What you can do:
- Avoid eating large meals before bedtime.
- Steer clear of spicy or acidic foods which can cause hot flushes
- Skip stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bed.
- Alcohol may also disrupt your sleep.
- Don’t wear heavy clothing or pile on lots of blankets in bed.
- Turning down the thermostat or using a fan may help keep you fresh.
- Work on relaxation - try deep breathing, yoga, or massage.
Exercise your body
Getting regular physical activity is recommended for all people, including women going through menopause. Adding five sessions of 30 minutes of exercise per week can have a significant effect on all menopause symptoms, including memory issues.
What you can do:
- Try out activities that may include walking, jogging, cycling, and water aerobics.
- Incorporate strength training into your routine as well. Try lifting free weights or using weight machines at your gym at least twice a week. You should aim to do eight exercises with 8 to 12 repetitions.
Exercise your mind
Your brain needs regular workouts as you age so try the following exercises to sharpen your mental faculties:
- Do a mental exercise every day – a crossword, Sudoko, word search or quiz. If you don’t know the answer, look it up, then try to remember it the next day.
- When doing your finances, ditch the calculator and use your brain instead.
- Take up new activities – gardening, knitting or anything active involving your hand-eye or foot-eye coordination.
- Make shopping lists, then memorise them before going to the shops.
Adding supplements to your diet
The brain is dependent on glucose, essential fats and phospholipids for good health. Several B vitamins are also critical for normal memory and mental performance. Zinc and magnesium are necessary for neurotransmitter metabolism. It follows that including certain nutrients in your diet can help boost your concentration, attention span, as well as short-term and long-term memory.
Current research also suggests that brain-boosting supplements can help improve your memory skills.
- Take a good multivitamin and mineral such a Fema45+
- Ginkgo Biloba, an herbal extract made from the leaves of the Chinese maidenhair tree, has gained recognition over the past 30 years as a brain tonic that helps restore vascular function and memory. More than 300 medical studies have been published, most indicating the benefits of taking daily supplements. Ginkgo improves circulation, which in turn increases blood flow, carrying more nutrients and oxygen to the brain. This supplement helps restore short-term and long-term memory, helping you think more clearly and concentrate better.
Memory and other cognition issues associated with menopause may improve with time. Eat well, get good sleep, exercise, and keep your mind active to help with your symptoms in the meantime.
If your “brain fog” gets worse, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out other health issues or to ask about hormone treatments for menopause.
Get your mojo back on track.
Join Maryon Stewart's FREE Virtual Class Rekindling Your Libido