Menopause & Brain Fog
by Leah Larwood, 24th August 2022
“At home, I am passing through a brain fog, I keep forgetting what I left behind.” – Shivasmriti
Hang on, why are we here again? Oh, yes, to clear up brain fog.
Understanding Brain Fog: My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open
Although there are many jokes and memes about the amusing upshots of brain fog, equally, it can actually feel disconcerting and surprising if and when you first start to experience these hazy moments. In fact, brain fog was a strong theme and source of distress when we spoke to women in the Clementine community, with many reporting that they felt as though they were ‘going crazy’. Rest assured, you are not. This is a very common occurrence for many women during perimenopause and menopause.
Although many women talk about hot flushes as one of the most common symptoms of menopause, actually, it’s the cognitive and psychological changes that can have the biggest impact on our home and working lives. We now know that this form of brain fog affects around two-thirds of menopausal and perimenopausal women (1). In one study, between 60 and 82 per cent reported having reduced mental clarity and memory (2).
Although aging can play a role in cognition, brain fog isn’t just synonymous with getting older. Some women describe brain fog as ‘not being able to find the right words’ or feeling like a ‘blank sheet of paper’. It can feel frustrating or debilitating at times, with a real sense of, ‘why can’t I just think clear thoughts!’.
Some women think they’re experiencing dementia and many highly-successful career women have even decided to give up work because they can’t cope any more. This doesn’t need to be the case. Brain fog is simply the inability to think clearly, as though your brain can’t absorb the information and the reassuring thing is that brain fog usually passes once women move past menopause.
In the meantime, there is action you can take to better support your cognitive clarity. As ever, with all and any symptoms during menopause (or at any given point) it’s always wise to speak to your GP or health care practitioner to confirm what you are experiencing is a menopause-related symptom.
The Biology of Fog
Brain fog can mean memory problems, poor concentration and verbal slips. This is because oestrogen and testosterone have a role to play on cognition and memory, so when these levels reduce, we feel the effects. Hormones play an important role in shaping the structure of the brain and during menopause (as well as in pregnancy, puberty and monthly cycles) our brains undergo something of an reboot - brain fog being just one of the changes you might experience.
In her phenomenal book, The Upgrade, New York Times bestselling author Dr Louann Brizendine, unpicks why menopause impacts the female brain. She explains that brain fog, hot flushes, anxiety and sleep disruption indicate “glitches in the pervasive oestrogen-regulated nervous systems. In both female and male brains, oestrogen is a regulator that ensures the brain has enough energy supply” (3).
Brain fog is therefore related to the changing hormone levels in the female brain. One of the neurological impacts of the decline of oestrogen is change in memory function. Did you know that once we’ve gone through the menopause, we’ll end up with less oestrogen in our brains than men!
Usually progesterone is the first one to drop, which can lead to brain fog and also irritability, mood swings and sleep disturbances – the latter can in itself impact the brain’s ability to function properly.
There’s also an association between loss of verbal memory - such as literally being “lost for words” - and the severity of hot flushes. According to Kerryn Phelps, writing for The Guardian, one study revealed that women who experienced the most hot flushes, had the worst scores for verbal memory performance too (3). Regardless, even without other menopausal symptoms, memory can still be affected by the drop in hormone levels.
Lifestyle / Behavioural
Poor sleep can exacerbate brain fog, so employing good sleep hygiene can be a helpful way to manage brain fog. Lifelong brain health habits such as intellectual activity or physical exercise provide some protection of brain function. So do keep your brain and body active!
You can prevent hot flush triggers like caffeine (which can exacerbate brain fog too) before an important meeting and drink lots of water instead.
Take frequent breaks from your computer, rest your eyes and retain your focus. The Health and Safety Executive recommends breakfast of 5-10 minutes every hour, rather than long breaks every few hours (4).
You may find it harder to deal with brain fog in stuffy environments. Position yourself by a window or fan if possible. Ventilation and natural light can help to regulate your body clock, clear your mind and help with hot flushes too.
How Hypnotherapy Can Help
Hypnotherapy has been shown to support a number of menopausal symptoms, including brain fog. Hypnotherapy is a relaxation experience and can help you to feel not only calm but to find clarity and an enhanced capacity for learning. As a result, hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis are highly supportive resources for tackling brain fog.
Hypnosis works by reprograming and reframing your brain and adjusting your mind-set. It’s great for managing stress levels and improving sleep, which can help to minimise brain fog and other menopausal symptoms, too, but it can also facilitate changes to old patterns or habits. Many women turn to hypnotherapy during menopause because it can be an invaluable tool to support your cognitive function during this time in your life.
What Else Can You Do To Help Dispel Brain Fog?
Caring for your mind is arguably just as important as caring for your body. Things you can do to combat brain fog include:
Book in for a health check: You might like to speak to your GP or health care practitioner to make sure your symptoms relate to menopause and not another cause. Check your blood pressure regularly because high blood pressure can not only cause hot flushes, it may also increase the risk of cognitive impairment.
Get more sleep: Create a sleep routine, that gives you lots of time to wind down, making sleeping easier. Interrupted sleep or lack of quality sleep impairs brain function and can contribute to brain fog.
Practice relaxation: Relaxation practices such as yoga, meditation and breathing techniques can help with anxiety, irritability and sleep problems and support brain fog too. It’s important that when your brain needs a little TLC, it’s helpful to learn how to manage stress levels to help the brain and body restore.
Drink plenty of water: Our brain is 80% water so it makes sense to stay hydrated. Drinking around 8 glasses of water a day, if not more, will support with brain functioning and help to flush out toxins. It will also have other knock-on effects with other symptoms and general wellbeing.
A healthy diet: Look after your diet. Plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains. Include foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which promotes good brain health and also supports the production of hormones. Also, try to reduce alcohol which can not only exacerbate brain fog but also hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia, and also increases body weight and blood pressure.
Exercise regularly: Exercise can increase oxygen flow, improve circulation and boost energy levels. All of these things can enhance cognitive ability. It’s also essential to prevent chronic disease and for managing irritability, helping you sleep as well as maintaining a healthy weight. Aerobic exercise and strength training can also help your brain function.
Herbs and supplements: Certain herbs and supplements used for hot flushes and mood swings may also help brain fog and memory problems. Seek advice or support from a healthcare professional first.
HRT: Studies have shown that if menopausal symptoms become too much, HRT can be a beneficial consideration. It depends on how severely you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms and how these impact your quality of life and work, and what else you have tried.
How Our Sessions Help
Play Unmuddle Your Thoughts Session
This sessions is designed to help you clear your mind of frustration and confusion. You can listen to this session whilst you are walking or resting.
(1) Brain fog statistic
(2) Second brain fog study
(3) Hot flushes & brain flog
(4) The Upgrade: How the female brain gets stronger in midlife and beyond by Dr Louann Brizendine
(5) Health and Safety Executive (2019) Should VDU users be given breaks?