We’ve all been there… You wander into a room and can’t quite recall what you’re doing there. You can’t remember what you did with the car keys or your mobile phone. Someone’s name is just that little bit out of reach when you need it most… Feels like your brain is suddenly made of cotton wool?
Forgetfulness can happen to the best of us. In perimenopause, this can escalate, causing untold awkward moments, embarrassment, and it can also increase anxiety levels even further. You no longer trust yourself to remember even the most basic fact, and become even more anxious about important work events in case people notice and think you’re not up to the job any longer.
Perimenopause can be a very unsettling time and the mental and cognitive health aspect of this time in life is less widely acknowledged than it needs to be, sometimes because the women themselves haven’t been told that what can feel at times like a mental and emotional breakdown is nothing more sinister than the perimenopause. It is a recognised thing, it’s not all in your mind, and there is a huge amount you can do to help yourself.
If you’ve ever wondered, have a got perimenopause brain fog, see what you recognise from this list:
You often forget things – even important things you have reminded yourself over and over about
You regularly forget people’s names
You often lose your train of thought mid sentence
You’re always writing lists – but that doesn’t always guarantee success
You’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve lost your keys or bag
You cannot seem to retain information
You get confused easily
Your focus has evaporated
You struggle to concentrate on the TV or reading a book
You’re starting to worry that you might have dementia
Why do you get brain fog in perimenopause?
It's a complicated picture because, of course, you are not living in a controlled environment. There are all kind of circumstances like the food you eat, the alcohol you drink, and the stresses and strains of being alive that also impact on your brain health. But let’s just look at the hormones for a moment. The biggest hormonal players in brain health are progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone and all decline during the transition to menopause.
Progesterone changes can create feelings of irritability and it also affects how well you sleep. Anyone who has ever had a bad night’s sleep can understand the debilitating effect of repeated poor sleep. Poor sleep also affects the brain’s ability to work optimally.
Oestrogen has a stimulating effect on the brain, and this supports the growth of new brain cells and the proper firing of neurons.
Testosterone helps you feel sharp and clear headed.
What can I do to stop my brain fog?
If this is you, the thing you can do right now is to switch to a blood sugar balancing diet, which is one that can help even things out. As luck would have it, this is also a brain-healthy diet and it’s recommended by literally everyone in the know about menopause and the transition to menopause (aka perimenopause).
This diet is rather like the Mediterranean diet, which is a no-brainer for health. Not Mediterranean in that it’s the kind of pizza/pasta diet you might find in an Italian restaurant, but one that prioritises good quality protein, lots of colourful salads and veggies, and healthy omega fats like oily fish, and omega 6 fats olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados. That’s the starting point. There’s a lot else you can do but I just want to give you the highlights here.
Eating a diet rich in antioxidants is also helpful. You’ve probably heard of these everyday heroes in the context of skincare products… antioxidants help fight particles called free radicals that damage your cells (and your brain), making them work less well and age faster.
The best way to get a serving of these free radicals is to eat a diet high in colourful fruit and veg.
If this is a long way from where you are right now, the very first thing you can go is to cut back on sugar. My 7-day Sugar Detox programme will help you do that plus give you the whys and wherefores of a low carb diet as well as a meal plan to follow. There isn’t a better way to get started, and if you’re interested, check it out here.
This is a strategic change to your diet. When you work with a nutritionist like me, they might recommend specific tactical changes – more of this food, less of that, try the other, and so on. Everyone is different, different make-up, genetics, personal circumstances, likes and dislikes, so this gets personalised to you.
There are other lifestyle changes that may also work in your favour if you’re experiencing that woolly brain feeling. You should definitely look at the usual health killers, tobacco and alcohol. Smoking constricts blood flow to the brain, which is never a good thing. Alcohol makes flushes and night sweats worse and generally contributes to worse sleep.
On the other hand, exercise is a good thing, not just for keeping bones strong and your weight in check. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, helping to optimise its function. And I’m a big fan of guided meditation and mindfulness for reducing anxiety and also for promoting good sleep – meditation is an acknowledged treatment for insomnia.
If the whole brain fog thing feels like an uphill struggle at the moment, there is a little good news (even if it doesn’t help you right now). A study has found that memory problems are the worst earlier on in the menopause transition, rather than later – and this was the opposite of what they had expected. That’s code for, the worst will pass and it won’t always be like this…
Where do I get help if I’m struggling with perimenopause?
I’d love to help you if you want to explore how nutrition and lifestyle medicine can help you get your perimenopause hormones back in check.
If we’ve not met before, my name is Ailsa Hichens, and I’m a Registered Nutritional Therapist & Health Coach and I help midlife women get their glow back. I help them reach their happy weight by rebalancing their midlife hormones (and it’s not just oestrogen that gets out of whack at this stage of life) and help them create a life they love. If you know you need some help and want a few pointers to get started, book a free call with me by clicking HERE.