Going, going, gone...Feb 05, 2023
I recently had a day that felt like I was just in a complete brain fog.
I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do. I kept forgetting things that should come as second nature, like where I keep my toothbrush. Or I opened the refrigerator to find the cereal box from the morning….at least I didn’t put the milk in the pantry! Mid-sentence I forget simple words and sometimes can’t remember why I even walked into a room. The best might be when I am looking for my phone, while I am talking on it.
What is going on? Did I sleep the night before? Probably not as well as I have some nights but I did sleep. This all leads me to believe that maybe it’s tied to menopause. The brain fog you read about. What is it exactly? Where does it come from? Why do I have it and why can't I remember the simple spelling of a word.
I decided to take a deeper dive into this whole brain fog issue, and it turns out there is a lot going on. First, we are sleep deprived in many cases. There's so many things that disrupt our sleep. Our cortisol is out of whack. We can't get enough sleep because we’re sweating all night and not to mention just 1 million things on our minds.
But there are other things that contribute as well. The decrease in estrogen levels and progesterone play a role in our brain health. Estrogen is a key hormone in activating the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for memory, emotions and our mental clarity. Estrogen declines as we age and this decrease means less activity in the amygdala, which correlates with forgetfulness, depression and anxiety.
So what can we do about it? That’s the big question because I don’t like feeling like I’m walking around in a haze, not to mention if I forget and have to walk back into the room six times to remember. It is bound to make me crazy or should I say more crazy than I already am. Here are some suggestions that we can use to try and improve brain function.
- Eat a healthy diet. Increase our intake of whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruit as a main source of fiber. Increase our intake of healthy fats, particularly those rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These include avocados, salmon, and walnuts. At the same time we should work to eliminate or reduce processed foods, alcohol, sugar and seed oils as much as possible. Optimizing our nutrition promotes brain health and can help with mental clarity.
- Exercise. Research shows that exercise can help reduce menopause symptoms, including memory issues.
- Reduce stress. Studies show that chronic stress, especially when associated with high cortisol levels, accelerates brain shrinkage and memory loss. Decreasing stress through meditation or other techniques can improve both verbal memory and visual-spatial memory.
- Learn a new skill. Try learning a new language, a new sport or playing a new instrument. Growing our brains in a new way helps to create neural pathways in our brains. This leads to improved memory and clarity.
- Improve sleep. Of course we have to include sleep as this is the time when our body and brain reset, restore and repair. We know sleep is important to our physical health,but it is also incredibly important to our mental and emotional health.
Studies show that 60% of women in their 40s and 50s will report symptoms of difficulty concentrating at some point. These symptoms escalate during perimenopause. Practicing these techniques may improve brain health, but in some cases or severe symptoms you may need to consider other medical interventions. Bio-identical hormone therapy can increase your levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body, increasing activity in the amygdala and improving mental clarity to your days of youth. The treatment may help with other symptoms associated with perimenopause, like night sweats, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Hormone therapy is an individual choice and one that should be made in conjunction with your medical provider.
If you have questions or want to discuss how I can assist with implementing sustainable healthy habits to target perimenopause or menopause use the contact form available here.
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- Paola Gilsanz, Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, M. Maria Glymour, Charles P. Quesenberry, Dan M. Mungas, Charles DeCarli, Alexander Dean, Rachel A. Whitmer. Female sex, early-onset hypertension, and risk of dementia. Neurology Oct 2017, 89 (18) 1886-1893; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000004602
- Epperson CN, Sammel MD, Freeman EW. Menopause effects on verbal memory: findings from a longitudinal community cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep;98(9):3829-38. doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-1808. Epub 2013 Jul 8. PMID: 23836935; PMCID: PMC3763981.
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