Confusion or forgetfulness are common menopause symptoms. Here’s a Live Better With guide to coping with menopausal ‘brain fog’...
An estimated six in every 10 women experience what is known as ‘brain fog’ during their menopause. It’s an umbrella term for several different but related conditions, including forgetfulness, poor concentration, and confusion, and recent studies suggest that it peaks during the first year after a woman’s last period. It’s encouraging to know that brain fog will probably recede once you are through your menopause, although that’s not always the case. And it’s not much comfort when you are finding it difficult to cope, especially at work. But what causes brain fog and what can you do to ease the symptoms?
What is brain fog?
We’re all different, so you may find you’re dealing with one type of brain fog symptom more than others, as our Facebook community members have found:
- confusion – ‘Ended up this week buying six four pints of milk and 36 bananas - have no idea why as there are only two of us live in the house.’
- forgetfulness – ‘I forgot how to use a card machine, when paying for a meal.'
lack of concentration - 'Can't concentrate on my job etc. Feel like handing in my notice. Just want to run away from everything!!!!’
- poor memory – ‘It's like someone came along and erased the names of people, things and places!!...thought I was going mad!!’
If you’re struggling with menopausal tiredness and fatigue, this will also have an effect on how well your brain is functioning.
Many women worry, understandably, that their brain fog could be a symptom of something like Alzheimer’s. It almost certainly isn’t but, if you are worried, please do consult your GP and discuss your concerns with them. They can arrange for tests that will help to identify the cause of your brain fog – and, hopefully, rule out non-menopausal causes.
What causes menopausal brain fog – are our hormones to blame?
Medical researchers haven’t yet come up with a definitive answer but the various mental symptoms that come under the heading of brain fog appear to stem from changes in four key hormones during perimenopause and menopause: oestrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. Hormonal levels fluctuate throughout menopause, so that could explain why brain fog is worse at some stages than others.
Can anything help menopausal brain fog?
The reassuring answer is ‘yes’; there are simple adjustments you can make that could help to prevent or reduce brain fog - such as changing your diet, being more physically active, and keeping your brain stimulated. These will also help your general health too.
Eating well to beat brain fog
The Mediterranean diet can help with brain function, because it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. It consists mainly of beans, nuts and pulses, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil and whole grains so can easily be adapted to suit vegetarians and vegans, as well as Kosher and Halal diets.
Staying active to beat brain fog
Everyone needs to keep as physically active as possible, whatever their age. And it’s particularly important if you have a job that’s mainly sedentary, working on a supermarket checkout or in an office, for example. If you can, try:
- getting up from your chair every 20 minutes and stretch or move in some way
- practising active seating - moving gently while you are sitting down
- using a sit-stand desk
- including cardiovascular exercise, which increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping throughout your body, in your daily routine – aim for 30 minutes at least five days a week. You don’t need to go to a gym: brisk walking, cycling, jogging, and water aerobics will all help. The key is to find something you enjoy doing.
- adding some strength-building exercises to your routine as well: lifting weights or using weight machines at the gym.
Sleeping well to beat brain fog
Menopause can tip you into a vicious circle of not being able to sleep at night and then coping with brain fog during the day; you end up feeling like a menopausal hamster on a wheel. As with eating and exercise, good sleep is essential for good health and that’s particularly true during menopause. To help you get a good night’s sleep, avoid:
- looking at screen such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets for a couple of hours before bedtime
- eating large meals just before bedtime; the earlier in the evening you eat, the better
- alcohol and caffeine-heavy drinks such as tea and coffee in the evening
- alcohol-free and caffeine-free drinks and try herbal teas such as camomile
- bamboo – try bamboo bedding or pyjamas for more comfortable sleep
- lavender – use essential oil in a diffuser, try a Love Your Zen relaxation rollerball, or use a spray such as Mommy’s Bliss, which combines lavender with camomile and ylang and ylang
- a sleep balm – such as Badger Organic Night Night
Take a look at the Live Better With special range of recommended products – all designed to help you to sleep better and sleep well. And take a look at our blog post, 3 bedtime recipes to help you sleep.
Keeping your brain active to beat brain fog
Certain types of activity have been shown to improve brain function, co-ordination and memory and recent research shows that all the following leisure activities can help. So, if you have found one or more of these enjoyable in the past, now’s the time to revisit or take the plunge and give one a try for the first time:
- Dance – ballet, ballroom or zumba . . . whatever type of dance you enjoy, find a class, or get a DVD and go for it. Great for memory and mental and physical co-ordination and you’ll be physically fitter too!
- Making music – learning or playing an instrument or singing in a choir are all great ways to keep your brain stimulated and to keep your memory sharp. Learning a foreign language works in the same way.
- Table tennis – one of the very best sports for brain function and, as with dance, it will get you moving.
Puzzle books like The New York Times Pocket Posh Brain Games Book can help too. If you enjoy mental workouts like Sudoku, wordsearch and crosswords, it’s a good idea to try different types of games and puzzles every so often and to vary them. As the brain becomes familiar with the particular mental processes involved in specific games, so they become less of a challenge to our brains – the aim is to stay one step ahead of the game!
Calming your mind to beat brain fog
The other side of the scales; it’s all about balance . . .Mind-calming techniques can tackle brain fog by helping you to focus and get rid of the mental clutter we all carry around with us. Try:
- mindfulness – a scientifically proven way helping to calm the mind. You can learn the simple techniques involved with a clear, comprehensive guide, such as I am here now, published by the Mindfulness Project.
- relaxation – try a soothing relaxation bath soak from Lotus Therapies; perfect after a stressful day or to help you sleep.
- yoga – join a hatha yoga class and try restorative yoga postures, using equipment like bolsters and blankets. If you haven’t practised yoga before, you may find Gentle Yoga by Beth Daugherty helpful. A Live Better With customer found this book, ‘Really easy to follow and not daunting in the slightest!’
Live Better With community members’ tips for beating brain fog
The curse of brain fog is a fairly constant topic among our Community Forum and Facebook group members, many of whom have found their own solutions to the problem. These include CBD oil (a medicinal cannabis-based oil that doesn’t contain the hallucinogenic component of cannabis and is, therefore, legal to buy and use) and Vitamin B12.
But, sometimes, it’s a purely practical – but no less helpful – tip, like this one: ‘How do you do manage with ‘the big shop?’ It’s far too much for me now, heat, noise, concentration etc. I’ve switched to online delivery to save myself the weekly pre, mid and post shopping breakdown!’ A sense of humour always helps and it’s something our members definitely have in common!
Live Better With has a range of recommended products, books and supplements, all aimed at helping you to beat brain fog.
Visit the Live Better With Menopause Community Forum and Live Better With Menopause: Coping with Side Effects Facebook group for information, advice, and tips, and to share your own questions and suggestions.