Are you a female aged 40+?
Have you started to experience changes in your ability to think clearly?
Are you forgetting words, or finding it hard to get your words out?
Perhaps you feel spaced out, woolly-headed and tired? It might be due to you being in perimenopause.
What is the perimenopause?
The perimenopause can start as early as 30, but usually around 40 years, with symptoms usually becoming more pronounced until full menopause (when the ovaries stop releasing eggs) which is typically around age 50. Aside from classic symptoms, such as changes in menstrual patterns and night sweats, the perimenopause (and menopause) can lead to debilitating mental and cognitive symptoms, such as brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia.
Although there has been much welcome discussion about the menopause of late, the perimenopause can be what women find the most challenging. This is perhaps because women can carry very heavy mental loads as they enter perimenopause, for instance having both children and aging parents to care for, whilst simultaneously maintaining a career. There can be expectations to remain mentally sharp and it can feel like there is a loss of control, which understandably can feed anxious feelings.
How the perimenopause can lead to brain fog symptoms
Hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone possess greater roles in the body than simply being sex hormones and there is a slow decline of both during the menopause, with many fluctuations of their levels along the way.
Both oestrogen & progesterone are thought to play a significant role in brain health and cognition, such as protecting brain cells from damage and regulating mood. The erratic changes in their levels during perimenopause can interfere with memory and cognition, leaving women fuzzy-headed and forgetful.
Moreover, testosterone levels also begin to fall away. Although often thought of as a male hormone, testosterone is produced by the ovaries in women and plays a role in mental sharpness. It also helps provide a good blood supply to the brain, improving its overall function.
A lack of sleep can be a strong driver of brain fog because it significantly impairs the brain’s ability to function properly, resulting in that woolly head feeling. To further compound this issue, insomnia is a common complaint during perimenopause, with many women struggling to either get to stay asleep or struggling to get to sleep in the first place.
Both oestrogen and testosterone are involved in sleep quality and duration, and progesterone offers relaxing qualities due to promoting the production of GABA. This is a type of neurotransmitter that exerts a sedative effect, aiding calm, sleep, and relaxation and its reduced production may help to explain why women can start to develop sleep issues during perimenopause.
Natural ways to help balance hormones and improve your brain fog
Eating the right foods to nourish your body and brain is essential for managing brain fog and hormone balance.
Eat healthy fats, such as those found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts, seeds, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil.
Eating a diverse array of colourful fruit and vegetables is a powerful way to supply your brain with what it needs to ensure it is well protected and able to function correctly. Aim for 7 portions a day – max 2 fruit, 5 vegetables.
Eat fibre rich foods daily (e.g., oats, brown rice, wholemeal bread, buckwheat, millet). Fibre is associated with better sleep patterns, balanced hormones, and improved brain function.
Limit sugary foods – these can create blood sugar issues which can have a detrimental effect on both brain function & hormone levels.
Please also check out my free guide – a 6-day done for you meal plan that can provide you with plenty of ideas.
Sleep should be a priority you should strive to get between 7-9 hours each night. Remember that you need to be in bed for long enough to achieve this, so going to bed early enough is important to achieve deep, restorative sleep. I have some tips on how to sleep better here.
Good hydration is essential for a well-functioning brain and dehydration can significantly slow it down. Aim to drink 2 litres of (preferably filtered) water every day and limit caffeine and alcohol.
Manage your stress:
Stress can have a significant impact on cognition and memory because your body is preoccupied with survival mode. Exposure to prolonged, chronic stress can create a whole raft of unwanted chemicals and bodily processes which can negatively affect cognition and memory, in addition to hormone balance.
Moving your body every day for 30 minutes can be hugely beneficial to your mental clarity, hormone balance. It does not need to be a strenuous activity (in fact, this can have the opposite effect). Finding something you enjoy is key here.