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Clear Away Brain Fog
Jun. 17, 2022
Where did I put my keys? How did I forget about that Zoom meeting? If these questions (and so many more) pop up throughout the day, you’re not going nuts. You’re just in perimenopause.
We’ve all been there. You walk into the kitchen with a purpose and then instantly forget what the heck you were doing in there. You have never been ditzy before, but now you space out on an appointment here or a work deadline there.
This could be “brain fog,” and yes, it’s a common symptom during perimenopause.
What is brain fog during perimenopause?
Brain fog, while not a medical term, is an apt name for this mental confusion and not-firing-on-all-cylinders feeling.
“You’re just not functioning optimally. You know you’re not on top of it with multitasking, cognitive tasks, or remembering things,” says Julie Dumas, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont.
The good news is that you’re almost certainly not going crazy—and you’re not alone. “One study showed that up to 62% of women experienced subjective cognition changes at menopause, meaning they did not feel as sharp as they should be. If we were to give these women neuropsychological memory tests, they may pass them just fine, but subjectively they know something is off," Dumas says.
Why is brain fog happening?
There are estrogen receptors all over the body, including the brain, so it’s no wonder there’s a brain-hormone connection at work here. Estrogen affects things like memory processing, for example, thus your newfound forgetfulness.
“During perimenopause, your hormones are going haywire and estrogen levels are up and down, which triggers so many symptoms, from hot flashes to brain fog,” says Dumas. While hormone shifts play a role, don’t discount normal midlife stress and responsibilities. Juggling teenage kids, taking care of aging parents, work-life balance, and everything else can make anyone a little scatterbrained.
“Another important component is mood,” says Dumas, “and mood swings, anxiety, and depression due to hormonal upheaval during perimenopause are very common. These all affect cognition adversely, with or without menopause. Depression and anxiety disorders have both been scientifically proven to negatively impact your ability to think. They can impair your memory, attention, and decision-making skills.”
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve these mood issues. You can treat depression and anxiety with medication, or therapy, or lifestyle changes—and once you begin to fix these concerns, it can help clear the fog a little bit.
Sleep, and the lack of it, is another fogging factor. Think about the day after a sleepless night. You struggle just to get through it, let alone function at 100%.
“Your hormones are messing with mood, sleep, your body’s temperature controls, and all of these are connected to brain health and cognition,” says Dumas. It’s important to do what you can proactively to get enough rest—maybe pop a sleep gummy before bed or try using a meditation app. “There are ways to intervene and indirectly improve brain fog,” says Dumas, “so don’t give up!”
Should you be concerned?
“Brain fog and forgetfulness are not the same as memory loss, which would be more like not remembering your husband’s or best friend’s name,” says Dumas. “If close friends or relatives begin to notice real cognitive problems in you, that’s another alarm.”
If you’re frustrated by fuzzy thinking (or other menopause symptoms for that matter), you should seek out help, starting with a visit to your primary care physician or OB/GYN. “Solving your individual menopause puzzle is a process, and going to a doctor who will listen to you is a good place to start,” says Dumas.
What can you do to improve brain fog?
Understanding that hormones, mood, sleep and brain health are all interlinked helps to make logical sense of brain fog, and can help put your mind at ease. But what can you do to start thinking clearly again?
“A lot of improvement can come from general good-health stuff, like making sure your blood pressure is under control and your cholesterol is where it should be,” says Dumas, “and if you smoke; stop—for many reasons, including mental function.” (Recent studies suggest that smoking and vaping impair mental function and cloud your thinking.)
A healthy diet can also help to improve your overall health and your cognition, and can even help with other symptoms, which is why Kourtney Sims, MD, FACOG, NCMP, a board-certified OB/GYN and Phenology Chief Medical Advisor, supports a holistic approach to perimenopause.
"Our nutritional needs change as we age, and our diet can influence what symptoms we may experience during perimenopause. For example, hot flashes can be exponentially worse for women with unhealthy BMIs. Our hormonal health benefits greatly from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids, fiber, and fermented foods," says Sims, who goes by Dr. K. A study looking at menopause symptoms and memory, found that the severity of hot flashes negatively impacted verbal memory (“loss of words”) skills, so managing that symptom can have positive effects.
To ensure you're getting key nutrients, consider a daily supplement regimen. These day and night gummies include bioactive ingredients with a patent-pending combination of saffron extract and genistein, specially formulated to decrease and relieve hot flashes/night sweats, poor sleep, and mood changes.
"You can also try vitamins B6 and B12 to support healthy brain function," says Dr. K. To quickly clear the haze, look for a blend of L-theanine and B vitamins for mental energy and alertness, like in these Lucid Lift Rescue Mints.
Working on getting better sleep is going to improve how you function and think. Like Dumas said, try a sleep gummy that includes melatonin and CBD—even better if it combines the saffron-genistein combo we mentioned earlier that can support restful sleep.
The same goes for stress management, and finding ways to calm anxiety or treat depression. These will all help to clear your head. Get a deeper dive on menopause and depression here.
And, get moving! “Getting regular physical activity is good for everything, including brain health, as well as improving mood,” says Dumas. “While studies haven’t shown that exercise alone will remove brain fog, regular aerobic exercise has been found to improve thinking skills, including memory.”
The bottom line is that when it comes to reducing brain fog, there’s not one magic solution, but there’s a lot you can do help clear the clouds. Here's to clearer skies ahead.
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