Do you have menopause brain? An astonishing 60% of women in perimenopause and menopause answer “yes” to that question — and they’re scared. They’re struggling with fuzzy thinking, poor focus and unsettling memory problems that make life harder every day.
A majority of women in menopause say their brain function has changed. They can’t concentrate at work, or remember simple, everyday details, like grocery lists or family conversations. They’re anxious and worried that something serious is going on.
Is it the aging process? Sudden ADHD? Or — is dementia beginning to take hold?
Science shows that menopause brain and memory issues — especially if they’re new symptoms — are often tightly tied to sex hormone fluctuations during the transition into menopause. These hormonal ups and downs can actually change your brain’s physical structure for a period of time, so your thinking, memory and focus are much different from what you’re used to.
But research also proves that, by working to rebalance your reproductive hormones, you can help restore your mental sharpness and ability to concentrate.
How hormonal fluctuations can cause menopause brain
Fluctuations in reproductive hormones can have a deep impact on the brain, especially during the two years before your last period, and the two years after, which is what is known as post menopause. These are the same dramatic hormonal shifts that cause classic menopause symptoms, including hot flashes.
Hot flashes and cognitive changes in perimenopause have something in common. Research shows that women who have lots of hot flashes during perimenopause also undergo ischemic — or blood flow restricting — changes that can affect their thinking. Declining estrogen at midlife also directly affects the function of the major brain “feel-good” chemical, serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter so it has other jobs in the brain, including its key role in regulating memory and learning. Estrogen-related shifts in serotonin levels can make it harder for women in perimenopause to learn new things as estrogen begins decreasing. That can make it harder to keep up at work or to learn new hobbies and other engaging activities.
Estrogen, progesterone and brain function
Changing estrogen levels at perimenopause can affect the way your whole body works. Before perimenopause, estrogen helps regulate blood flow to your brain, enhancing your cognition and memory. You have estrogen receptors throughout your body and brain, so when estrogen fluctuates at midlife, it can alter how you think, and feel.
When estrogen decreases, it changes the ratio of estrogen-to-progesterone, another important reproductive hormone that declines during perimenopause. This shift can cause a shortage of several other brain neurotransmitters, leading to difficulty concentrating and lapses in memory. Low progesterone also directly contributes to poor memory and concentration difficulties.
The first year after menopause is particularly hard on cognition. That’s when women feel the most forgetful, often having trouble with word recall and verbal function. Sometimes they can’t express themselves clearly and may even notice their fine motor skills slipping.
Help clear menopause brain by balancing your hormones
Women in perimenopause and menopause can get so discouraged about their memory and concentration skills that they immediately assume the worst. But there is light at the end of the hormonal tunnel!
Eventually estrogen fluctuations tend to taper off in the two years following your last period.
This is good news because low estrogen alone does not cause menopause brain, foggy thinking and other cognitive symptoms. These symptoms are not just an inevitable part of getting older, and they don’t mean your days of feeling mentally sharp and focused are behind you.
It isn’t magical thinking to believe you can recover your mental clarity and improve your memory in menopause. Research clearly shows you can strengthen both memory and focus, and feel better about your brain function by helping your body find new hormonal balance.
Clear your menopause brain, fuzzy thinking and memory issues by taking these four scientifically-proven steps:
Practice living in the moment.
Staying present throughout your day can improve your working memory and stop your mind from wandering. Become more mindful when you’re doing simple things like washing the dishes. Observe each phase of the process and focus on exactly what you’re doing. If you start to ruminate, gently and lovingly bring your attention back to the task at hand.
Take a walk, run a mile.
Exercise is the secret to physical health, and that includes brain fitness. Physical movement helps deliver neurochemicals to the places in your brain that regulate memory, including those affected by fluctuating hormone levels.
Diet and supplement tricks:
Add targeted herbal extracts.
Phytotherapies for menopause are easy to take and can help restore healthy ratios between your reproductive hormones. These plant-based supplements are safer and more natural than HRT and many women report significant improvements. Look for products with black cohosh, wild yam, red clover, evening primrose or soy.
Eat right for mental sharpness.
Your brain must have a strong, steady supply of vitamins B, C, D and omega-3 fatty acids to prevent shrinkage and other abnormalities. And if you’re serious about improving your brain and memory, watch out for trans fats in snack foods. They’re in frozen biscuits and pizza, cake mixes and microwave popcorn. Eat fresh as often as you can. And keep sugar intake low, since blood sugar swings drain necessary fuel your brain needs for thinking and balancing mood.
If you’re feeling forgetful and foggy, it’s not your imagination. Something is definitely going on. You can have better memory, focus and cognition by working with your body to rebalance your reproductive hormones. You and your brain will be happier and healthier.
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