Ever walk into a room and forget what you were going in there for? Call your kids by the wrong name, or even the dog’s name? Does your brain sometimes feel like it just pauses?
Me too! Luckily, I’m not too worried about it… not anymore anyways. I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t be worried either and some tips to help you out.
What is ‘Brain Fog?’
Brain fog is quite a normal occurrence in our midlife as we enter perimenopause. Brain fog is a time when we experience poor concentration, brain fuzz or memory slips. It’s not surprising that as we enter our midlife that this begins to happen to us, especially when we consider most of us are juggling families, careers, homes and other social obligations. Almost 8 out of 10 women will experience brain fog, depression, and other brain conditions in our midlife. Another study found that up to 60% of women reported reduced focus and mental clarity (Mosconi, L. The XX Brain. 2020) This can have a significant impact on us at work, making us more anxious, and a cause of many midlife women leaving their careers.
Why does brain fog happen to us?
Brain fog is a result in a decline of oestrogen in our bodies. We have oestrogen receptors all over our bodies, including our brain. As we enter our perimenopause, our oestrogen levels begin to decline. According to Dementia Research at the University of East Anglia, oestrogen regulates the way our brain uses glucose (sugar) to fuel itself. If our oestrogen levels drop, so does the ability to fuel our brain. Think about when you skip breakfast, or are super hungry. We can’t make proper decisions. (An important reason that breakfast is such an important meal for school children- but that’s for another day.)
So, if your brain is unable to fuel itself to function, it becomes sluggish and we begin to experience brain fog- slips in memory. It might be worth tracking or journaling when you get brain fog and when you are eating. Women in perimenopause become more concerned about weight gain, so might go on fasting diets, which affects your glucose levels. If you suffer with brain fog, it would be worth tracking your dietary habits in relation to your symptoms. After all, our midlife is a time to start taking better care of ourselves through diet, exercise and brain exercises.
I want to clarify here that brain fog is not a DECLINE in brain function at all. Your ‘intelligence’ does not erode with age. You are just as smart as you always were, but sometimes things are just a bit fuzzy.
How do I know that it is not Dementia?
As brain fog sets in, we might begin to worry that our brain function is declining and that we may have dementia. There is a difference between dementia and brain fog.
Brain Fog is caused by a reduction in oestrogen in our brain. That same reduction of oestrogen is also responsible for your hot flashes, night sweats, irritability (yup…all brain related functions). Brain fog is walking into a room and forgetting what you went in there for; or muddling your kids’ names up, but knowing you have. With brain fog, we can help ourselves by using notes and reminders.
Dementia on the other hand is caused by plaque build up on the brain over time. Currently, dementia is not reversible. Dementia is walking into a room in your house and not knowing where you are. Dementia is forgetting who loved ones are. With brain fog, we may experience irritability; with dementia there is paranoia because we do not ‘know’ who these people are or we think they ‘stole’ our belongings. If you know dementia runs in your family, then it is worth speaking to your GP about this.
Dr. Mosconi’s research has shown that the earlier a woman goes through menopause, the higher her risk of dementia. She has found that almost two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients are actually women. In fact, it was the prevalence of dementia withing the women in her own family that caused her to start researching the link between dementia and menopause. If you have time, it is worth watching her TedX talk here.
What are some things I can do to help my brain fog?
The situation is not hopeless. You do not have to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) if you don’t wish- but again discuss your options with your physician first.
There are a few natural ways you can help yourself in midlife whilst trying to overcome brain fog.
Write lists. Keep sticky notes around. First thing in the morning, I write a list of everything that I need to get done that day and refer to it throughout.
Keep your brain active with reading, board games, card games, puzzles, and crosswords.
Listen to a variety of music.
Practise slow breathing. It has been found that slow breathing reduces inflammation of the brain and increases its ability to adapt, change and repair itself.
Practise meditation with mantras. A good one to try is also my favourite- Sa Ta Na Ma. You can practise with me on my Meditation Podcast for free here.
The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation tested 161 women who were at risk for Alzheimer’s for 2-4 months using this form of meditation (Kirtan Kriya). They found that over time the blood flow to the women’s brains increased as did their cognitive function.
And if you want to learn more ways yoga, meditation and breathwork can help you with brain fog, then join my FREE masterclass this May over on my Facebook group- Your Blooming Midlife.