Are you finding it difficult to concentrate on your work? Do you sometimes feel momentarily confused or have trouble focusing? You could be experiencing brain fog, but don’t panic! Like the fog that rolls in off the ocean or over the city towers, brain fog dissipates. And you’re not alone: research shows that about 60 percent of middle-aged women have challenges with concentration and cognition.
What is brain fog?
Around the time of perimenopause, many women experience problems with mental clarity, focusing, concentration, and memory. In fact, these cognitive problems spike during this time before the transition to menopause. Collectively these factors are often referred to as brain fog or foggy thinking.
What causes brain fog?
The blame for brain fog falls on hormonal changes; namely, estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone. All of them play a role in many different bodily processes, including cognition.
A study from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston found that women’s ability to perform certain memory tasks declines as estrogen levels drop during menopause. The hormone levels are related to activity in the area of the brain related to memory processing, or the hippocampus.
Generally, the researchers found that women who had lower levels of estradiol did worse on memory tests. Postmenopausal women showed a different brain activity pattern (on magnetic resonance imaging) than premenopausal or menopausal women.
Brain fog also may be associated with sleep problems and hot flashes, both of which are common during menopause. Research also shows that women in the first year of their last menstrual period had the lowest scores on tests that evaluated memory, attention, verbal learning, and working memory tasks.
In many cases, brain fog is mild and disappears over time. However, less often women experience more severe memory problems, and these should be evaluated by a professional.
How can I treat brain fog naturally?
The brain responds well to lifestyle changes, so let’s explore a few that will help dissipate brain fog.
- Follow a nutritious diet. It’s true what they say about brain fog and diet: your brain needs healthy fats to function at its best. That means you need to embrace an eating plan that includes lots of whole foods and healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as tuna, salmon, and herring. One good example is the Mediterranean diet, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish. The unsaturated fats in this diet are very supportive of brain health.
- Focus on nutrients. Certain nutrients are known for their ability to help support brain health and keep the organ young. These include magnesium (leafy greens), omega-3 fatty acids (tuna, salmon, flaxseeds), epigallocatechin gallate and L-theanine (green tea), anthocyanins (berries), and phosphatidylcholine (cruciferous vegetables, soybeans). All are also available in supplement form.
- Skip brain stimulants. Both caffeine and nicotine can stimulate your brain and make it difficult to sleep. Use of alcohol also may alter your sleep patterns and leave you less sharp.
- Sleep well. In general, lack of sufficient sleep is an ingredient for foggy brain function. Add the element of menopause, including the fact that about 60 percent of postmenopausal women experience insomnia, and you can appreciate how important getting enough sleep is for brain function.
- Learn to relax. Stress and tension can make it more difficult to concentrate, remember things, focus on tasks, and learn new things. Basically, stress can fuel brain fog! Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your life, such as yoga, massage, meditation, tai chi, deep breathing, dancing, or whatever helps you to let the fog roll off your back.
- Exercise more. Regular physical activity improves blood flow to the brain and boosts levels of feel-good endorphins, both of which are good ways to fight brain fog. Get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week plus some strength training twice a week.
- Train your brain. Keep your mind exercised by learning new hobbies or languages, working on word puzzles, writing stories or poems, volunteering for a cause you believe in, or taking classes. Socializing also is very important for brain health.
when to see a health provider
Who doesn’t forget little things, like where you left your glasses or the name of your neighbor’s dog. Trouble focusing on tasks or concentrating on something you are reading isn’t abnormal either.
However, if these incidents become so commonplace they are having a negative impact on your daily life, then you may want to see a doctor.
Brain fog can be a bit disconcerting or annoying, but generally, it is harmless and goes away by postmenopause. It’s important to not become stressed over minor memory or concentration problems, as stress can make brain fog worse.