Hubbie and daughter had only just stepped foot into the holiday apartment after arriving on a later flight, when I bleated – “You know it’s driving me crazy. I had a cup of tea beside me yesterday whilst I was on my computer and for the life of me I can’t find it. I’ve looked in the dishwasher, the cupboards and even the fridge. It’s a mystery. So if you see it, then let me know.”
I never gave brain-fog a thought when I headed into my early 50’s. But it affected me hugely, especially when I had a lot of ‘stuff’ going through my brain. On this particular occasion I was studying and catching up on my work-load. I never fully understood until I completed my studies, that because our nervous system is ageing AND we have changing oestrogen levels, the part of the brain which controls memory is affected. But there’s more to this too. When we don’t sleep well in menopause, especially at the time of night when our memory is being consolidated (usually between 2-4am), we experience more brain fog than usual. And yes, like the hundreds and hundreds of women who attend my seminars, I wasn’t sleeping well either. Hence, the missing cup of tea. I was so pleased that my daughter turned up though. She found it 2 hours later in the microwave where I had left it two days prior. 😂 Now I know why my mother used to forget all of our names and get in a muddle as she went through menopause.
BRAIN FOG is a ‘thing’. Oestrogens and androgens (male sex hormones) have been reported to influence verbal fluency, performance on spatial tasks, verbal memory tests, and fine motor skills and they affect the co-ordination of movement in animals [McKeowen & Elves, 2000]. So, when we feel as if we can’t remember the time of the day, or even the day, or where we have left our keys or our morning cuppa, it’s brain fog. The real definition is ‘forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly’ and feeling forgetful is also affected by our lowering serotonin as we lose oestrogen too. Serotonin is a powerful mood hormone and when this is low, we also need to be focusing on the type of exercise that is well evidenced to boost mood and motivation – aerobic exercise. Yes, a walk in the park, really does help to boost mood and improve brain fog.
The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a long-term investigation tracking the mental and physical health of more than 3,000 women going through the menopausal transition, concluded that ‘Brain-fog’ is caused by low oestrogen affecting the hippocampus – the region of the brain that controls memory. But it’s worse when we are feeling stressed, busy and overwhelmed.
A woman’s performance on certain memory tasks tends to dip as her oestrogen levels drop because we also have oestrogen receptors in our brain. These are affected by our hormonal changes in menopause too. What’s more, it’s the hippocampus that is affected most, and this is a region in the brain that is critical in memory processing. Based on numerous studies around 65% of women report memory issues as they go through menopause. Now, that’s a hell of a lot of women forgetting where their keys are each morning, oh, and where they have left their cup of tea!
Thankfully, there are numerous ways to reduce the effect of brain fog and I have all the strategies in both of the MyMT programmes.
When we are exhausted, our serotonin levels drop and melatonin (our sleep hormone) fails to fire up to go high enough in the evening. This means that the quality of our sleep isn’t deep enough overnight, so our memory bank isn’t restoring properly as we sleep.
When blood sugar levels dip and dive all over the place, then we aren’t fueling our brain or our body ready for the quick decisions that we make every day. We also have hundreds of thoughts going through our brain, so eating for energy is really important. As I say in my Masterclass on Menopause seminars, I follow a low glycemic index carbohydrate approach with enough fats to fuel the brain and help our ageing nervous system recover too. We need organic Olive Oil, salmon, walnuts and avocado – all known as healthy fats to fuel the brain.
This is something that we don’t really think about is it? I met with my lawyer friend a couple of days ago and she was jumping all over the place, running between meetings and high-level thinking. I could tell that her shoulders were tense and her brain was firing up it’s neurones (nerves) at a million miles an hour. When this happens we don’t think clearly. When it goes on all day, eventually our ageing brain and nervous system starts to rebel and we experience forgetfulness, brain fog and increased burn-out. That doesn’t do anyone any good – including you! New research about the role of our nerves and mitochondria in the brain suggests that to not let your brain become too over-stimulated for too long is important. It’s called HIPPOCAMPUS HYPER-EXCITABILITY.
As busy working women, I know that we have a lot going on in our lives – yes, I do too. But when we are constantly high-level in our thinking and working, then the nerves in the brain become ‘hyper-excitable’.
Over time, this leads to inflammation and we already know the risk of Dementia in our parents generation with this type of inflammation. When our nerves are inflamed, they don’t send their messages properly. A bit like a really fast heart-rate not being able to deliver oxygen around to our muscles causing us to build up lactic acid which stops muscle performance. It’s the same thing going on in your brain cells. That’s why Magnesium is helpful as are foods that are high in potassium. Our nervous system needs these minerals to function. So, make sure you get them in your diet – it’s what I have in the MyMT Food Guide for women on the programmes.
When I think about the times that I have had brain-fog as I was coming through menopause, I felt so frustrated and hopeless. But then I also better understand that at the time, I had a lot of things on my mind and had been concentrating really hard on whatever I was doing but I wasn’t looking after myself properly with the correct food, exercise and mental ‘time-out’. Has this happened to you too? If you think about it, we are also the first generation of women to be working in front of computers for long hours at a time, so eye strain and mental strain become ‘normalised’ in our day-to-day comings and goings, but we tend not to focus on how this affects us during our menopause transition. Over time, we just feel more and more worn out. Then we reach breaking point and we become frustrated, emotional and confused about what’s going on in our body at this time of life. Don’t you think it’s time to change that?
That’s why I always say that we can’t always blame our lowering oestrogen levels in menopause – it’s our lifestyle and how we now live our lives that is important to manage too. Low blood sugar, low Omega 3 (your nerves function better with fats) and now, a new term to add to your menopause conversations – HIPPOCAMPUS HYPER-EXCITABILITY .
Don’t forget now. 🤔😉
There are numerous symptoms in menopause that affect women and impact on their day to day ability to function. This is what MyMT helps you un-tangle and resolve. As part of my doctoral studies into women’s healthy ageing and the menopause transition, I have used my extensive background in fitness, nutrition, sports science and health, to un-pack all of our symptoms and align them up against specific strategies that, when you put them into place, you turn these symptoms around without resorting to medications and hormonal therapies. MyMT has two programmes – one for women who aren’t overweight (called ‘Circuit-Breaker’) and one for women who are overweight or putting on harmful belly fat (called ‘Transform Me‘). Both are getting outstanding results and I hope that you can check out the many success stories on the website by clicking here.
If you are struggling to make sense of how to look after yourself as you transition into the next phase of your life, your ageing years, the I hope you can visit the programme details and then join me where-ever you are in the world. I want you to feel ‘yourself’ again.
Dr Wendy Sweet [PhD] Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Founder & Coach
- McKeowen & Elves (2000). Estrogen actions in the central nervous system. Endocrine Reviews, 20(3), 279-307.