With all the symptoms that the perimenopause can bring, brain fog or memory lapses can be the most frightening. This can range from ‘where did I leave my keys?’ to forgetting conversations or appointments.
While this is a real occurrence during the perimenopause, for most it’s temporary and not a cause for concern. In fact, 60% of women report difficulty concentrating and other issues with comprehension around this time. So you’re not alone.
What causes brain fog?
Oestrogen, as we discovered, is used by many systems of the body and the brain is one of them. So it too, like our reproductive system, has to learn to adapt to the falling levels in oestrogen. While concerning when they happen, it’s important to remember that these lapses in our memory or ability to concentrate are usually temporary. Once the brain recalibrates after the menopause transition these lapses will lesson.
What can we do to support it naturally
While dropping oestrogen is the cause, there are other factors that can aggravate it. Paying attention to when you feel more forgetful and tracing back over the previous few days may give you some insight as to what has made it worse. Poor sleep and excess stress both can interfere with concentration and memory. So looking at supporting these as best you can would be a good starting point.
Foods for brain health
There are many foods out there that support brain health. However, as we move through the perimenopause transition, making sure we’re nourishing our body with a basic, wholefood diet is number 1. There are many reasons for this, but namely our risk for insulin resistance increases as we go through this stage. This is due to the dropping oestrogen that would usually make our cells more sensitive to insulin.
Insulin is the hormone that collects the energy from what we’ve eaten and brings it around to the various cells for them to use as energy. Insulin resistance is when the cells in our body are no longer opening to insulin as easily as they used to. Too much insulin causes inflammation.
Insulin resistance is the pre-marker for diabetes type 2. But it will also worsen any perimenopause symptom that we may experience. This includes our brain fog.
To reduce this risk add in more wholefoods. These are plants that have higher amounts of fiber than their processed counterparts. So switching from white breads and pasta to wholegrain varieties. These slow down the release of energy, avoiding any blood sugar spikes and the need for large amounts of insulin.
Adding in more protein at each meal will also slow down the energy release, resulting in less need of insulin. Breakfast is one of the meals that traditionally has less protein than it should. Try adding in nuts and seeds, or a boiled egg to any breakfast and see how you feel energy wise.
Adding in healthy fats like as the polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are found in eggs, fish, nuts and seeds. Your brain will thank you for giving it plenty of these nutrients.
Other foods you can add to your plate are those high in antioxidants. These include vitamins A, C and E. Antioxidants reduce free radicals that are formed during the many processes in the body over the day. With the brain being the largest of these organs, it can create large amounts of these free radicals. These are found in brightly colour fruits and vegetables such as berries, peppers, squashes, beetroot, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds.
Sleep quality can certainly worsen during perimenopause if night sweats make an appearance. This can leave you tossing and turning, or lying awake for long periods during the night. Lack of sleep can also worsen your brain fog.
For some people eating before bed doesn’t lend itself to a good nights sleep. However, for others it can help a lot. If you’re waking between 2am and 4am a bedtime snack may help you sleep better. But a biscuit with tea doesn’t count. Rather you need a longer lasting one energy wise. So try half a green tinged banana on two oat crackers with a tablespoon of your favourite nut butter (Almond or peanut are great). Aim to have this 1 -2 hours before you sleep.
If eating before bed doesn’t help, make sure that you have some starchy carbohydrates in your evening meal. This could be wholegrain rice or pasta, baby potatoes, roasted root vegetables. Similar to the snack above, these are high in fiber but also energy. Due to the fiber they will slow down that energy release, so it doesn’t spike and gives your body energy all night long.
Movement for better brain health
Exercise has long been shown to improve brain health overall. As mentioned before spending 2 hours in the gym is not the way to add in movement. Instead, adding in smaller amounts over the full week can be more beneficial. Studies have shown that brisk walking for 20 minutes each day has reduced the risk of dementia later in life.
Strength training has also been shown to improve brain health overall as it improves our overall muscle mass. This in turn reduces insulin resistance and improving brain energy. Strength training also includes the likes of Pilates.
While brain fog during perimenopause may be an unsettling experience, it’s essential to remember that it’s a common and temporary part of the journey. As our bodies adapt to fluctuating hormone levels, there are proactive steps we can take to support our brain health and minimize memory lapses. If you are concerned, do reach out to your GP to discuss further. If you would like to explore how nourishing your body can support you in your transition book your free 20 minute call with me today.