Brain fog is real – Here are 5 things that could help you to lift it – Stuff.co.nz


Posted: December 23, 2020 at 5:58 am

This story was published on Woman.

You may know the feeling. Youre searching your brain for a word or a name you know, but just cant seem to get it out. Or you walk purposefully into a room and completely forget what youre there for.

If youre nodding along in recognition, youre not alone. Brain fog can happen at any time, but for women in midlife and perimenopause that time before menopause kicks in, which can start as early as our mid-thirties it can be particularly sudden and distressing.

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While brain fog is not a clinical term, the feeling it describes is real.

Memory, multi-tasking and concentration levels can all start to fluctuate, and we can feel like were not in control of our own brains any more.

Heres what you need to know about brain fog and what you can do about it.

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While brain fog is not a clinical term, the feeling it describes is real. Brain researcher Dr Lisa Mosconi, whose work is focused on womens brains, says females often report similar symptoms in midlife as they do at another turbulent time: post pregnancy.

We say, I have baby brain, right? That is pretty much what women experience as they go through perimenopause and menopause: being confused, feeling like youre not sharp, youre having a hard time getting through mental processing where you otherwise wouldnt have.

Many women also report problems with multi-tasking. Women have to write things down, they have to make lists, they have to cross things off, they have to start doing one thing at a time, which I think is really disconcerting as a woman, says Dr Mosconi.

We are great at multitasking, so losing that, or a decline in that capacity, can be really shocking.

Midlife is a time when women are juggling a phenomenal volume of things, including kids, parents, relationships, friends, career and general lifeload. All of which can overload us.

But theres also a strong potential hormonal component to brain fog. Thats because womens brains are loaded with hormone receptors particularly oestrogen receptors that drive many of the functions of our brains and bodies. As perimenopause kicks in, the levels of hormones start to fluctuate, typically going up and down and up again like a roller coaster, and creating all kinds of havoc, including in our brains.

Christchurch-based endocrinologist and menopause specialist Dr Anna Fenton says even though brain fog is totally normal, its something women find quite distressing.

The term is nominal dysphasia not being able to find words and names, she says. And its really quite inhibiting. Weve localised that to a very small part of the hippocampus, which is the memory department in the brain.

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Dr Lisa Mosconi, whose work is focused on womens brains, says females often report similar symptoms in midlife as they do at another turbulent time: post pregnancy.

Unfortunately, says Dr Fenton, scientists are still in the very early stages of understanding whats going on here. Is this an oestrogen-related thing? Or is it related to some of the other hormones that may be changing, like testosterone? We dont really know.

Dr Mosconi says the oestrogen link makes sense, since the hippocampus is very rich in oestrogen receptors. So if the oestrogen doesnt attach itself to the receptors, theres no activation of that region. Thats why there could be memory lapses.

Get this, ladies: what some may have suspected about mens brains versus womens brains could be true. Ours are simply superior in many ways.

The areas of the brain associated with word finding and memory, according to Dr Fenton, are areas of a womans brain that actually function at a higher level than the male brain. The joke is that what happens at menopause is we drop to their level, she explains.

However, this doesnt mean our brain performance is slipping. We do know from a number of studies that women actually outperform men on cognitive testing in any stage of life, says Dr Mosconi. Even women with a diagnosis of early Alzheimers disease perform better than men with the same diagnosis.

The point is: your brain is going through a transition, and you get back. Many women plateau and somehow adjust after menopause.

Fixing brain fog is not simple, given the range of potential causes. But there are some things that can help and can also protect our brains as we age.

Sleep is super important and addressing this can solve lots of other issues as well, including mood problems. If youre struggling with sleep, its well worth talking to your doctor getting enough quality sleep can be the key to a well-functioning brain.

Exercise is also a huge brain booster. Its great for heart health and whats good for the heart is good for the brain. Aerobic exercise boosts blood flow and gets more nutrients and oxygen to the brain, making us feel more clear-headed. For women, fitness in midlife is associated with lower risk of dementia as we age, too. Exercise lowers stress and helps us sleep better.

Taking time to move every day, even if its just a quick walk, allows us time to decompress and clear the head. All of which can go a long way towards lifting the fog.

Of course, food has a role to play, as well. Dr Mosconi favours a Mediterranean pattern of eating: tons of vegetables, wholegrains, fish, olive oil. Throw in some natural plant oestrogens from whole soy beans and fermented soy foods such as miso and tempeh and were on the right track. Knocking the alcohol on the head will also make a big difference.

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Hormone Replacement Therapy doesnt work for every woman experiencing brain fog, but it can be worth trying.

For some women, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help, especially if brain fog is just one symptom were suffering in relation to perimenopause. While HRT has been widely misrepresented in the past, it can be a godsend.

Dr Fenton says HRT doesnt work for every woman experiencing brain fog, but it can be worth trying. I dont have brain fog on my list of symptoms that I can guarantee will totally go away with hormone therapy, but for a lot of women it certainly does get better.

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