Brain fog and memory problems are common symptoms of menopause. But these issues, and others, can be minimized naturally, without hormones. Learn how.
Brain fog is a common symptom of menopause.
Close to 60% of women report fuzzy thinking and forgetfulness during menopause or perimenopause. (1)
Fortunately, these problems don’t last forever and are not risk factors for more serious forms of mental decline later in life.
However, there’s no need to struggle with foggy thinking while menopause is running its course.
Is Your Brain Fog Caused by Menopause?
Before you can know whether menopause is the cause of your brain fog, you need to be sure that you are actually experiencing menopause.
Menopause can occur anywhere from age 40 on, but the average age for the start of menopause is 51.
Menopause is medically considered to have occurred when you have had no menstrual periods for twelve consecutive months.
But the term is usually used in a broader sense as the time during which you experience menopausal symptoms.
This can include the period before menopause known as perimenopause or even years after you are technically past menopause.
The first hormone to diminish during menopause is usually progesterone.
A reduced level of progesterone can lead to mood swings, irritability, and brain fog.
Since progesterone has a calming effect, it’s also common for women to experience insomnia, which further affects their mental well-being.
Next, testosterone levels fall which can lead to diminished sex drive and depression.
Last is usually the decline of estrogen which can contribute to mood swings, hot flashes, depression, dizziness, mental confusion, headaches, and decreased energy. (2)
You may be concerned that your brain fog is a sign of a more serious condition like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
While the symptoms can be similar, the good news is that experiencing memory loss during menopause does not make you more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s later.
Most women have their worst memory problems during the first year of menopause. (3)
Once menopause is over, brain function usually returns to normal.
Menopause Brain Fog: A Real Disorder
Until recently, most doctors did not acknowledge that menopause brain fog was real.
But numerous studies support that it exists.
One major study known as SWAN (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation) confirmed that cognitive decline, the ability to learn new things, and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression frequently occur during menopause. (4, 5)
Studies show that these symptoms can occur during perimenopause as well. (6)
So don’t let your doctor brush it off as your imagination or scare you into thinking that something worse is going on.
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How Menopause Causes Brain Fog and Forgetfulness
A particular type of memory known as working memory — your ability to assimilate and manipulate new information — does not perform as well as usual during menopause. (7)
This makes it hard to do things like calculate simple math in your head or remember something you’ve just read.
This is believed to be due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Estrogen has a significant impact on neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate with each other.
Areas of the brain considered the brain’s memory centers are loaded with estrogen receptors.
Estrogen increases levels of important brain chemicals like serotonin, which is linked to positive mood, and acetylcholine, which is essential for learning and memory. (8)
It also promotes the growth of new brain cells, the formation of synapses, and acts as an antioxidant to protect the brain from free radical damage. (9)
But levels of estrogen go down during menopause, affecting levels of these important neurotransmitters.
It’s also possible that lack of estrogen contributes to memory loss indirectly by disrupting sleep. (10)
Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol during menopause can increase anxiety and depression and contribute to mental decline. (11)
Before menopause, women stay mentally sharp longer than men, but during menopause, women’s rate of mental decline catches up.
This may be due to a drop in testosterone. (12)
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, but women also need it in small amounts.
Many women also find that the “battle of the bulge” around their waistlines becomes harder than ever during this time of life.
" Avoid eating a low-fat diet since progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and other sex hormones are synthesized from cholesterol.
Unfortunately, dieting, especially following a low fat diet, can wreak havoc on your brain since acetylcholine, the memory neurotransmitter, is made up largely of fat.
If you don’t eat enough fat, your brain literally cannibalizes itself to get the fat it needs to make acetylcholine.
Does Hormone Therapy Help Menopause Brain Fog?
If hormones are the likely culprit of menopause brain fog, you might think that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) would be the answer.
Some time ago, it was believed that HRT would prevent mental decline after menopause, but that idea has fallen out of favor. (13)
Interestingly, the use of the male hormone testosterone does show promise.
Women who used testosterone gel experienced significant improvement in learning and memory. (16)
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Natural Menopause Brain Fog Remedies
Knowing that your hormones will settle down eventually is comforting, but taking active measures can have you feeling like your usual self sooner than later.
Let’s start with advice from Christiane Northrup, MD.
She is a board-certified ob/gyn physician and a pioneer in the field of women’s health and wellness.
You may recognize her as a bestselling author and host of seven public television specials.
In her bestselling book, The Wisdom of Menopause, Dr. Northrup suggests many non-hormonal ways to protect your brain during menopause.
She points out that menopause is a wake-up call.
If you have not been taking care of yourself, your mind and body will let you know now.
You’ll have a harder time going through this transition and making lifestyle changes will be even more important to reduce your issues.
She also believes that as women go through menopause, they start using their brains differently — they become less analytical, but more intuitive.
She recommends eating a nutritious diet, halting free radical damage to your brain with antioxidants, and avoiding alcohol, smoking, and artificial sweeteners.
She finds pregnenolone supplementation particularly helpful for women during menopause.
Pregnenolone is a key precursor hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter promoting the formation of brain cells.
It is also the building block for other hormones including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA.
Pregnenolone supplements have been shown to:
- control inflammation
- reduce stress
- improve memory and other cognitive functions
- elevate mood
- eliminate sleep issues
Life Extension Pregnenolone is a reputable brand that’s given consistently high customer ratings on Amazon.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Every bite of food you take either nourishes your brain or adds to its burden.
While in menopause, it’s more important than ever to eat a healthy diet.
Because there’s so much confusing information about diet, you may wonder what exactly a “healthy” diet means.
An excellent place to start is with these three words of advice.
Eat real food.
Real food is found in the outer aisles of the grocery store or at a farmer’s market.
You’ll know it when you see it — it has no need for an ingredient label and doesn’t come in a can, package, or box.
Eating unprocessed food automatically reduces your intake of brain health thieves like sugar, white flour, food additives, and trans fats while ensuring that your brain gets the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Additionally, avoid eating a low-fat diet since progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and other sex hormones are synthesized from cholesterol. (17)
2. Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of liquids.
Your brain is 75% water, so even mild dehydration results in shrinkage of brain tissue and temporary loss of cognitive function. (18)
Dehydration is surprisingly common among women in menopause since both estrogen and progesterone are important for fluid regulation. (19)
The 8-glasses-per-day rule of thumb is a reasonable place to start, but this online hydration calculator will further refine how much water you should drink for your situation.
3. Lose the Belly Fat
There’s a saying that “a bigger belly means a smaller brain.”
Numerous studies have linked cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s with being overweight. (20)
Especially dangerous is visceral fat, the kind that accumulates around your middle.
This fat doesn’t just sit there, it actually pumps out stress hormones which affect the health and function of your brain.
Research shows that middle-aged women who are overweight can improve their memory and boost their mental functioning by losing fat. (21)
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4. Make Sleep a Priority
Fluctuating hormones and hot flashes make getting a good night’s sleep difficult.
But sleep is a critical pillar of brain health.
Getting regular physical exercise is one of the smartest things you can do for your brain.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that menopausal women get a combination of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, dancing) and strength training, as well as doing exercises that increase flexibility and balance. (26)
They recommend five 30-minute sessions per week.
If you find that these kinds of exercise exacerbate hot flashes, try non-strenuous mind-body exercises like yoga, qi gong, or tai chi instead.
Exercises that focus on breathing and relaxation can reduce hot flashes.
Stress reduction is particularly important for women in menopause since stress wreaks havoc on hormone levels.
Meditation is a proven stress reduction tool that helps balance hormones that go awry during menopause.
7. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice that is said to balance the flow of the body’s vital energy, known as chi or qi.
If you don’t relish the idea of needles, you can get similar benefits from acupressure that uses only fingertip pressure on the same acupuncture points.
One form of acupressure is called Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping.
You can easily learn to do this yourself at home.
8. Check Your Medications
There are many medications that negatively impact memory and put you at greater risk for dementia later.
Some of the worst offenders are commonly prescribed to middle-aged women — sleeping pills, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
If you take any medications that you suspect are causing your brain fog, discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist.
Supplements for Menopause Brain Fog
If lifestyle changes haven’t given you the menopause relief you’re hoping for, there are several supplements you can try.
Unfortunately, some of the most popular menopause supplements do not live up to their reputations.
Overhyped Supplements for Menopause
By far the most popular supplement for menopause is black cohosh.
But research shows that there’s little evidence it’s effective for hot flashes and no evidence that it helps with menopause-related brain fog or memory loss. (31)
Soy isoflavones improved cognitive function and memory in a review of studies that included over 1,000 postmenopausal women. (32)
However, numerous studies have found them to be of no help for menopausal symptoms. (33)
And there’s concern that soy products, which are estrogenic, may increase your risk for breast cancer. (34)
Here’s a look at other supplements with better track records for menopause symptom relief and safety.
A top sign of vitamin D deficiency is memory loss.
One study found that more than 90% of postmenopausal women were vitamin D-deficient. (35)
If you rarely spend time outdoors without sunscreen or you live in a four-season climate, it’s very likely that you don’t get enough of this sunshine vitamin year-round.
You can safely take 125 mcg (5,000 IU) of vitamin D daily, but to know where you stand for sure it’s recommended that you get tested.
Your doctor can test your vitamin D level or you can order a test yourself from an online lab like Personalabs.
Pycnogenol is a patented form of pine bark extract.
It’s an antioxidant, is anti-inflammatory, and increases blood flow. (36)
Menopause-related memory loss, concentration problems, fatigue, insomnia, depression, and irritability can all improve with pycnogenol supplementation. (37)
If you live in the southern United States, you are familiar with kudzu as “the plant that ate the South.”
But before it became known as an invasive species, the root of the kudzu vine was used in traditional Chinese medicine.
One member of this group, Pueraria lobata, has been shown to provide small boosts in attention, cognition, and flexible thinking in postmenopausal women. (38)
Homeopathic Remedies for Menopause Brain Fog
I mention homeopathic remedies last because their use is controversial.
Critics say that there is no way they can work and, if they do work, it’s due to the placebo effect.
My take is that there is nothing wrong with that — your mind is the most powerful healing tool you’ve got.
You might be shocked to learn that 50% of doctors admit to regularly prescribing placebos that, nonetheless, reliably bring about numerous measurable physical and psychological effects. (39)
Being administered a placebo can alter your perception of pain, blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety level, energy, and brain activity.
It can trigger the release of feel-good endorphins.
Placebos work even when the user understands that she is taking a placebo and doesn’t believe in them!
Here are some homeopathic remedies for the most common mood and memory symptoms of menopause:
- Calcarea carbonica — for feeling overworked, stressed out, or anxious
- Graphites — for concentration problems, indecision, weight gain, and waking up overly groggy
- Ignatia — for anxiety and mood swings
- Lachesis — for hot flashes
- Sepia — for negative changes in temperament such as low mood and energy, irritability, and general weariness
- Sulfur — for anxiety, mental overactivity, and disorganization
Homeopathic remedies are extremely safe and inexpensive, so you have little to lose by trying them.
Menopause and Brain Fog: Take the Next Step
Brain fog is a common symptom of menopause.
Fortunately, it doesn’t last forever and is not a risk factor for more serious mental issues later in life.
However, you don’t need to struggle with memory loss and fuzzy thinking for years while menopause is taking its course.
There are many ways to overcome menopause brain fog with diet, supplements, stress reduction, and other healthy lifestyle changes.