If you’ve ever been pregnant, you likely remember how frustrating “pregnancy brain” was. Where did you put your keys? Did you lock the front door? Did you remember to feed the dog? That brain fog often meant your keys were in the refrigerator, you drove back to your house three times to check to see if the door was locked, and you fed your dog twice (at least someone benefited).
Even if you haven’t suffered from “pregnancy brain,” you’ve probably had days (or weeks) where you feel forgetful. It may have been due to a lack of sleep, or a stressful week at work, or a major life change. That feeling of forgetfulness is frustrating and downright annoying — and unfortunately, for most women, it emerges during perimenopause.
Krista Margolis, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and Functional Medicine/Holistic Health Practitioner at Southdale ObGyn, teaches classes on perimenopause to help women understand the physical changes happening in their bodies. One of the most common questions she receives is “why” does this happen to seemingly healthy women with no prior history of forgetfulness. According to Krista, the culprit is the same decline of estrogen associated with many menopausal symptoms — such as heat flashes and sleep disturbance.
“Part of the perimenopause transition is a decline in the hormone estrogen. There are many estrogen receptors in the brain, and as estrogen levels decline, the brain and memory are impacted,” said Krista. “This causes women to experience brain fog and an inability to concentrate.”
Women have many options to help with “brain decline” during perimenopause.
Krista suggests making lifestyle changes as needed, including:
- Get more sleep. (We know it is already hard during perimenopause. We have an article on coping with that too, here.)
- Exercise daily. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk around the block can leave you feeling refreshed!
- Spend time outdoors and in nature.
- Eat a diet rich in whole foods and good fats — such as salmon, avocado, nuts, and berries.
If sleep, jogging, and eating isn’t enough, you may consider taking estrogen. Whether or not taking estrogen is right for you is a topic to discuss with your healthcare provider and family. You’ll want to review your personal history with your healthcare provider to determine if estrogen is a safe and healthy choice for you.
Women can take estrogen via:
- Hormone replacement therapies
- Birth control pills
- Phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens)
- Bio-identical hormones
While brain fog might be frustrating for women during this time, it’s important to remember that you are not alone! Upwards of 60% of women experience brain fog. This is a common symptom of perimenopause and won’t last forever. Focus on making positive lifestyle changes, and discuss additional options with your provider to figure out what works best for your lifestyle.