“Yesterday I lost my keys — twice. Is menopause making me lose my mind?”
The short answer is…. Uh, um…. Ugh — what was the question again? Oh right! Yes, menopause is probably messing with your head. Along with hot flashes, vaginal dryness and everything else, one of the most common symptoms is brain fog — also known (unscientifically) as CRS disease, or Can’t Remember Sh*t. Research suggests as many as 60 percent of women experience memory issues around menopause, including everyday forgetfulness (like where you left your keys, phone, best friend, etc.), difficulty recalling words or numbers, forgetting events, and problems concentrating.
While experts aren’t exactly sure why this happens, studies suggest waning estrogen plays a role in cognitive changes (it’s not only that you’re getting older). The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, has estrogen receptors, and estrogen is known to help regulate memory. In one study of both men and women between 45 and 55, women with lower levels of estradiol (a form of estrogen produced by the ovaries) tended to score worse on memory tests and showed changes in hippocampal activity compared to both women with higher estradiol and men. Here’s the good news: about a third of women with low estradiol did just as well on the tests and showed similar brain activity as their pre-menopausal sisters. One potential explanation: healthy behaviors, like keeping stress and anxiety in check, getting plenty of sleep and regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet may counter some of the effects of low estrogen. All have been shown to improve or protect cognitive function in general.
So, if you’re not already getting some form of exercise every day, start now. Also practice good sleep hygiene (ahem, no phone scrolling in bed) to set yourself up for a restful, stress-diffusing night. And load up on brain food, including antioxidant-rich fruits, veggies, and green tea, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and sardines. Plus, know that your memory can rebound. Research in Menopause journal found that cognitive problems are most pronounced in the first year after menopause compared to later in life. Of course, if brain fog or memory problems become severe or other menopause symptoms impact the quality of your life, talk to your health care provider sooner rather than later about treatment options.
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