A huge number of women suffer from a variety of psychological symptoms during perimenopause and menopause including anxiety, panic attacks, brain fog and feelings of invisibility. In this blog Catherine O'Keeffe, Wellness Warrior.ie, looks at brain fog and gives us her top tips to achieve optimal brain function. Some of us need to support our brain function as hormones readjust at menopause.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, menopause and the accompanying age is revered by society – a woman is seen as at her pinnacle of wisdom and a source of vital support for her community. In the West the story is different, at perimenopause the typical women is running after kids, ageing parents, doing a job, dashing to get food for dinner. In that dash the supermarket run – your mental list comprises three items, but by the time you get there they are totally gone from your head – inspiration doesn’t come as soon as you enter the supermarket either! Your phone rings, it’s a work call (you forgot your 1pm meeting), texts are coming in on evening activities for the kids. All the while you’re still trying to remember the 3 items – you get 2 but one remains elusive. You rush back to work.
Seriously it’s multi-tasking at the extreme – our poor brains. Women carry very heavy mental loads and when this is constant our brains need support. Your brain is changing as you age – in another world we would have ‘staff’ to help with all this ‘stuff’. In menopause we should be promoted to Chief of Staff – managerial levelJ
Brain fog is one of the heavy hitters in perimenopause. You go to the press, you haven’t a clue what you were looking for, you’re talking to someone familiar and completely forget their name. It’s so common and it is unfortunately all part of the process – as we get older our circulation slows down so less oxygen is being circulated around the body and the brain. Also as oestrogen stimulates the neurotransmitters in the brain, the changing hormone levels that come at midlife slow down these neurotransmitters and so our brains aren’t working at optimum. End result our brain isn’t as sharp as it was in our 20’s. So many women report fears of dementia, fear of losing their mind and it certainly feels like that – the good news is there are many ways to improve our brain function and eliminate the brain fog/cloudiness.
There is a whole new area of research emerging called Neuro Nutrition which reinforces the importance of taking care of our brain health and this approach looks at the body as a whole and not just the brain. The gut-brain connection has been around for a number of years now and this certainly reinforces the impact that our daily nutrition has on our brains – at all life stages.
With healthy lifestyle choices, reduced stress and nutritional support we can help our brains both heal and regenerate.
Top Tips to achieve optimal brain function
Omega 3 Fatty Acids, the elite brain food. The Mediterranean diet consists of foods rich in Omega 3 and offers great support in perimenopause and menopause to maintain optimal brain function. Omega 3 is the only fat that consistently goes into the brain. Sources: Chia seeds, flaxseeds, extra virgin olive oil, sardines, anchovies, mackerel.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables, contain phytonutrients which are strong anti-oxidants. As such they also enhance gut health and help in the ageing process. Sources: Broccoli, Kale, mixed greens
Eat the rainbow - Fruit, Vegetable & Grains are another powerful source of anti-oxidants, the rule of thumb is the brighter the colour, the better, they are a rich powerhouse of antioxidants and anti-ageing chemicals. Sources:Blackberries (higher in Vitamin C than blueberries), apples, sweet potatoes, parsnips, brown rice, buckwheat. Recent research indicated the gooseberry or known in Indian as Amla as being the highest anti-oxidant known.
Prebiotics/Probiotics, as a second brain the gut communicates regularly with our brain, affecting our moods and energy levels. Recent research indicates 70% of our body’s serotonin (the feel good hormone) is made in the gut. Probiotics provide significant antioxidant protection and lessen the risk of developing a number of inflammation-based conditions that can affect the brain. Prebiotics are the food the probiotics will thrive and grow on. Sources: Probiotics: milk kefir, fermented foods. Prebiotics: garlic, white onions, apple cider vinegar
Water, dehydration is no friend to the brain or to perimenopause. It has a huge impact on anxiety and brain fog. Water is essential for optimal brain function, it prevents dehydration and increase the blood’s circulation – both of which keep away cognitive decline and nerve damage.
Ensure a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day and ideally this should be good mineral/spring water via a filtration system. The minerals in water are as essential as the water itself – this is why coconut water has such powers as a rehydration water due to the minerals / electrolytes.
Avoid alcohol, too much alcohol has a definitive impact on our brain functioning and if you do experience ‘foggy brain’ then I would certainly suggest staying away from it, as even one glass a day will impact you if you are already experiencing symptoms of brain fog.
B Vitamins are really important for the brain with the emphasis on Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid and Choline. If you don’t get enough Omega 3 in your diet it is worth looking at a good supplement as this is one of the most important nutrients in perimenopause.
Exercise has been promoted as a possible preventer of neuro generative disease – this includes both physical and brain exercises. Aerobic exercise has been linked to significant increase in brain volume and cognitive function in midlife. It is also believed that exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect that promotes brain health.
The ideal is 5 times per week in 30 minute intervals where you get to the stage of feeling breathlessness, this gives oxygen to the body and also release the feel good hormones.
Exercise for the brain can be any of the following, learning a new language, knitting, puzzles, using your non dominant hand to colour or write for a few minutes each day, read a book outside of your normal reading list. You can also check out some Apps – I’m currently using Peak-Brain Training but there are loads out there to choose from.
Look at the daily stressors in your life and look at ways you can eliminate or reduce them, the less stress in your life the greater your ability to really focus and pay attention. Also consider some form of daily relaxation like mindfulness or meditation that gives your brain a complete rest and respite from the busyness of life.
None of us functions at our optimum when we have missed a few hours of good deep sleep. Our brain needs this down time to process the day’s events and renew itself. It’s a time for rest. When you have had a night of hot flushes or night sweats, you will automatically feel more tired the following day, as your body is tired so too is your brain.
Review your sleep hygiene and consider making small tweaks to ensure you are getting your required amount of sleep per night – for some people its 6 hours for others 8.
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