Main menu


Understanding the Connection: Hormones, Brain Fog, and Women's Brain Health

 Individuals who possess uteruses undergo challenging experiences. The physical discomfort endured by the female body in its preparation for pregnancy on a monthly basis should not be trivialized. (And let's not even begin discussing the highs and lows of pregnancy or childbirth!)

Hormonal changes can sometimes be more bothersome than truly dreadful. Consider, for instance, the number of times your period has caught you off guard and resulted in stains on your favorite lounge pants—or even your bed sheets in the middle of the night. Then, after decades of becoming accustomed to these monthly occurrences, your body suddenly undergoes a reversal, and just like that, you find yourself confronted with a new set of distinctive hormonal challenges during menopause.

Whether you are 18 or 88 years old, if you have experienced a menstrual cycle, you have witnessed (and experienced) numerous hormonal fluctuations. What you may not be aware of is how your hormones, menstrual cycle, and life stages can impact your brain and cognitive functioning.

During your cycle, pregnancy, and just before and during menopause, you may encounter moments of mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating, and less-than-optimal memory. Hormonal brain fog is a commonly experienced phenomenon that, unfortunately, lacks thorough research due to the gender disparity in brain health studies (more on that later).

Consequently, we have sought the expertise of professionals to uncover the precise causes of this foggy state and explore ways to enhance mental clarity during hormonal transitions.

What is hormonal brain fog?

As previously stated, cognitive function is significantly influenced by hormones. Whitney Crouch, an integrative dietitian and hormone specialist (RDN, CLT), explains that sporadic episodes of brain fog can occur during various phases of the menstrual cycle and during significant life stages such as pregnancy, postpartum, and perimenopause.

Apart from experiencing clouded thoughts, individuals may also encounter forgetfulness and struggles with concentration. The exact reasons behind these effects remain unclear, but they are believed to be associated with imbalances in hormone levels.

What we know about the female brain, and what we don't.

Why is our understanding of the causes of hormonal brain fog still lacking in 2022? To put it plainly, there is a significant research gap when it comes to studying the female brain. According to Lisa Mosconi, a prominent neuroscientist and advocate for women's brain health, the field of women's brain health is under-researched, underrepresented, and often overlooked.

"In the grand scheme of things that society tells women to be concerned about, their brain health is rarely prioritized," Mosconi previously wrote for mbg. "Furthermore, very few doctors possess the knowledge or framework to address the unique ways in which brain health manifests in women compared to men."

Although our understanding of why the female brain experiences foggy states is limited, we do have some fundamental knowledge about the influence of hormones on the brain available to us today.

Times women may experience hormonal brain fog.

Periods of hormonal fluctuations, such as menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and the premenopausal and menopausal stages, can lead to alterations in brain chemistry and transiently impact mental clarity. Let's examine the specific hormones that are responsible for cognitive changes during these transitions.

During the menstrual cycle.

Throughout your menstrual cycle, hormones undergo constant fluctuations. According to Crouch, these hormones engage in a delicate interplay where the levels of one hormone affect the levels of another. Crouch specifically highlights estrogen as the central figure in this dance.

"Estrogen levels increase during a menstrual bleed and peak right before ovulation.
Following ovulation, estrogen declines while progesterone increases in preparation for the potential implantation of a fertilized egg," explains Crouch.

Clarity, vigor, and confidence often increase during the period of time before ovulation when estrogen and testosterone levels rise. 
However, when these hormone levels drop after ovulation, temporary brain fog can occur. (So, hopefully, any significant tasks or presentations coincide with the empowering period just before ovulation!)

If you're curious, here's an in-depth exploration of what occurs in your brain during your menstrual period.

During pregnancy.

The phenomenon known as "pregnancy brain" or "baby brain" is a real and widespread experience, characterized by a diminished mental clarity during pregnancy. It often encompasses cognitive function that is below optimal levels, memory difficulties, and a decline in executive functioning skills.

During pregnancy, there are shifts in progesterone levels, which can result in changes in mood and temporary lapses in memory. The surge of hormones during this period also leads to structural changes in the brain that can last for up to two years after giving birth. These changes contribute to the remarkable adaptability of the brain, preparing individuals for attachment and the ability to care for their newborns. (How fascinating!) Unfortunately, these rapid changes may also give rise to moments of mental fogginess.

It's important to recognize that this is a demanding time for both you and your body, so it's perfectly understandable to occasionally forget things. Be kind to yourself and allow for some flexibility during this phase.

Before and during menopause.

As Crouch has elucidated, estrogen takes the lead in the intricate dance of hormones within your body. Estrogen possesses extraordinary powers when it comes to the brain, including the ability to enhance neurotransmitters that promote memory and learning. However, during menopause, estrogen levels decline.

During perimenopause, which refers to the period just prior to menopause, both estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. This decline coincides with a reduction in serotonin, often referred to as the "happy hormone," which contributes to instances of mental fogginess. Crouch explains, "As the nerve-protecting qualities of estrogen decline alongside serotonin and progesterone, women may experience increased stress, fatigue, and cognitive haziness."

7 Strategies for Managing Hormonal Brain Fog in Women

According to Crouch, while hormone fluctuations are common, certain stressors can worsen brain fogginess. To alleviate the bothersome or more severe effects of hormonal brain fog and promote clarity, energy, and good sleep, follow these seven tips to support your brain health during these specific times of changing hormones:

1. Incorporate a proactive brain health supplement: Consider taking a smart supplement like mbg's brain guard+, which provides targeted support to protect and nourish your brain health and cognitive performance regardless of your life stage. For instance, resveratrol, one of the key ingredients in brain guard+, has been shown to enhance cognitive flexibility and processing speed in postmenopausal women.

2. Practice stress management: Engage in activities that help manage stress, such as yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, or mindfulness practices. These activities support your brain's overall functioning.

3. Stay active: Regular exercise not only benefits your physical and mental health but also helps regulate your endocrine system and balance hormones. Adjust the intensity of your workouts based on your energy levels during different phases of your menstrual cycle.

4. Prioritize quality sleep: Ensure you get deep, restful sleep to allow your body, mind, and hormones to recharge and reset. Inadequate sleep can disrupt hormone balance and lead to other health issues, including brain fogginess.

5. Follow a plant-rich diet: Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins, such as the Mediterranean diet. This can help modulate hormone balance. Choose organic and local food whenever possible to reduce exposure to toxins from pesticides that can strain your body's detoxification system.

6. Pay attention to micronutrients: Essential micronutrients like iron and B vitamins play a crucial role in maintaining healthy red blood cells, which are responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen throughout your body. Inadequate nutrient levels can contribute to occasional brain fog. Consider taking a high-quality multivitamin, like mbg's ultimate multivitamin+, to ensure you meet your daily nutritional needs.

7. Collaborate with your healthcare provider: If you have concerns about your hormone levels, consult with your healthcare practitioner about relevant hormone testing, such as sex hormones, a comprehensive thyroid panel, adrenal function, and cardiometabolic biomarkers like blood sugar and insulin. Personalized testing may reveal opportunities for beneficial lifestyle changes or even targeted hormone supplementation, including bioidentical hormone therapy, as advised by your healthcare provider.

Taking exceptional care of your brain during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause is crucial. Support brain health with targeted nootropic supplements, stress management, and a healthy diet to alleviate mental fogginess and promote long-term cognitive well-being. It's time to address the knowledge gap and address the unique concerns we face as women regarding our brains and overall health. Let's strive for a cognitive lifespan that matches our life span by being proactive now.