“I seem to get brain fog around my period. Help!”

Important notice: Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if your brain fog or pain symptoms are severe. 

Background

 In the days leading up to our periods, many premenstrual women have long complained about poor concentration, having trouble remembering things, even struggling to make a decision. It’s called brain fog or ‘brain fatigue’ and has finally become a serious topic in women’s health.

Brain fog is a condition when a person feels mentally numb, struggles to think and concentrate, and becomes indecisive and apathetic. PMS isn’t the only cause for brain fog; certain health conditions such as chronic fatigue or even the onset of menopause can cause brain fog.

Common Symptoms of Hormones Brain Fog Include:

  • Feeling “out of sorts”
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory problems and forgetfulness
  • Overall sense that something is not right

Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can be higher in your brain than in your bloodstream. Therefore, a hormonal imbalance can affect your brain chemistry and mental awareness. Estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone also contribute to blood flow in your brain which helps protect against loss of memory and even dementia. With several hormones working together to help keep your mind feeling clear, just one hormone being out of balance impacts your ability to mentally function.

Researchers believe it is an imbalance of the two hormones oestrogen and progesterone which responsible for different processes in the body including our ability to think, learn and understand – cognitive skills.

Severe PMS has been linked to an insufficient amount of progesterone and oestrogen dominance. Also, women who suffer from elevated levels of androgens (male sex hormones) tend to suffer from brain fog more often.

The menstrual cycle creates fluctuations in levels of these hormones. And the more severe a woman’s premenstrual symptoms are, the more likely they are to experience changes in their cognition skills, or brain fog, says Associate Professor Caroline Gurvich, a Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Neuropsychologist at Monash Alfred Psychiatry (MAP) Research Centre.

Assoc Prof Gurvich estimates that about 80% of women have at least one symptom, physical or psychological, before they get their period. Up to 8% of women suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a significantly more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that can cause debilitating emotional and physical symptoms.

Brain fog is yet to be formally recognised as a medical or psychological condition, but the good news is that it is finally being acknowledged. “It is real,” says Assoc Prof Gurvich. “Our hormones that regulate our reproductive functions have direct effects in the brain and affect brain regions that are involved in our thinking skills.”

What to do about brain fog?

There are a few easy things you can do yourself to reduce your likelihood of brain fog, says Jean Hailes endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison. Here are her tips:

  • Eat healthily – fruit and vegetables, lean meat. Choose low-fat, high fibre, low GI foods. Try to ignore cravings for highly processed and sweet or salty foods.
  • Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol.
  • Regular exercise, including walking.
  • Try to sleep well.
  • Try to avoid stressful situations.
  • Make sure you are not suffering from other medical issues such as iron deficiency, low vitamin D, or anaemia. Your doctor will guide you on these issues.
  • Try not to be too hard on yourself.

Please see a health professional if your symptoms persist or become worse.

References:

https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/news/clearing-the-fog

https://www.womanlog.com/health/brain-fog-before-your-period-what-you-can-do-to-boost-mental-clarity

https://www.theriegelcenter.com/blog/are-your-hormones-causing-brain-fog

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Important notice: Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if your endometriosis or pain symptoms are severe.  

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