Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and difficulty thinking clearly are all symptoms of menopause brain fog. A whole host of supplements and natural remedies claim to help but many don’t have the science to support them.
In this article, we’ll assess those that show the most promise. They come in three categories:
- herbal remedies
- phytoestrogen supplements
- vitamin supplements
We’ll also look at dietary patterns that have been shown to protect brain health, as well as other lifestyle changes you can make, including exercising more and improving your sleep.
Probiotic supplements like The Better Gut are another science-backed way to help ease a whole range of menopause symptoms, from poor sleep and hot flashes to low mood and anxiety.
What causes menopause brain fog?
Menopause brain fog is not simply the result of aging. In fact, the symptoms many women experience during perimenopause – the time leading up to menopause – tend to recede once they’ve passed menopause.
However, scientists are still trying to understand the exact role oestrogen plays. Oestrogen levels don’t recover after menopause even though symptoms usually disappear.
You may have seen claims made for a wide range of herbal remedies – black cohosh, red clover, ginseng and Rhodiola rosea to name just a few.
But although some of these may help with other perimenopause and menopause symptoms, there’s actually not much evidence that they can improve cognitive issues.
However, there are two examples that do show promise.
Turmeric / curcumin
Turmeric root has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Its active ingredient curcumin has proven anti-inflammatory properties but it only makes up around 3% of turmeric. That’s why scientists researching its effects tend to use concentrated curcumin supplements.
While there hasn’t been much research looking specifically at curcumin and menopause brain fog, a placebo-controlled trial involving women with pre-menstrual symptoms had encouraging results.
Participants who took a daily 500 mg curcumin supplement for 10 days before and during their periods saw significant improvements in measures of memory, focus and the ability to control their emotional responses, as well as overall cognitive performance.
Ginko or Ginko biloba is an extract of the leaves of an ancient tree species. Like turmeric, it has a long history of use in traditional medicine.
Evidence of Ginko’s reputation for reducing cognitive decline is mixed but one small study involving postmenopausal women found that a daily 120 mg Ginko supplement led to modest but clear improvements in symptoms related to brain fog after just 1 week.
The women who took Ginkgo performed significantly better than those who took a placebo on tests relating to visual memory, attention and cognitive flexibility.
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic some of the effects of oestrogen in your body.
There’s promising evidence that some of them may help with menopause brain fog.
Soyabeans contain high levels of a type of phytoestrogens called isoflavones.
A review of multiple studies found that postmenopausal women who took daily soya isoflavone supplements for as little as a week saw improvements in their verbal and visual memory, as well as planning and organisational skills.
Resveratrol is a phytoestrogen found in large amounts in grapes and wine. It may help with cognitive issues by allowing oxygen to permeate your brain tissue more efficiently.
Studies have shown that taking a daily 150–200 milligram (mg) resveratrol supplement can improve working memory, planning and organisation in postmenopausal women after 14 weeks.
Despite claims that B vitamins like B12 and folic acid may help with cognitive issues, there’s not much evidence to support this.
However, there are certain vitamin supplements that may be of use if you have a deficiency.
Vitamin C performs a number of important functions in your brain and is thought to provide some protection from age-related cognitive decline. So if you’re not getting enough it could be contributing to symptoms of brain fog.
According to researchers, though, you’re likely to get more benefit from using supplements to prevent vitamin C deficiency than from taking them if you already eat a normal, heathy diet.
Studies suggest that people with either lower levels of vitamin D in their bodies, or less vitamin D in their diets, perform worse on brain function tests and have a higher risk of cognitive decline.
However, in healthy people, taking a supplement doesn’t appear to improve brain function.
As with vitamin C, it seems that supplements may only help if you have a vitamin D deficiency.
Diet and brain health
Supplements are one approach to helping with menopause brain fog, but improving your diet has proven benefits for your brain health, focus and energy levels, as well as your overall health.
Eat foods high in phytoestrogens
As we’ve seen, plant compounds called phytoestrogens can mimic some of the functions performed by oestrogen in your body, which may be important as your oestrogen levels drop during perimenopause.
While some phytoestrogen supplements appear to help with symptoms of menopause brain fog, scientists still have a lot to learn about them so it may make sense to start with foods that contain phytoestrogens in their natural form.
Eating whole plant foods also means you’ll get all the healthy fibre they contain, as well as a wealth of micronutrients with their own complementary benefits.
Phytoestrogens are present in a wide variety of plants and plant-based foods and drinks, including:
- beans, especially soyabeans
- whole grains
Eat as many different plants as possible to best support your brain health and your overall health.
Limit sugar and refined carbs
If you experience symptoms of brain fog in the hours after a meal, the foods you’re eating may be part of the problem.
Ultra-processed foods, and those high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then dip.
These blood sugar ‘crashes’ an hour or two after you eat can lead to low energy, irritability and difficulty concentrating. They can also increase sugar cravings, which could start the whole cycle again.
If you recognise this pattern, try to swap these foods for whole grain or unprocessed versions, or eat them in a meal that also contains fibre and protein, which will slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream.
Try to limit:
- processed snack foods
- sweets and sugary chocolate
- cakes and baked goods
- fizzy drinks
- fruit juices
- white bread
- white rice
Follow the Mediterranean or MIND diets
The Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet are not restrictive diets but healthy eating patterns, and both are good for your brain.
You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean diet – it’s the traditional, rather than modern, way of eating from the region, which generally involves a variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as plenty of beans and pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, and extra virgin olive, with limited amounts of meat.
The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and a diet known as DASH, originally created by researchers to tackle high blood pressure. The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is designed to help with brain health and also includes specific foods linked to a decreased risk of dementia.
It also focuses more on reducing your salt intake, and allows for up to one glass of wine per day.
Studies following thousands of people over a number of years found that sticking more closely to the Mediterranean diet had a protective effect on brain health, including reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
Other similarly large-scale studies show that the more closely participants followed the MIND diet, the lower their risk of cognitive decline as they got older.
These studies may not have looked at menopause brain fog but they can improve your overall brain health and, given their focus on whole grains and foods rather than refined and processed options, they’re likely to reduce those post-meal slumps too.
Other ways to reduce symptoms of menopause brain fog
These lifestyle changes can help improve your energy, focus and overall brain function.
- Exercise more: Physical activity can improve memory, concentration and brain processing speed. Strength training in particular – using weights, body weight or resistance bands – has been directly linked to long-term cognitive benefits. Try to work your major muscle groups at least twice a week – but any exercise is better than none.
- Improve your sleep quality: Sleep problems are a common menopause symptom and, of course, tiredness can contribute to aspects of brain fog, including difficulty staying focused. To improve your sleep, follow a regular sleep schedule, avoid caffeine, don’t use your phone in bed, and keep your room quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
- Stop smoking: Compared with non-smokers, people who smoke see a greater decline in brain function and loss of the ‘grey matter’ involved in memory and processing information as they get older. The good news is that two years after you quit smoking, levels of cognitive decline can return to those of non-smokers.
When does menopause brain fog end?
If you’re experiencing menopause brain fog and are worried that you’ll never see the end of these debilitating symptoms, there may be some comfort in knowing that it doesn’t last forever.
A large-scale women’s health study found that difficulties with memory, learning and mental agility tended to occur during perimenopause and that participants’ performances on cognitive tests returned to their original levels after menopause.
Given that perimenopause can last several years, finding things that can help with your symptoms in the meantime is still important, whether that means supplements, better nutrition or other lifestyle changes.
Is it safe to take menopause supplements on HRT?
According to the NHS, some supplements and herbal remedies, such as St John’s Wort, can interact with hormone replacement therapy. This can make it less effective but could also be unsafe.
If you’re on HRT, or any prescription medication, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start taking supplements.
Menopause brain fog is a common symptom of perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause. It involves difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly and problems with short-term memory.
Many supplements claim to help with menopause brain fog but there’s not much science to support most of them.
Phytoestrogens like soya isoflavones and resveratrol, along with herbal extracts curcumin and Ginko biloba, have shown positive results. Vitamin D and vitamin C supplements may help to improve brain function if you have a deficiency.
Nutrition is really important when it comes to looking after your brain. Eating patterns like the Mediterranean or MIND diets can help to improve cognitive health and reduce your risk of dementia.
These diets are also high in whole grains and low in the ultra-processed foods and refined carbohydrates that can lead to low energy and poor concentration after you eat.
Exercise, taking steps to improve your sleep quality and avoiding smoking are other lifestyle changes that can make a huge difference to your cognitive health and could help reduce the symptoms of menopause brain fog.
Probiotic supplements are another science-backed way to tackle a whole range of menopause symptoms, including low mood, anxiety, poor sleep, night sweats and digestive issues.
Visit The Better Gut to find out more about these award-winning supplements. And sign up to our newsletter for regular expert tips on menopause health and nutrition, and to get 10% off your first order.