Let’s be honest. Getting older can be really weird sometimes. Have you ever found yourself looking for your keys, only to realize they’ve been in your hand the whole time? Or, maybe you’ve gone to the kitchen and opened the fridge, only to forget what you were looking for?
We call these occurrences “senior moments” because they feel like early signs of dementia. But the reality is you’re not “losing it” when these things happen.
For women, hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy and menopause can actually affect your memory. These changes can also cause concentration difficulties and a temporary decline in mental sharpness. This is what’s known as “brain fog.”
Hormone Imbalance Can Cause Brain Fog
When your hormones are out of balance, it can cause a condition known as brain fog. This condition is defined as a state in which a person finds themself unable to concentrate, combined with irritability and fatigue. Essentially, there’s a generalized sense that something’s not right.
If you’re not familiar with hormone imbalance issues, it’s difficult to make the connection between brain fog and hormones when you are feeling outside of your normal. But there’s a strong possibility that connection is where the problem lies.
When you are experiencing a hormone imbalance, it’s easy to understand that something isn’t right. But finding the root cause can be a challenge. According to medical experts—including those at Harvard—if your hormone levels are too low or too high, that could be what’s causing your brain fog.
These imbalances can also cause agitation and irritability. Common symptoms associated with brain fog due to hormone imbalance are unexplained anger or other emotions, poor concentration, inability to focus, feeling too tired to engage in normal activities, headaches, insomnia, and the inability to recall certain events.
What Is A Hormonal Imbalance?
Hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone work together to keep you clear-headed. These hormones contribute to blood flow in your brain, which helps protect against memory loss and dementia. If just one is out of balance, it impacts your ability to mentally function.
A hormonal imbalance means that one or more of these hormones are higher or lower in the brain than in the bloodstream. Therefore, it can affect your brain chemistry and mental awareness.
Estrogen, Progesterone, And Testosterone
Research shows that estrogen levels play a role in memory and cognition. When your estrogen levels are low, it can lead to mood swings, hot flashes, and difficulty concentrating. On the flip side, if estrogen levels are high, it can cause weight gain and memory issues. No matter the estrogen imbalance, it can cause cloudy thinking.
When a woman goes through perimenopause and menopause, her estrogen levels drop. Those reduced estrogen levels have the potential of increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other cognitive issues.
If you’ve ever been pregnant, you’re probably familiar with the hormone progesterone, which means “promoting gestation.” It helps protect the brain from damage. And after an injury, progesterone promotes repair. When balanced with estrogen, progesterone has a calming effect on the brain.
An imbalance of progesterone—either high or low—can cause mood swings and memory loss associated with brain fog.
Testosterone is produced by the testes in men, and by the ovaries in women. This hormone contributes to mental sharpness by strengthening nerves and artery muscles. A high or low testosterone imbalance can affect cognitive function.
Your stress hormone is cortisol, which operates as your own built-in alarm system. It’s best known for regulating the body’s “fight or flight” instinct. Cortisol is also responsible for that surge of emotion you feel when you encounter a perceived threat, like swerving to miss an oncoming car.
If your cortisol levels—along with serotonin—are out of balance, you may find yourself emotional and sluggish. An imbalance can also cause trouble sleeping, which can affect mental clarity. Lack of sleep can also lead to increased cortisol levels, causing a vicious cycle.
Your thyroid controls your hormones that regulate metabolism, menstrual cycles, digestion, brain development, heart function, and bone strength. Needless to say, the thyroid gland is extremely important.
If your thyroid levels are low, it can leave you feeling sluggish or foggy. It can also cause weight gain. An overactive thyroid—aka hypothyroidism—can also cause brain fog and clinical anxiety.
Healthy thyroid levels keep your metabolism in balance, improve your ability to get a good night’s sleep, and keep your weight from fluctuating.
Other Causes Of Brain Fog
We should note that hormonal imbalance is not the only cause of brain fog, though. Other causes include:
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
- Low levels of vitamin D or B12
- Food allergies or gluten intolerance
- Lack of exercise
- A diet low in protein and high in refined carbohydrates and sugar
- Conditions like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome
How To Treat A Hormone Imbalance
If you think you may be experiencing a hormone imbalance, schedule an appointment with your physician and talk with them about bioidentical hormone treatment.
Regardless of the cause of brain fog, studies show that hormone therapy helps with cognitive ability. You’ll feel more alert and have better work performance. This therapy can also help with better sleep, increase your libido, boost your mood, and promote weight loss.