Many women we know and those we hear from were not surprised by a new report saying that fuzzy thinking at menopause is real, and neither were we. It's great that medical science is catching up with this annoying reality after years of skepticism. The good news is that you don't have to wait any longer to banish the brain fog that's interfering with your working memory.
Working memory is your brain's storage container for info you might need in the next couple of minutes. A weak working memory lets valuable info slide out of the container, making everyday math problems tougher (How much is left in the account after I write checks for $135 and $350?), messing up your ability to grocery-shop without a list and focus in a business meeting (What did my boss just say about my department?), and much, much more. (For a quick test of your working-memory prowess, go to realage.com.)
Why is your working memory not working? Hormonal shifts at menopause can throw you off your mental game. The reason: There are loads of estrogen receptors in areas of the brain (like the frontal lobe) that control working memory. When there is less estrogen to turn these receptors on, memory degrades until the receptors adjust. With the fluctuations of menopause, the receptors often cannot adjust fast enough, and you forget your dentist appointment. Up to two-thirds of women report forgetfulness and other mental hiccups at this time. Things often improve once the wild hormone swings stop, but plenty of other factors like sleep, diet and how often you exercise can help or hurt this important brain function, too. So sharpen thinking, hone your mental focus and lift that fog with these steps:
» Don't overlook hormone therapy. We recommend bioidentical estradiol and micronized progesterone plus 162 mg of aspirin (with a glass of warm water before and after to prevent GI bleeding and upset) to decrease blood clot and cancer risks. (Hormone therapy may not be for you if you're at high risk for breast cancer.) There's recent evidence that bioidentical estradiol is better than conventional estrogen (called conjugated equine estrogen) for clearing up brain fog.
These next tips can benefit anyone's working memory whether you're in the middle of hot flashes, a 30-something guy or a senior canasta player.
» Walk, swim, bike, run -- or dance! We're big fans of strength-training, but for working-memory brain benefits you need to hustle your strong, sexy muscles rather than building more. Brisk walking is enough to boost volume and activity in brain areas associated with a super-efficient working memory. The more help you need with working memory, the more exercise seems to help. Three specific ways a stroll boosts working memory: Exercise increases the number of connections between brain cells, makes the connections stronger and improves blood flow in these brain regions.
» Say yes to omega-3s. These good fats really are brain food and help working memory work better. And now that we know even adult brains replenish and regrow new cells (renewing them up to three times every year), it makes sense that you need plenty of these fats. The good omega-3 fatty acid, called DHA, is an important building block of brain cell membranes, the place where signals move from cell to cell. Have fatty fish three times a week, or get 900 milligrams of DHA a day from algal oil or fish oil capsules. We do.
Slumber deeply. Menopause can wreck a good night's sleep. Hormone therapy can help. So can getting checked for sleep apnea (a problem for one in three overweight women and for plenty of guys, too). Skimping on sleep erodes working memory -- punching holes in that precious container. Turn in earlier, turn off electronics an hour before bed and adopt a sweet bedtime routine (a couple of stretches, a warm shower, some light reading or a snuggle, then lights out.)
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.