Ever have a moment in your day when you know your brain isn’t working? That there’s this glaze or hue blocking your brain cells from working properly? When that happens to me, I jokingly like to say that my “brain has a hole in it”.
Brain fog – also known as alterations in cognitive function – is a common concern for many of my patients. Periods of forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, poor short-term memory or word retrieval, are all symptoms described as brain fog. This can happen for a variety of reasons but commonly this is related to changes in hormone levels.
For women a decrease in estrogen or in men a decrease in testosterone, can cause these cognitive changes. In a cross-sectional study comparing men and women, women outperform men on memory tasks. However, as women hit menopause and their estrogen declines, advantages previously seen are lost. A separate study in men showed both verbal and visual memory scores declining with decreasing testosterone.
For both sexes, experiencing symptoms of brain fog can be concerning. There are lots of reasons for hormonal changes, some normal (such as menopause) and some abnormal (such as those following a period of prolonged stress). In both cases, assessing hormone levels and determining the cause of the brain fog is key.
This photo helps show how stress, and an increase in cortisol, actually pulls cholesterol (an important building block) away from making testosterone and estrogen. This is one way or reason that stress can contribute to symptoms of brain fog.
Of course there can be other causes of ‘brain fog’ and assessing what is going on in your life is key to understanding, and ultimately treating, these symptoms.
So next time you get a ‘hole in your brain’ consider what else is happening in your life… it may be a marker of what’s happening with your hormones.
Dr Chanel Cressman, ND