MENO-FOG... IS IT REAL?
Biscuit-gate, AWOL hair mousse and an oestrogen starved brain by Karen Brumfitt
Remember when you remembered everything? Well for me that was months ago - the memory of a perfect memory is still lingering like a deliciously melting ice cream. All I’m saying is, something is playing havoc with my gloopy brain, my mind is wandering… it refuses to play ball. It’s driving me mad, in the irritated angry sense, it’s beyond frustrating, I’m upset and about to explode!
In the heady days of the eighties, after a night imbibing dangerous amounts of my fave tipple, Snakebite & Black (not surprisingly nicknamed a Purple Nasty), I’d still recall who snogged whom, how we got home and what time I collapsed. Now though, I’m usually in bed by10pm, having drunk copious glasses of water throughout day, I forget the funny sarcastic one-liners from TV’s Flea Bag, and where I put my specs (pssst… they’re usually insitu on my head). Do you get that thing where you bump into an old friend, and you’re unable to grasp their name although it’s floating around in the ether of your head somewhere? Hate that, really hate that. It fills me with a desperate fear and self-loathing.
Oestrogen on the brain
For me the decline has been a subtle one - I didn’t just wake up one day and start losing or forgetting ‘stuff’. My brain seems to hesitate ever so slightly, I have also become clumsy and the whole idea of temporary memory loss is anathema. I have to admit, there’s something amiss.
Cue Google and the discovery that, once again, the main culprit is loss of oestrogen, that female hormone connected to a wide range of our bodily functions. In women, cell receptors for hormones are found in the breasts, the belly, the bones (amongst other places) and yes, you guessed it, the brain. A reduction in oestrogen during menopause can cause many symptoms including cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’. Jeeez, we women have all the fun!
Meg Mathews, one of the famous faces of the 90s Britpop scene, now 53 and using her influence to blog on the stigma of menopause, hit the nail on with this short but perfectly clear explanation… “Oestrogen stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain. Fluctuating hormone levels can slow down neurotransmitters, causing foggy brain”. Thanks Meg. Link below to the website, Megs Menopause, some informative reads when you get a mo.
Menopausal women throughout history have had a bad press, often confined to asylums for disorders of the mind related to their ‘female cycle’. We were considered harlots, dangerous and ‘of hysterical mind’. More recently, women are routinely prescribed anti-depressants for ‘low mood’ rather than being treated for menopause and such a lack of understanding from the medical profession is beyond belief. When did you last hear about money being spent on treatments for relieving menopause symptoms?
The case of the AWOL hair mousse ended up in full blown conflict, a kind of bouffant world war three. The brand name is insignificant, but the product was of vital importance. I was off to a best friend’s wedding, for which we all know, bouncy hair full of va va voom is a ‘must have’.
Foggy brain is also linked to fatigue. Not sleeping, the constant tossing and turning in bed, hot-not-hot, several nights of this and I am multiple listing… ie. making lists not to forget, even lists to remember where the lists are. Anyone else do this? It can be very tough if you’re working, most employers underestimate the effect fatigue and foggy brain (let alone all the other symptoms) can have on your working life (check out the Menopause Doctor link below which has lost of helpful advice).
Taking the biscuit
So back to my oestrogen-starved brain and a couple of anecdotes to lighten the mood. I love Fruit Shortcake biscuits, particularly dunked in a cuppa Yorkshire Tea… the raisins give them stability to hold their shape, unlike the dreaded Rich Tea, whose less sugary exterior collapses at the first sign of a good brew. I love Fruit Shortcake so much that I hide them from my family and the hidey-holes rotate around the house, which doesn’t help my ability to find them when I need them. My favourite hiding place is the baking drawer… no one ever goes in there, it’s overflowing with out of date self-raising flour, almond flakes and countless bags of Demerara sugar. One Saturday afternoon, glorious sunshine, blue sky, birds tweeting the tweet, sitting outside with a cuppa, everyone had some random biscuit from the tin but I couldn’t find where I’d stashed my Fruit Shortcakes. I’m rubbish without a sugary treat, so all hell broke loose. ‘Biscuit-gate’ happened a few times before I gave up hope of ever finding them, then one day I was baking a cake… remember what I said about that drawer… hey presto, let’s get the kettle on.
The lost keys are such a short story they don’t merit a ‘gate’ of their own. I really have no idea when or how they went missing. I have a feeling they’ll turn up covered in dust and dead wood lice from under a chair but I no longer worry where they are, it’s ceased to become important to me, someone else can lock up.
The case of the AWOL hair mousse ended up in full blown conflict, a kind of bouffant world war three. The brand name is insignificant, but the product was of vital importance. I was off to a best friend’s wedding, for which we all know, bouncy hair full of va va voom is a ‘must have’. I bought volumising mousse only to find it absent without leave the next morning when packing up for our wedding trip. I searched everywhere (including the baking drawer) even my husband, who’s bald, got accused of moving it. I was furious, in a hopeless state, distressed - had it done a runner and gone to hairdresser heaven?
I found the till receipt days later and, after scanning it a dozen times, I found to my acute embarrassment that I’d never bought any mousse. Honestly, if a gigantic hole had opened up, I’d have jumped in, but it didn’t so I grabbed a blanket, turned on Now TV and caught up on Big Little Lies, then I rang my husband and confessed all, laughing through gritted teeth at the absurdity of it all.
Equilibrium had been restored, but I did wonder why I made fun of myself?
I can’t help thinking that it would all be very different if this hormonal change affected men. Different in the sense that there’d be Manopause bank holiday, the rally, the festival and certainly, a Manopause clinic at every GP surgery.
I started this blog with the intention of retelling a few funny anecdotes about a recent spate of arguments or distress in the household involving a ‘foggy brain’ and my ‘unpredictable’ behaviour but it’s developed into a more rounded blog about forgetfulness. Also, to be perfectly honest, I’m not finding the stories funny anymore and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Possibilities include the cycle of rage and disbelief that happens in these episodes, what appear like funny, unimportant, short-lived events, cause me quite a lot of upset and anger. The sideshows of whispering and silent open-mouthed ‘what is she looking for now’ from my family undermines me, makes me want to scream and throw my crockery against the walls. Glad it’s not the olden days though, or a white restraining jacket, handcuffs and a padded cell would be coming my way soon. So yes, meno-fog is very real.
Overhearing this statement recently… ’first we had baby brain, now menopause, what next?’ I did think a little education, some empathy and understanding please. I can’t help thinking that it would all be very different if this hormonal change affected men. Different in the sense that there’d be Manopause bank holiday, the rally, the festival and certainly, a Manopause clinic at every GP surgery. Alas, it’s mostly a female reserve (yep, there is talk of the male meno) so the menopausal foggy brain will live long and prosper!
Clearing the fog
On a more positive note you can help alleviate symptoms of brain fog. There’s lots of advice out there, including info on how to get a well-balanced diet (no biscuits!), exercise mind and body (I’ve just taken up PT), get lots of sleep (not always possible with the dreaded hot flush). HRT can also help, but if you can’t have HRT like me, there are lots of herbal remedies that may alleviate symptoms. I take Menohop, not a very well known tablet but it works for me - not had a hot flush in 18 months (less fatigued) and I believe my mood and brain are better for it. And it’s made from hops… can’t be bad! The “formula contains hopein, from the hop plant, an active phytochemical belonging to a new class of phytoestrogens known as prenylflavonoids, together with isoflavones from soy, which are highly valued phytonutrients used traditionally to support hormonal balance”. For full details on Menohop, follow the link at the end of this blog.
Oh, and make a list, incase you forget to buy them!
We would love to hear your comments and feedback below, any tales of forgetfulness or tips to help brain fog. Thanks.
Meg Matthews website megsmenopause.com
Information on Menohop