Brain Fog and Hormone Imbalance

Connection Between Brain Fog and Hormone Imbalance

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Balancing Your Hormones, Brain Health Leave a Comment

Are you living in a fog? Does your brain feel tired, and even everyday tasks are challenging because your brain isn’t cooperating with focus, thinking, and memory? 

Brain fog is a common (but not to be considered normal) symptom for women, especially during hormonal change or imbalance, as hormones play a vital role in brain health and function. While a lot of the research on brain health has been done on men; it’s only recently that we are learning about the connection between female hormones and brain symptoms like brain fog. 

In this article we will cover the ins and outs of brain fog relating to the menstrual cycle and female hormones. And most importantly, I’ll walk you through how to clear brain fog, naturally and effectively. Whether it’s menopause or pregnancy, I’ve got you covered. 

What Is Brain Fog and What Causes It? 

Let’s start with the basics. What is brain fog? And what causes brain fog?

Brain fog is mental fatigue like your brain function is slower and fuzzy. It feels like your thoughts have slowed or are hard to grasp, you might feel more forgetful or have a hard time remembering something you just heard. You are unable to concentrate.

Chances are you’ve experienced brain fog at one time or another in your life and know exactly what I’m talking about. Ever stay up way too late and find yourself in a haze come the next afternoon? It can be a bit like that. It’s sometimes intermittent and temporary, but there are also times when it seems never-ending. 

Brain fog is a symptom (or a collection of brain-related symptoms) and may be related to:

  • Stress
  • Medication use
  • Dehydration
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Changes in gut health
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Sleep disturbance

I will focus on brain fog related to hormone imbalances here, but please note that there are other possible or confounding root causes. 

Brain Fog Symptoms

Brain fog symptoms include: 

  • Mental fogginess
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating and poor focus
  • Difficulty thinking clearly 
  • Confusion 
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Decreased attention span
  • Difficulty with word recall or communication 

Effects of Hormones on the Brain

We typically think of hormones in terms of reproduction or survival, but they play a leading role in shaping the brain. The effects of hormones on brain health begin in-utero and continue throughout life. Because of this connection, we might notice changes in brain health when hormones fluctuate or you may sense a decline with age. 

Next, let’s explore the connection between hormones and brain fog by looking closely at two critical hormones for a clear and sharp brain: thyroid hormones and estrogen. 

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Thyroid Hormones and Brain Fog

Brain fog is a classic symptom of hypothyroidism, defined as low thyroid hormones. Active thyroid hormone, T3, is critical for establishing the metabolic rate of every cell in the body, and the effects of hypothyroidism are felt throughout the body. 

Low thyroid levels could slow cell function, affecting brain function and neurotransmitter production, including dopamine and serotonin

In a survey of over 5000 people with hypothyroidism, almost 80% reported frequent brain fog symptoms. And over 46% reported brain fog symptoms before their diagnosis. 

Brain fog associated with hypothyroidism commonly includes fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and memory and executive function difficulty. Symptoms may be mild or severe and often disrupt the quality of life. In fact, hypothyroidism related menstrual cycle changes may be one of the first signs to show up with brain fog, which can further contribute to the issues of brain fog. 

In addition, brain fog could interfere with adherence to medication use, such as thyroid replacement hormone. Forgetting to take the medicine that helps you may worsen symptoms. Thyroid medications are best taken first thing in the morning at least an hour before food and 4 hours before any mineral supplements.

Estrogen Hormones and Brain Fog

Estrogen levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and throughout a woman’s life. With higher levels during puberty, the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, and during the perimenopausal transition. 

Estrogen is a neuroprotective hormone deemed a neurosteroid. Estrogen binds to receptors in the brain, promoting cognitive function. New research suggests that estrogen is protective against age-related cognitive decline and against neurodegenerative disorders in women after menopause (when estrogen levels decline). 

The benefits of estrogen are often not realized until levels decline, such as during the postpartum period or menopause, as we will discuss below. Low estrogen is associated with cognitive change, brain fog, changes in sleep and mood, and anxiety and depression.

@drjolenebrighten If this is you, it’s time to check your hormones. #hormones #hormonas #hormonehealth #hormoneimbalance #brainfog #perimenopause #hypothyroidism #hashimotos #latinxcreatives #learnontiktok ♬ got nothing in my brain – user10101010*•*

Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance in Women

Chances are, if you’ve been alive long enough, you are no stranger to hormone imbalance. Hormone cycles and fluctuations characterize the reproductive years. We’ve all experienced months where we have more symptoms than others. 

Symptoms and signs of hormonal imbalance in women may include: 

Changes in Female Hormones During Different Phases of Life

Hormone changes during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause may contribute to brain fog. 

Menstrual Cycle

During the menstrual cycle, estrogen dominates during the follicular phase (first half of the menstrual cycle). Then, after ovulation, progesterone levels rise during the luteal phase to balance estrogen. If you’re pregnant, both hormones remain high to support pregnancy. If you aren’t pregnant, both hormones drop, and the cycle repeats. 

(Get a refresher on the phases of the menstrual cycle here.)

Both estrogen and progesterone play essential roles in brain health, including the ability to think and process emotions. 

Brain fog is most likely experienced in the mid to late luteal phase. This increase in brain fog may be related to an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone. High estrogen levels as in the case of estrogen dominance may promote brain fog and other luteal symptoms. Alternatively, low progesterone levels may create relative estrogen dominance. 

Pregnancy and Postpartum

Pregnancy and postpartum are other life stages where hormone levels rapidly change. During pregnancy, you experience high estrogen and high progesterone levels. You may be familiar with the term “pregnancy brain,” which describes brain fog and fatigue during pregnancy. 

Pregnancy brain isn’t all in your head; there are documented changes in brain structure, including reductions in gray matter, that occur during pregnancy and persist for around two years post-pregnancy. 

After delivery, the high hormone levels of pregnancy rapidly fall and may lead to changes in postpartum mood and other brain symptoms. Postpartum brain fog, or “mommy brain,” may continue related to the brain changes that began during pregnancy, the nutrient demands of healing and breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, and other factors. 

I cover many postpartum conditions, including “mommy brain”, in my first book.

Perimenopause and Menopause

Perimenopause and menopause are perhaps the times of a woman’s life when she is most likely to experience brain fog. 

Perimenopause is sometimes referred to as “reverse puberty” and is characterized by numerous and rapid hormone fluctuations. 

When a woman cycles normally, her brain receives a high level of hormonal input supporting brain function. In perimenopause, the brain undergoes a huge recalibration to varying and eventually lower levels of hormones.

During this neurological transition time, a woman is more likely to experience brain fog, difficulty sleeping, and related symptoms. However, in some women cognitive function in menopause, after going one year without a period, returns to baseline levels. 

Because of the recalibration going on, perimenopause is considered a window of opportunity for preventing neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease, later in life. 

In menopause, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone settle at new, lower levels. 

Since estrogen is protective for memory and cognition, menopause brain fog is related to low estrogen levels. In addition, hormone therapy has been shown to be protective of brain health in menopause. 

How to Get Rid of Brain Fog

Now that we see the connection between hormone imbalance and brain fog, let's discuss how to get rid of brain fog for better mood and energy levels. 

Practical lifestyle tips to promote estrogen balance and prevent brain fog include: 

  • Eat whole foods. Whole, unprocessed food provides brain-supportive nutrients, balances blood sugar, supports the microbiome, and promotes hormone balance. Learn specific diet strategies to address hormone imbalance in this article
  • Practice stress management. Changes in stress hormones influence other hormone systems, including thyroid and sex hormones. Stress is a common root cause of hormone imbalance that may lead to brain fog. Learn more about how to reduce stress in this article
  • Move your body. Exercise is an excellent habit for reducing brain fog. It gets your blood flowing to oxygenate your brain, reduces stress, and supports hormonal health. The key is finding movement that you enjoy and working on consistency. 
  • Prioritize sleep. Your brain sweeps away waste products and repairs while you sleep. If you aren’t sleeping well, brain fog could become worse. Sometimes sleep is hard during times of hormonal change, like postpartum or perimenopause. Get some natural sleep support ideas here
  • Lean on supplements. Whether it’s a hormone imbalance or another root cause, supplements for brain fog work to address underlying factors contributing to brain symptoms. Supplements offer a supportive bridge while you work to bring hormones back into balance. 

Let’s look at some brain health supplements that offer root cause support. 

Brain Health Supplements

Improve Thyroid Function 

Proper thyroid function requires many micronutrients, and a deficiency in any one may lead to low thyroid function and the associated symptoms. 

Thyroid Support is one of my favorite supplements to support thyroid function because it combines the building blocks for thyroid hormone with support for thyroid activation and metabolism. It contains:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B2
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Chromium 
  • Tyrosine 
  • Ginseng
  • Forskolin extract 

Many of these nutrients also support healthy brain function, and ginseng supports energy in the body and brain. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, are critical for brain structure and function, supporting brain cell membranes and cognitive health. They also help to reduce inflammation and have dozens of other benefits throughout the body

Cold water fish, including wild salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are excellent sources of omega-3 fats. Plant sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax. Supplementation is another way to increase omega-3 intake.

Dr. Brighten Omega Plus is a concentrated, therapeutic fish oil supplement designed for superior absorption with the addition of lipase enzymes. I love this omega-3 to nourish the brain and particularly for brain fog symptoms. 

Magnesium Supplement Benefits

Magnesium supplements are my go-to for hormone health and brain health. Magnesium benefits are widespread. In the brain, magnesium supports nerve conduction, neuromuscular function, and helps to prevent mood disorders and neurodegenerative disease. 

Regarding magnesium for hormone health, magnesium is required for healthy stress response, metabolic health, and sex hormone balance. 

Most of us don’t get enough of this essential mineral, even when eating a nutrient-rich diet. Dr. Brighten Magnesium Plus helps fill the gap to keep brain fog at bay.

Key Takeaways 

Brain fog is a commonly seen symptom of hormone imbalance that shows up during times of hormonal change, such as the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, and perimenopause. 

While brain fog can be an incredibly challenging symptom to cope with, supporting its root cause and working to bring hormonal balance will help ease symptoms. Many lifestyle tools and supplements are supportive.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.