Hot flushes, mood swings and irritability – you’ve probably heard frequently of these notorious signs of menopause, but there are a number of other symptoms which don’t get the airtime they deserve. With World Menopause Day upon us, we decided it’s time to lift the lid on 3 of the less well-known – but equally common – symptoms that are affecting women the world over.
This year, World Menopause Day is raising awareness for the host of cognitive issues that come with menopause, with the theme for 2022 dedicated to cognition and mood. Now, there are a number of more recognised symptoms that usually take centre stage in the media, including the following:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood changes
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Reduced sex drive
- Irregular periods
But we’re here to unpack 3 of the many underrepresented cognitive and mood-related symptoms of menopause in honour of this global day. Let’s get into it – we’ll be diving into the ways in which these symptoms affect quality of life, and sharing a few foods to add to your plate to give your brain a boost.
Brain fog is one of the more distressing effects of menopause, yet it lacks the awareness of more notorious symptoms. Researchers have found that during this stage, memory function does actually change – so if this is something you or someone you know is going through, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone and it’s not in your head! Brain fog encompasses a number of symptoms, which often include the following:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty multitasking or switching activities
- Difficulty remembering things like words or numbers
- More frequently losing or misplacing things
- Forgetting intentions – ever walked into a room and forgotten why you’re there?
- Forgetting commitments
- Easily distracted
Research shows that a range of cognitive issues arise during menopause, including with working memory, processing speed and verbal memory – luckily, these symptoms tend to clear up post-menopause.
The fluctuating hormones during menopause can often result in symptoms of anxiety, with estrogen and progesterone imbalances particularly responsible. In fact, research has found that these changes to your estrogen levels could be to blame for these mental health symptoms. Signs that you’re dealing with anxiety include:
- Feelings of restlessness or edginess
- Feeling tired or fatigued
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Unexplained pains like headaches or stomachaches
- Excessive worry
- Having difficulty getting to sleep
- Having an increased heart rate
- Excess sweating
While this symptom gets less of the limelight than hot flushes and mood swings, it’s still a highly common experience for menopausal and perimenopausal women, with a 2020 study finding that 58% of the latter had anxiety. But there are other changes that come with menopause which can indirectly result in anxiety, and one of the major ones includes sleep disturbances or disorders, which are believed to affect a whopping 50% of menopausal people. It's proven that these sleep issues can cause anxiety – but it also works in reverse, symptoms of anxiety can result in poor sleep. As you can see, it’s pretty easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle when it comes to anxiety and sleep disorders.
Lack of motivation
Many women report a lack of motivation, reduction in energy levels and negative thinking spirals during menopause. For many, it could start with watching TV all night instead of going out to meet a friend or fulfilling a commitment. Even a small task can feel monumentus, leading many to stop their usual exercise regimes and healthy cooking and eating plans. The knock-on effect is even less motivation and lower self-esteem. A range of other physical symptoms from menopause can feed into this, including hot flushes and joint pains, both of which leave people feeling drained and low on energy. The usual culprit for this lack of motivation comes from reduced estrogen levels, with around a third of participants in one survey revealing their symptoms had impacted their social life, along with 20% reporting lower confidence levels at work.
Try these foods to combat cognition and mood symptoms:
- Omega 3 fatty acids: These are known brain-function boosters which aid in improving low mood, poor concentration and energy levels. You’ll find them in salmon, hemp seeds, walnuts, eggs and algae oil.
- Calming teas: Take the edge off mild anxiety with a calming tea like chamomile or passionflower. Some studies show they may also help improve sleep quality, with chamomile in particular known for its sedative properties. Lavender and valerian tea may also aid in sleep function.
- B vitamins: These are essential for getting your energy levels and motivation up; many people who are low on these nutrients tend to struggle with low mood and even depression resulting from low serotonin levels. Vitamin B6 and B12 are especially important – you’ll find the former in salmon, chickpeas and dark leafy greens, and the latter in eggs, yoghurt and nutritional yeast.
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