Ugh! I sound just like my grandmother, Vanessa Ford thought to herself as her cheeks turned red when she struggled to recall a co-worker’s name during an important meeting. I’m too young to have these memory issues. What is wrong with me? the then-44-year-old worried, trying to cover her embarrassment and fear.
Barely Getting By
“Ten years ago, around my 40th birthday, I started noticing issues with my cognitive abilities. My brain would feel cloudy and I had difficulty finding the right words,” recalls Vanessa. “Over the next few years, the fuzziness worsened to the point where I was frequently forgetting why I walked into a room, who I wanted to text or what I was going to say. My short-term memory was spotty too, and it became so severe by the time I was 44 that I wondered if I had aphasia [the loss of the ability to express or understand language], dementia or even Alzheimer’s.
“But it wasn’t just brain fog that worried me. I was also dealing with inexplicable fatigue that was far worse than the occasional I-could-use-a-nap-because-I-didn’t-sleep-well feeling we all get from time to time. I was bone-tired exhausted to the point of slogging through my day, not only battling brain fog and memory issues but barely being able to muster the energy to move. Some days, I had to give myself a pep talk to gather the energy to get out of the car and walk into the grocery store, because I felt like I would collapse from exhaustion. Downing several pots of coffee was the only way to avoid falling asleep in the middle of my workday, because I was only getting two to four hours of horrible sleep every night. I even had a coffee maker on my desk to help get me through the day. I always laughed off comments co-workers made about how much coffee I drank, but inside I was ashamed that I needed caffeine to get through the day.
“Then, about four years ago, I had a period that lasted for three weeks, which was completely out of the ordinary for me. It was full-on, soak-the-tampon every two hours, every single day for 21 days. Because of a family history of cancer, about 2 1⁄2 weeks in, I called my doctor in a panic and told her I thought I needed to come in for tests.
A Surprise Solution
“By the time I saw the doctor, my period stopped and I thought I’d overreacted, but she suggested doing tests anyway to make sure there wasn’t a serious problem. Then she said, ‘This is likely just perimenopause.’
“I had never heard the word perimenopause before, and while I was thrilled she didn’t think I had cancer, I was disappointed she didn’t have any suggestions for easing my symptoms. She sent me home with resources, and as I did my own research, I started connecting the dots that the trouble sleeping, fatigue and cognitive issues I’d had since I turned 40 were due to my dipping estrogen levels.
“I was relieved that I didn’t have dementia, but I was sad to learn the fuzziness might become part of my everyday life. There has to be a way to feel better, I told myself.
“So I set out researching options to boost estrogen levels. I learned that phytoestrogens and certain strains of probiotics can help manage estrogen production. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that act like estrogen in the body, and sort of fill in the gaps when there isn’t enough estrogen.
“I read how probiotic strains like Lactobacillus gasseri and Bifidobacterium animalis help the body deconjugate estrogen, which essentially means that your gut recycles estrogen, instead of passing it out in your waste or storing it in fat cells, so you get to make use of the same estrogen again. This helps immensely with brain fog and other estrogen-related memory issues and with a host of menopause symptoms, including anxiety, weight gain, fatigue, and hot flashes!
Thrilled to find a possible solution, the next day I tried a probiotic supplement with these strains, plus Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus reuteri (One to try: MenoFit, Buy from MenoLabs.com, $49.99), and I started taking a probiotic and phytoestrogen every morning. Within a few weeks, the fog started to lift.
I was thinking clearer and fought less to find the right word. Six weeks later, I was sleeping soundly for five to six hours at night. After about three months, I felt amazing. My energy, concentration, and memory were normal!
“Today, at 49, my short-term memory and language skills are so much better than they were five years ago. I credit probiotics for giving me back my life. Without them, I would still be battling those symptoms, and instead, I feel like a better version of me at 50 than I was at 40!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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