Brain fog is a condition where you feel like your mental functions — such as thinking, memory, focus, and concentration — aren’t working as they normally would.
Chronic brain fog is when this condition lasts for more than one year, and requires frequent medical attention.
Symptoms of brain fog can include one or more of the following:
- Storing and recalling memories
- Understanding and using language
- Processing information
- Recognizing shapes, navigating shapes, and drawing
- Problem-solving, planning, and organizing
When one or more of these functions become impaired, you may have difficulty understanding what you are doing.
Or you may have difficulty focusing and concentrating. You may find that you forget things easily and feel mentally fatigued.
Brain fog may be caused by:
- An underlying medical condition
- Lifestyle choices
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, incurable condition that affects the brain and spinal cord.
MS causes problems with vision, balance, movement, and sensation. It can also lead to inflammation of the brain, as well as brain lesions. Both can alter how the brain functions.
Most often, MS affects memory, information processing, and executive functioning abilities such as:
- The ability to successfully juggle several tasks at the same time
- Remembering instructions
- And planning
Low Thyroid Function
The thyroid is a small gland found at the base of the throat. It influences almost every aspect of your health, though one of its main roles is the regulation of metabolic functions.
If you suffer rom hypothyroidism or decreased thyroid function, your physical and mental processes will begin to slow down.
Thyroid dysfunction is one of the most common causes of brain fog. It can cause forgetfulness, poor focus, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, difficulty recognizing details, and confusion. Though hypothyroidism is easily treated, it is often overlooked or misdiagnosed — meaning many people suffer needlessly.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain. Symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, memory issues, and mood swings. Though the exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known, many medical experts believe that it causes the brain to amplify pain signals.
Brain fog is a common symptom for fibromyalgia sufferers, who often refer to it as “fibro fog.” Often the brain fog can be just as debilitating as the pain.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) causes extreme fatigue, which does not go away and cannot be explained by an underlying medical condition. As with fibromyalgia, because no single cause has been identified, this condition is difficult to diagnose and treat. Though CFS was considered to be a controversial diagnosis, it is now widely accepted as a medical condition.
Many people who suffer from CFS also experience difficulty concentrating, poor memory, confusion, and poor concentration. Some sufferers even report that brain fog is more debilitating than their other symptoms.
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects the way a person feels and thinks. It can cause severe feelings of sadness and loss. In some cases it can become very debilitating. People who suffer from depression may have difficulty carrying on with normal day-to-day activities.
Brain fog often accompanies depression. It can cause lack of energy and can make concentrating and completing tasks very difficult. When depression is alleviated, brain fog usually dissipates.
Medications That Cause Brain Fog
Brain fog can also be a side effect of certain medications. These include:
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Anxiety medications
- Over-the-counter sleep aids
- Mood stabilizers
Sometimes, brain fog can be a result of lifestyle factors that can negatively affect how well the brain functions. Causes of brain fog that relate to lifestyle include:
- Insufficient sleep
- Too much stress
- Insufficient exercise
Lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, getting better sleep, and regularly exercising can generally improve brain fog.
Certain foods are more likely than others to have a negative impact on cognitive functioning. Eliminating the following foods from your diet may help:
Pre-cooked and processed foods contain additives and are often nutrient-poor. One of the most common additives is monosodium glutamate (MSG), used to enhance the flavor of food.
Almost all processed foods contain MSG, from canned soup and TV dinners to salad dressings and many restaurant meals. MSG can raise levels of glutamate in the brain, which is associated with headaches in some individuals. (Baad-Hansen et al., 2010)
One of the most widely used artificial sweeteners is aspartame. It has also become one of the most controversial.
Aspartame breaks down into methanol — a neurotoxin. However, the science is not conclusive — amounts of aspartame consumed are usually small.
Commonly reported symptoms of aspartame include headache, confusion, poor concentration, and balance issues.
Many people are sensitive to dairy products such as cow’s milk, cheese, and yogurt. You can avoid this problem by switching to plant-based options such as almond or soy. Try this for at least a month — see if your symptoms go away.
Possible brain fog triggers found in alcohol include gluten, sulfites, histamines, and ethanol. Alcohol is also a nervous system suppressant — hangovers can cause the brain and body to function below par.
To avoid brain fog, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
Eating a lot of gluten-containing foods (like breads and pasta) often results in brain fog.
Further down in this article, we recommend ideal foods to include in your diet to help with brain fog.
How to Eliminate Brain Fog
There are several things you can do to eliminate brain fog. Which method you choose will depend on what’s causing it.
Nootropics are natural supplements that can have a beneficial effect on the brain in healthy people.
There are several nutritional supplements that can help alleviate brain fog and improve mental clarity:
Curcumin is found in turmeric. It has been used in India for thousands of years, not just because of its rich flavor, but also because of its medicinal properties.
Recent studies indicate that curcumin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. That means it could be helpful in fighting inflammation, which can be a cause of brain fog. (Mishra et al., 2008)
Rhodiola rosea is a perennial flowering plant. It is considered an adaptogenic herb and has been used to treat fatigue and depression for centuries.
In rat studies, Rhodiola is known to modulate serotonin activity and may help with the prevention and support of depression. (Bove, et al., 2010)
This water-soluble vitamin plays an important role in nerve function.
Almost 40% of Americans have a vitamin B12 deficiency. (McBride, 2000) Some of the symptoms of insufficient B12 include mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating, poor focus, and memory issues.
The recommended daily amount for this vitamin is 2.4 micrograms for adults. Good sources include red meat and sardines. Vegans will need to supplement as plant sources are only analogs.
Fish oil contains two types of omega-3 fatty acid: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a number of health benefits including supporting brain functions. (Dyall, 2015)
DHA and EPA have also been shown to improve thinking skills, memory, and reaction time. (Stonehouse et al., 2013)
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in the skin of red and purple fruits, like grapes.
Some studies suggest that taking a resveratrol supplement may prevent deterioration of the part of the brain associated with memory. (West, 2016)
Animal studies indicate that resveratrol improves brain function and memory, which suggests this supplement may help alleviate brain fog. (Dal-Pan et al., 2011)
Caffeine is a natural stimulant. It is found in coffee and some teas. It has a stimulating effect on the brain and nervous system, giving you a feeling of heightened alertness.
Caffeine is also known to improve brain function, reaction times, and memory. (Brice et al., 2002)
Ginkgo is a supplement extracted from the Ginkgo biloba tree.
Preliminary research suggests that this herb may improve brain functions such as memory, by increasing blood flow to the brain. (Mashayekh et al., 2011)
Creatine is a natural substance found in the muscles and the brain. It does occur naturally in some foods, such as eggs, meat, and fish. It can also be taken as a supplement.
Creatine can boost thinking and memory skills, particularly in people who don’t eat meat. (Benton et al., 2011)
In some instances, you may be able to get rid of brain fog by making changes in your lifestyle:
Reduce sugar intake
Limit your use of sugar. Avoid processed and packaged foods that have a high sugar content, as well as other additives.
Also, avoid foods and beverage that contain artificial sweeteners.
Eat healthy carbs
Eating quality carbs from food sources such as fresh fruits and root vegetables can combat the effects of brain fog by reducing and preventing inflammation.
Get enough protein
You need a steady supply of essential fatty acids and amino acids to keep your brain functioning optimally.
Complete protein sources, such as fish, eggs, meat, and dairy products, all help provide essential fatty acids and amino acids.
Eat healthy fats
You also need healthy fats to promote brain function and prevent inflammation.
Optimize your omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids by avoiding oils that are high in omega-6 such as sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.
Boost your intake of omega-3s from nuts, seeds, organic eggs, and wild-caught fish.
Take control of stress
Keep bad stress at bay by eliminating triggers.
Avoid obsessing over schedules and timekeeping. Reduce stressful environmental factors, such as annoying noise levels and poor lighting.
Take time to eat regularly. Don’t overburden yourself with tasks. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help.
Every single day in four Americans develops insomnia. Of those, 75% never recover. (Science Daily, 2018)
Lack of sleep will affect your brain functions quickly, causing difficulty concentrating, difficulties with memory, and an inability to stay on task.
If you’re having difficulty getting to sleep, take a relaxing bath before going to bed, learn some relaxing breathing exercises, and maintain a regular sleep routine.
Get regular exercise
Exercise not only helps to reduce stress and improve sleep, but it also reduces inflammation.
It’s important to get regular exercise to avoid brain fog, but be careful. Too much exercise will increase your risk of imbalanced hormones and cause even more physical and mental fatigue.
Regular, moderate exercise triggers the release of natural endorphins, which will boost your stamina and lift your mood.
Address possible food sensitivities
Food sensitivities can cause symptoms of brain fog. An elimination diet is a great way to identify food sensitivities.
If you experience long-term difficulties with thinking, retaining and recalling memories, concentrating on tasks at hand, and other cognitive processes, you may be suffering from chronic brain fog.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner about your symptoms, in case there is an underlying medical condition.