Brain Fog: What is it & What can we do about it?
Brain fog is not a medical condition or even a scientific term, but rather it is used to describe a group of symptoms such as an inability to concentrate, memory problems, sluggish or fuzzy thinking, difficulty processing information or scattered thoughts. Sometimes we try to remember a word that we know that we’re familiar with and it’s on the tip of our tongue, but the word just won’t come to us!
It’s terribly frustrating, but it’s quite a common affliction. It can be caused by stress, poor sleep and a range of other factors, so it makes sense that more and more people are struggling with brain fog. It is also often a lingering side-effect of Covid-19, so let’s look at what brain fog is, what causes it, the symptoms and finally what we can do to treat or reduce brain fog.
What is Brain Fog
As mentioned, brain fog is not a diagnosable condition. We use it to describe the symptoms listed above that are often caused by one or more other health conditions. Brain fog affects the way that we feel about ourselves and can result in a lot of frustration and worry when our brains just don’t seem to work the way we know that they should be working! Simply put, brain fog is experienced as feeling mentally fatigued as if something is misfiring.
What Causes Brain Fog?
There are a number of different things that could be potential culprits of experiencing brain fog. Because brain fog is not a condition itself, it is important to identify the underlying root cause of your brain fog if you are experiencing any symptoms. The below causes are not exclusive, but they are the most common reasons for feelings of brain fog:
- Poor Sleep
Most people are familiar with the feeling of fuzzy thinking, slower reaction times or poor concentration after sleeping poorly the previous night. We, therefore, know that a lack of enough quality sleep can affect the brain. If you chronically suffer from poor sleep, it then makes sense that the brain and its functioning will start to suffer.
There are a number of nutrients in food that are important for good brain health. When we eat a diet rich in processed foods and sugars, we tend to miss out on key nutrients that support the brain. Vitamin B12 is such an example. Rich in foods like meat, eggs and dairy, vitamin B12 is brain food. A vitamin B12 deficiency, on the other hand, is a potential cause of brain fog.
However, as always, we are all very individualised human beings. Food can very much also be a cause of brain fog if you have an allergy or sensitivity to particular foods. Common examples include histamine-rich foods (alcohol, fermented foods and drinks, avocados, spinach, shellfish etc) and dairy. If you are at all allergic to any of these, it may be the root cause of your brain fog.
- Stress and Anxiety
The one thing we find so difficult to change in our lifestyle: stress. But we already knew this: when we are feeling stressed, we don’t think properly. Think of an exam or a situation in which you were feeling anxious: our thought processes sometimes seem to go haywire. So, imagine the impact that chronic (continuous) stress has on our brains and our ability to think, reason and concentrate. A tired brain does not do well with these mental tasks and leaves our mental performance tanking!
- Hormonal conditions
A leading cause of brain fog is a thyroid condition, so it’s always wise to get your thyroid checked out through blood testing. In addition, our levels of progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone (which are thrown out of whack as early as in your 20s or 30s) all have a significant impact on how our brains function.
Women who have been pregnant are all too familiar with the so-called “preggie-brain”. Our hormones directly impact our memory and when they’re not at optimal levels, can result in cognitive impairments. Simple bioidentical hormone replacement therapy has been lifesaving for many people. It may be at the root cause of your poor concentration, forgetfulness and fuzzy thinking, so get a full hormone panel if you are concerned about brain fog.
- Medical conditions and medications
Inflammation seems to be that the heart of most chronic and acute conditions that people struggle with most. When we suffer from a condition related to inflammation or one related to blood glucose levels, these can all result in brain fog. One example is chronic fatigue syndrome, which causes you to constantly feel tired. Brain fog is a symptom of this syndrome.
Similarly, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease or polymyalgia are often coupled with brain fog symptoms. The most common conditions currently associated with brain fog include diabetes (blood sugar control), migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases (lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis etc) and Covid-19.
Note that you could also be taking medications which affect the way your brain functions, so if you are concerned about brain fog after starting a new medication, then speak to your doctor to see if there are alternatives.
Diagnosing Brain Fog
So, you feel like you’re living in a haze and some of the above causes might be relevant in your life. The first port of call would be to consult a doctor, and it’s important to tell them all your symptoms. For example, hypothyroidism goes hand-in-hand with dry skin and hair and stubborn weight gain.
The best approach is normally to request a panel of blood tests, as these can test for glucose levels, inflammation, hormonal irregularities, infections and any nutrients that you may be lacking.
Treatment for Brain Fog
There’s no clear diagnosis for brain fog, other than how you’re feeling relative to how you know you could be feeling. It’s therefore also a very difficult thing to treat at times because it doesn’t change overnight, so measuring improvement might be challenging.
But the good news is that brain fog can be treated when you identify and treat the underlying root cause of your brain fog! Treatment depends on the cause: if you’re diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, then the appropriate treatment will improve your brain fog symptoms. If you’re diagnosed with a Vitamin B12 deficiency, then improving your Vitamin B12 levels will alleviate the brain fog symptoms!
If you’re not quite ready for blood testing yet, here are the best things you can do at home to see if your symptoms improve (you may already have a good idea of the reason why you’re struggling with brain fog after looking at the causes of brain fog):
- Prioritise good quality and quantity sleep! Poor sleep affects decision-making abilities, problem-solving and mood. Your brain cannot function properly on insufficient sleep, even if you think it does in the short term.
- Manage stress through meditation, self-care, and enough rest. Taking a break from life’s stressors is invaluable for significantly improving mental performance, focus and cognition. Stress management could also take the form of taking naps, doing creative work or spending time in nature, so find what brings you calm!
- Exercise: we know that this helps with both sleep and stress management, but it goes further than that. There is a wide range of exercises that actually promote the expression of proteins in the body that improve mental performance, particularly as they alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. Winners include walking, stretching, yoga and HIIT exercise.
- Grab a brain puzzle: even if we know that there is an underlying cause, exercising your brain like you exercise your body has great benefits for keeping a brain young and supple
- Prioritise your diet: ensure enough Vitamin B12, magnesium, iron and Omega-3 in your diet. These are key nutrients for a happy, healthy brain. Grabbing sweets give you an immediate high but also bring about a crash, so prioritise foods that give you mental performance consistency throughout the day. Caffeine and alcohol should be limited if you are worried about brain fog.
- Covid-19 induced brain fog: if you suspect that this is the root cause of your brain fog, then the treatment is exactly the same as suggested above. Moderate exercise, a healthy Mediterranean-style diet, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, prioritising sleep, participating in social activities and exercising your brain has shown to be the most effective at combating this form of brain fog. With patience and persistence, people are finally seeing marked improvements.
Finally, there are some really great supplements for combating brain fog. These will address nutrient deficiencies which may well be at the heart of your brain fog. You can of course supplement to improve sleep or manage stress and these will work really well if they’re your reason for suffering from brain fog. The list below touches on the key supplements that help most often for brain fog:
- Ancestral Nourishment’s Beef Liver Capsules: As mentioned, a Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common contributor to brain fog, so this supplement will be a lifesaver in these instances.
- Magnesium: PrimeSelf’s Magnesium Complex and NeuorActive’s Magtein Magnesium L-Threonate are both great supplements to top up magnesium levels (from the right kind of magnesium). Not only will it help with improved sleep, but a magnesium deficiency has been linked to poor concentration, brain fog, anxiety and chronic stress. Magnesium plays so many vital roles in our bodies that it’s crucial for most people to include this supplement for a healthy body and brain.
- Omega 3’s: Prioritise food sources of Omega 3 (like fatty fish and nuts) but supplementing is also a good idea for most people.
- Choline: Choline (eggs are a good source) has a vital role to play in brain health and the health of your brain tissue. NeuroActive’s Neuro Choline is a great supplement to combat brain fog.
- PrimeSelf’s Total Focus and PrimeSelf’s Prime Mind: Both of these supplements contain a stellar list of brain-supporting nootropics that help your brain to operate effectively and “clearly”. They are well worth a try not only to combat brain fog but to also OPTIMIZE your brain’s functioning.
Say Goodbye to Brain Fog
Brain fog is something that sneaks up on us. We either think we’re getting older or just didn’t sleep well to brush aside some lapses in mental reasoning. But the good news is that if you take some time to identify the underlying cause, then the symptoms can be very treatable to give you back your clarity of thought and ability to concentrate at any age! Always work in consultation with a doctor and make sure to be clear on all your symptoms, even if you don’t think they’re related to your brain fog. Make smart lifestyle and dietary choices and typically, that’s the biggest part of the battle already won!
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- Thea is the founder of Neolaia — Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.
Originally published in OPTMZ