Brain fog. It can feel like your brain short circuits; you struggle to find words; you have difficulty focusing on tasks and concentrating; you ‘space out;’ or you have trouble keeping up with conversations– or even reading this paragraph. Brain fog is ongoing mental fatigue.
Because I deal with digestive issues and anxiety predominantly in my practice, brain fog is a very common symptom I hear about. Brain fog isn’t a medical term, but rather a way to describe cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. When I have personally experienced brain fog, it felt like mild confusion and the inability to complete certain tasks like I had in the past. It simply felt like my brain was tired or thoughts would slip away too soon before I remembered what I was supposed to do or even what I was thinking about seconds prior. Super frustrating.
How Do I Know if I Have Brain Fog?
Brain fog has a number of different causes (I discuss below), and it can happen suddenly or creep in slowly. In many cases people just assume that’s the way they are and don’t realize they are meant to feel and think much better! Brain fog is never normal, and it doesn’t even have to be a side effect of aging. Here are the main symptoms:
- inability to hold focus or complete a task easily
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty finding the right words or constructing sentences
- chronic fatigue
- consistently feeling unmotivated, unproductive
- difficulty studying or memorizing
- feeling like your brain isn’t working
Causes of Brain Fog
- nutrient deficiencies: the brain requires the most energy of any organ in your body. That means it needs the proper nutrients, and enough of them, to function optimally. Your brain needs high quality fats, including saturated fats, and protein to build neurotransmitters. Your brain also needs B vitamins (deficiencies are linked to cognitive impairment and even depression & anxiety) and antioxidants (think brightly colored fruits & veggies) to quell oxidative stress and damage.
- inflammation in your body can affect your brain. Inflammatory foods like gluten, fake sugars (aspartame– a BIG one!), dairy, alcohol, and MSG can cause “brainflammation.” Heavy metals (mercury, for example) in our food supply and environment, pollutants, and cleaning products can have neurotoxic effects that damage your brain and can cause brain fog. Click here to read more about inflammation and how it is a main cause of nearly every disease.
- gut problems are a main cause of brain fog for the people with whom I work. I work with a lot of candida cases (and even teach a course on how to get rid of it), and brain fog is a huge symptom of candida overgrowth and bad bacteria in the gut in general. This is because these bad bacteria emit endotoxins that impair detox function and cause brain fog as a result. These bad guys in your gut also contribute to inflammation in your gut, and because your brain and gut are connected, that inflammation affects your brain too. SIDE NOTE that if you are doing a gut cleanse or candida cleanse, die-off is a very common side effect as bad bacteria or yeast die off and overwhelm your detox system with endotoxins. Activated charcoal and liver support can help brain fog that results from die-off.
- hypothyroid: a sluggish thyroid affects all major body systems, including your brain. Hypothyroid can cause memory issues and potentially even dementia over time. You may be hypothyroid if you can’t lose weight and/or experience hair loss, constipation, heavy periods, and fatigue (and of course, brain fog). Read more about hypothyroid here.
- diet: eating a nutrient poor diet of processed foods and sugar-rich junk can cause your brain to crap out. Over time, a high sugar diet causes insulin resistance, which is implicated in Alzheimer’s. (source) That’s why Alzheimer’s is called type 3 diabetes.
- poor sleep: did you know that your brain actually detoxes at night while you sleep? Studies are showing that sleep clears the brain of damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration. (source) Even one night of poor sleep can leave you foggy headed, but chronic poor sleep or lack of sleep can have more serious cognitive side effects. Click here for my sleep tips.
- chronic stress means your fight or flight mode is always activated. While this is a good response when it is needed, chronic fight or flight causes inflammation and impaired thinking and decision making.
- impaired detox means your liver is overwhelmed and not efficiently moving toxins out of your body. When toxins build up in your system, brain fog, headaches, and sluggishness can result. Constipation is another cause, as your stool is a main vehicle to excrete toxins. So make sure you are pooping daily! Read how here.
- Long covid can also cause brain inflammation that triggers brain fog.
How to Beat Brain Fog
- sleep gets the top billing, as it’s the easiest and cheapest way to improve your brain health starting tonight! If you have trouble sleeping, read some tips here. Get 7-8 hours!
- get moving! Exercise improves blood flow, reduces stress, and may improve memory. A brisk walk or, even better, 15 minutes of high intensity interval training is all you need several times a week.
- test your gut to see if you have candida overgrowth or dysbiosis. I use the GI MAP, which you can order yourself here.
- meditate and play word games. Meditation actually strengthens and changes your brain in positive ways. It improves concentration and reduces stress, among myriad other benefits. (source) Playing games like Scrabble also challenges your brain to work and be active.
- do a detox: a liver cleanse helps reduce toxic burden. Make sure you add chlorella and cilantro which both chelate to heavy metals to help get them out of your body. Click here for my recommended detox program.
- address inflammation by eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Click here for my top anti-inflammatory supplement picks. Reduce the stress that contributes to inflammation by meditating (double whammy), getting enough sleep (triple whammy), and addressing your personal stressors.
- brain nutrients:
*organic animal proteins and eggs (high in brain essential choline) provide the most bio-available amino acids and fats your brain needs to function properly. *Get your omega 3 fatty acids from wild salmon, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds. *Plenty of good fats via grass fed butter, coconut oil, avocado, olive oil.
*Get plenty of antioxidants from brightly colored fruits and veggies, especially beets, berries, cruciferous, and leafy greens. Wild blueberries in particular are a brain superfood!
*Read more on how to eat for brain health here and my top 5 brain foods here.
- supplements to boost brain function include (click links to see)
*Lion’s mane, my top billing. This is a medicinal mushroom that has phenomenal brain boosting benefits. This is the brand I use. I have used this myself and noticed amazing benefits in cognition and mental clarity.
*Essential fatty acid rich in anti-inflammatory omega 3.
*probiotic for gut health
*This formula is designed to optimize brain function and to support healthy cognition, mood, and memory.
Brain fog is typically caused by inflammation (especially in the case of long covid), nutrient deficiencies, or gut issues (or all of these can be a factor). If you can determine the underlying cause of your brain fog, start there, but you can’t go wrong with adjusting your diet and taking steps to improve lifestyle habits.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.