The term brain fog covers a vast array of troublesome symptoms. Although not necessarily recognized as a disorder by the medical community, it is a fairly common malady. Some of the symptoms of brain fog include the following:
- Trouble focusing
- Cognitive fatigue
- Lack of mental clarity
- Memory loss
When you feel unfocused and foggy, and simply cannot make yourself think, your brain is sending a vital message to you that your life has an imbalance that must be addressed. Fortunately, although brain fog comes from a virtually limitless number of sources, it usually falls into one of two main categories: side effects of a medication or medical condition, or a lifestyle that is working against you.
Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Simply put, brain fog is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress. The latter refers to a condition where your body does not have enough antioxidants, but rather has too many free radicals. As mentioned previously, the oxidative stress may be the result of health problems and medications or poor lifestyle choices.
Free radicals disrupt your brain’s ability to properly function. When the center of your brain, referred to as the “hypothalamus,” senses this disruption, it responds by suppressing a substance called orexin. This ultimately leads to mental fatigue and brain fog. There are numerous kinds of free radicals; however, superoxide is the most significant. Although superoxide has a useful role in eliminating germs and bacteria if too much of it is continuously produced it can decrease cognitive function. Ultimately, anything that increases oxidative stress also increases brain fog. Sometimes it is not possible to determine exactly what is causing your brain fog, but on the list below you will likely discover one or more major culprits:
1. Poor Eating Habits
The food you eat may be the culprit regarding your fuzzy thinking. Below is a list of foods that you should eat in moderation or eliminate from your diet altogether:
Refined carbohydrates such as high fructose corn syrup and sugar send your glucose levels skyrocketing and ultimately plummeting. Low glucose levels in the brain lead to the following:
- Impaired judgment
- Mental confusion
- Mood swings
- Decreased cognitive function
Chronically high blood sugar levels can cause the problems listed below:
- Insulin resistance
- Cell damage
- Circulation problems
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
In addition, both low blood sugar–hypoglycemia–and diabetes have been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, the average American ingests over 150 pounds of sugar each year. Limit sugar and high fructose corn syrup from your diet and you have taken a big step toward eliminating brain fog.
It is now common knowledge that the low-fat diet pushed on the American public by the FDA and other supposedly helpful organizations have backfired. Following the food pyramid issued by the FDA, which calls for hardly any fat intake, has made Americans the most overweight society on earth. This is because the human brain and body do not thrive on starch, as the food pyramid diet infers, but rather the human brain is largely comprised of fat. In fact, 60% of the brain’s dry weight is fat. Therefore, low-fat diets have not only been disastrous for our waistlines, but also for our brains.
The author of “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” offers an in-depth explanation of why dietary fat is important. Written by best-selling author Doctor Datis Kharrazian, the book explains how the brain begins to literally cannibalize itself for the substances it needs to create vital brain chemicals if one does not eat enough fat. In a similar best-selling book “Grain Brain,” Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, found that a low-fat diet was the worst choice his patients could make.
Although it is true that the brain will burn glucose first, human brains function in a highly efficient manner when fueled by fat. In fact, both of the aforementioned doctors call fat a “super fuel” for the brain. These professionals recommend eating a diet consisting of approximately 50 percent healthy fat sources, such as the following:
• Grass-fed Meat
• Wild caught salmon
• Olive oil
• Coconut oil
Wheat is a brain fog culprit in a class all by itself. Once considered a super healthy food that could only do you good, certain medical professionals are now discovering that wheat should be consumed in moderation. This is due to certain substances it contains such as gluten and other proteins that are not good for your brain. The found that an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, referred to as celiac disease, is associated with dementia. Once only recognized for its role in digestive malfunction, it is now known that celiac disease also increases a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In his book, Doctor William Davis builds a compelling case against wheat for both your brain and your waistline. Davis states that the wheat consumed today bears little or no resemblance to that consumed by our ancestors.
Rather, almost all wheat contains, which gives the dough its stretchy texture. Additionally, there are over 1000 other proteins in wheat that have negative effects on the brain. Wheat has also been found to exacerbate the symptoms of a broad range of brain disorders, such as ADHD, autism, and schizophrenia.
You may also be suffering from an undiagnosed food allergy, which can certainly place you in a mental fog. The most common food allergies come from soy, corn, wheat, and shellfish. Nuts, eggs, and dairy may also cause allergies in certain individuals. If you suspect you are having an adverse reaction to specific foods, or have symptoms of allergies that you cannot pinpoint, conduct your own experiment. Cut specific foods out of your diet one by one for at least a week and see if you feel any difference. It will be obvious if you were having an to something once the food is eliminated from your diet.
Food Additives to Avoid
Artificial sweeteners and monosodium glutamate–MSG–are some of the worst additives for your brain. Both can result in brain fog shortly after being consumed. Most health researchers agree that MSG is a neurotoxin, yet it is still placed in a broad range of processed foods because the FDA has not yet deemed it unsafe. MSG is even used in supposedly “healthy” foods, such as veggie burgers. Both MSG and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose can cause the following:
• Mood swings
When you see the phrase “hydrolyzed protein,” that food contains MSG. The best way to avoid products that contain MSG is to shun processed fare in lieu of natural food. By “natural food,” experts mean food that was eaten by our ancestors: fish, fowl, meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Following this one rule substantially lessen your intake of food additives and sugar, while increasing the healthy foods on which your brain thrives. To avoid sugar without resorting to brain fog producing artificial sweeteners, opt for natural sweeteners such as Stevia.
Another negative dietary habit that you may not notice is poor hydration. Even though drinking enough water may seem like simple common sense, it is estimated that over 75 percent of Americans are poorly hydrated on a regular basis. You should aim for eight to ten, 8 0z. glasses of filtered water per day.
2. Nutritional Deficiencies
Although you may believe nutritional deficiencies are a thing of the past, this is not the case. They are a major culprit with regard to brain fog. Below are some common deficiencies of which you should be aware:
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If you are in a constant state of brain fog or your memory seems to be failing, you may need more vitamin B12 in your diet. This is by far the most common vitamin deficiency among Americans. High-risk groups include vegetarians, as B12 is found only in animal products, and seniors, who sometimes have poor absorption of this vitamin.
Your risk of B12 deficiency also increases if you use acid-suppressing medications for digestive disorders. This is because B12 requires stomach acid or it cannot be absorbed. Such medications, which should only be used in moderation, include the following:
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D can increase problem-solving ability, improve memory, banish depression and brain fog and lift your mood. Unfortunately, due to the somewhat hysterical promoting information on sun-induced cancers, many people have virtually no exposure to natural sunlight. Numerous medical researchers are now walking back their statements about the “dangerous rays of the sun,” and telling people a bit of sun will probably not harm anyone. Unfortunately, however, the damage has been done. Approximately one out of four Americans may be vitamin D deficient from lack of sunlight. Spending approximately 20 minutes per day in the sun or adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet should eliminate this problem.
Additional Dietary Considerations
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
The human brain has high concentrations of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, and these essential acids keep the mind functioning at top efficiency. The best dietary sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids are salmon, sardines, catfish, and other fatty fish. If these fish are not a regular part of your diet, invest in a supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a high concentration of docosahexaenoic acid–DHA. Of all the essential omega acids, DHA will benefit your brain the most.
To fill any nutritional gaps, the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that a gender-specific daily multivitamin supplement is taken on a daily basis. This simple action is good insurance against vitamin deficiencies.
Supplements for Brain Fog
If you believe you are meeting your brain’s basic nutritional needs, yet still feel mental fog, consider trying a supplement designed to eliminate fog and enhance cognitive function. Below are the top five supplements for brain fog:
• ZenMIND – Complete Brain Fog Formula
• Arctic root (Rhodiola Rosea)
• Gotu Kola
3. Chronic Stress
In an odd way, stress has become a badge of honor in modern society. It is inappropriately associated with being successful, popular and productive. However, stress can actually increase your risk for virtually every disease you hope you never get. These include Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition, chronic stress leads to the following:
• Memory loss
• Poor judgment
Additionally, when under tension due to personal or work-related problems, studies have shown people manufacture high amounts of “cortisol,” which is considered the stress hormone. Excessive amounts of cortisol in your body leads to an increased number of free radicals that damage cell membranes in the brain, causing them to stop functioning and die.
One of the best stress reduction techniques available is meditation. Over 25 million Americans meditate on a regular basis, and such individuals can verify that it makes them smarter, happier, and more resilient to the ups and downs of life. Those who meditate on a regular basis also experience improved concentration and focus, better sleep, stress reduction and greater creativity. In addition, research indicates that meditation can decrease your biological age by over 10 years. For this reason, it is definitely a good idea to meditate regularly if you suffer from brain fog.
4. Lack of Quality Sleep
Over 40 million men and women in America suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. You may be one of them if you have a problem with constant brain fog. Sleep is critical to proper brain function. This is because when you sleep, cerebral fluid essentially “power washes” debris from your brain matter. Additionally, when you sleep your brain consolidates your memories, so that the next day you can remember events and facts from the day before. All humans lose brain cells on a daily basis, but if you get enough uninterrupted, high-quality sleep, your brain creates new cells. On the other hand, just one bad night can cause the problems listed below:
• Inability to handle stress
• Poor judgment
• Mood swings
• Lack of coordination
• Memory problems
• Loss of physical coordination
Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, of Penn State University who runs the Hershey, PA, campus, states that even one poor night’s sleep can lower your cognitive function as much as it would be lowered if you were legally drunk. For these and other reasons, it is easy to see why getting adequate sleep may be a cure for brain fog. Natural supplements such as are a wise choice if you suffer from insomnia.
5. Physical Exercise
Physical is clearly an important part of a healthy lifestyle. This is because it increases the flow of endorphins and oxygen to the brain. It also stimulates new brain cell formation and eliminates the stress hormone, cortisol. Recent research indicates that exercise may be the number one thing you can do to help your brain function more efficiently. Former NASA physician, Joan Vernikos, author of the best-selling book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals,” claims that simply standing up at regular intervals during the day can counteract the vast majority of the ill effects of a sedentary life. He also states that taking a 30 minutes walk on a daily basis can significantly lower your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol and poor circulation.
6. Toxins in Your Home
We live in a sea of unregulated and untested chemicals. Among the many thousands of new substances Americans have placed in the environment over the past century, safety testing has only been completed on a few hundred. For this reason, toxins may be lurking in the air you breathe, the water you drink, and even in your home environment. Outdoor pollution can certainly cause brain fog, but your risk of mental fogginess from pollutants is 10 times higher indoors.
For example, toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls–PCBs–and formaldehyde may be hiding in your mattresses, furniture, and carpets. In addition, toxic household cleaners and air fresheners used to control odors may also contain these substances. Furthermore, depending on where you live, fluoride may be added to your drinking water. Once considered safe, it has now become common knowledge that fluoride is not meant to be ingested and adding fluoride to drinking water does nothing to prevent cavities. Many states are now fighting to have fluoride removed from drinking water. The best way to protect yourself from indoor pollutants is to run a HEPA air filter in your home, switch to natural cleaning products, and invest in a water purifier that also specifically removes fluoride as well as other toxins.
7. Underlying Health Conditions
If you ask your family health care practitioner what is causing your brain fog you will probably not get a satisfactory answer. However, brain fog is a highly common side effect among those with the following disorders:
- Thyroid conditions
- Substance abuse
- Seasonal allergies
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lyme disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Hormonal imbalances
- Hepatitis C
- Chronic pain
- Brain injuries
- Adrenal fatigue
8. Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter Medications
All medications are associated with a certain number of side effects and risks. However, there are specific prescriptions and over-the-counter medications that have a strong link to brain fog. For example, prescription sleeping pills and statin cholesterol-lowering drugs are notorious for decreased cognitive function and memory loss. Anticholinergics designed to block acetylcholine are also culprits that decrease brain function.
Over-the-counter medications that are specifically linked to brain fog include allergy formulas such as Benadryl, Tylenol PM for pain and insomnia, and acid reflux medicines, such as Pepcid AC.
Now that you have a better understanding of what causes brain fog, you can evaluate your lifestyle and eliminate causes of this troubling symptom. Fortunately, this is not as difficult to accomplish as it may at first seem. All you must do is systematically evaluate your diet and environment and make the appropriate changes. Finally, always report any unusual symptoms, including brain fog, to your primary health care practitioner.