Brain fog is not a term that is recognized medically but is used commonly to describe feelings of forgetfulness, confusion and lack of mental clarity and focus. It is a very common condition and is not normal.
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a phrase that is used commonly to describe symptoms of fatigue, confusion, fogginess, forgetfulness and lack of focus. When you are feeling unfocused, foggy, and disorganized and find it difficult to think, then an important signal is sent by your brain that an imbalance exists in your life that requires to be addressed.
What are the symptoms of Brain Fog?
The symptoms of brain fog are:
- Fatigue or feeling of low energy; it may also include chronic fatigue syndrome
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritable behaviour
- Difficulty exercising
- Insomnia or difficulty in sleeping
- Trouble remembering information or forgetfulness
- Feeling mildly depressed, hopeless and having low motivation
What are the causes of Brain Fog?
The different causes of Brain Fog are:
- You are consuming the wrong foods: There are numerous foods that could be the reason of your fuzzy thinking. Some of them are:
- Sugar: Refined carbs such as high fructose corn syrup and sugar first cause sugar spikes and then crashes the sugar level. Since the major source of energy for the brain is glucose, the brain is put on a roller coaster ride-initially too much sugar, then too less sugar. Low glucose levels in brain results in brain fog, irritability, mood swings, mental confusion, tiredness and impaired judgement.
- Low-Fat Diets: Your brain is mostly made of fat, around 60% by dry weight. Hence, low fat diets are not only disastrous for our waistline but also for our brains. When you eat a low fat diet, the brain begins to digest itself to get the raw materials it requires for creating essential chemicals of brain. Moreover, eating vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower or safflower oil worsens the condition. Canola oil is rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that lead to inflammation of brain. Chronic inflammation of brain can lead to brain fog, anxiety, depression, ADHD and memory loss along with serious diseases of the nervous system including Alzheimer’s and stroke.
- Food Allergies: Eating foods that you are allergic to can create a situation of brain fog. Wheat, soy, corn, eggs, dairy, peanuts, shellfish and tree nuts are all top allergy causing foods.
- Food Additives: Two of the additives that are worst for your brain are monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners. MSG, a known neurotoxin is present in most of the processed foods such as salty snacks, canned soups, veggie burgers etc. MSG can lead to brain fog and other symptoms related to brain such as mood swings, headaches, anxiety, depression and dizziness. Common side effects of the artificial sweeteners including aspartame and sucralose are brain fog, migraines, anxiety, depression, tinnitus and dizziness.
- Dehydration: Your brain is approximately 75% water by volume. Hence, dehydration, even mild will affect your brain. Dehydration affects the brain so much that its symptoms can mimic dementia.
- Nutritional Deficiencies: Your brain requires all essential nutrients to function smoothly. However, deficiency of certain nutrients is more likely to cause symptoms of brain fog. Some of these nutrients are:
- Deficiency of Vitamin B12: If you have constant symptoms of brain fog, then you may be suffering from a deficiency of vitamin B12. It can cause a variety of neurological and mental disorders. Two high risk groups are vegetarians as B12 is only found in animal products and seniors, in whom absorption is often poor. Disorders of digestion and use of antacids also raises the risk of deficiency of Vitamin B12.
- Deficiency of Vitamin D: Vitamin D is associated with lifting your mood, banishing depression and brain fog, improving memory and increasing the ability to solve problems. More than 1 billion individuals suffer from vitamin D deficiency globally.
- Deficiency of Omega-3 essential fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are present in the brain in high concentrations. They are vital for overall function and health of the brain and memory. The best food sources are fatty fishes such as salmon and sardines.
- Lack of good quality sleep: Sleep is vital to the working of your brain in both long and short term. Just one night without good quality sleep can affect your concentration, memory, mood, judgement, coordination and stress handling ability the following day.
- Chronic Stress: Chronic stress results in symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, depression, memory loss and poor decision making. Excessive cortisol, the stress hormone, results in surplus free radicals that damage the membranes of the brain cells, resulting in loss of normal function, leading to their death.
- Physical Inactivity: Physical activity raises endorphins and increases the flow of oxygen and glucose to the brain. Physical exercise counteracts cortisol and stimulates formation of new brain cells. According to recent research, physical activity is the only vital thing you can do to improve the function and health of your brain. Walking is the best form of exercise for your brain.
- The presence of toxins in your house: Toxins are present in your house, in the air that you breathe and in the water that you drink. Toxins such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and formaldehyde outgas from your furniture, mattress and carpet. Dust, moulds, pollen, pet dander, air fresheners, perfume, household cleaners, cigarette smoke etc. all get trapped inside an average home. And this mixture of chemicals can result in symptoms of brain fog, memory loss and fatigue.
- Underlying medical illnesses: For many persons, an underlying medical condition can be the root cause of brain fog. Some of these are:
- Chemo Brain: It is a common adverse effect of the chemotherapy that is used to treat cancer. It can be caused due to the disease, its treatments, hormonal changes, sleep problems, stress and depression.
- Fibro Fog: Brain fog is one of the most common symptoms present in patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
- Lupus Fog: It is a term used for cognitive symptoms that appear along with SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Thyroid Disorders: Brain fog can occur with both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid conditions.
Other health disorders that result in brain fog are:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Brain injuries
- Chronic pain
- Hepatitis C
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Hormonal imbalances
- Lyme disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Substance abuse
- Seasonal allergies
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Substance withdrawal
- Neurotransmitter imbalance
- OTC and prescription medicines: There are several prescription and OTC medicines that may lead to symptoms of brain fog. Some of these are prescription sleeping pills, statin drugs to lower cholesterol, anticholinergics, Benadryl, Tylenol PM and Pepcid AC.
Nutrition tips to improve brain fog
The various nutrition tips that you can take to improve brain fog include:
- Watch your intake of sugar; however, eat enough quantity of healthy carbohydrates. Avoid eating processed and packaged foods that are rich in sugar, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. Instead focus on eating brain foods that help in improving memory and focus such as sweet potatoes, yams, raw dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Eat enough of healthy fats and proteins. Approximately 20-30% of your daily calories should come from protein rich foods such as grass-fed beef, eggs, wild fish and poultry and around 30-40% should come from healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil.
- Consume caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
- Address any food allergies that you may have. Try and avoid foods that you may think you are allergic to and notice any improvement in symptoms.
- Lifestyle tips to improve brain fog
- Manage Stress: Manage stress effectively by doing things that you love doing. You can also do meditation, yoga etc. to manage your daily stress.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night to combat symptoms of brain fog.
- Get regular exercise: Regular and moderate exercise can help in balancing hormones, improving insulin resistance and sleeping better. All of these are vital to fighting fatigue and brain fog.
- Get adequate treatment if you have an underlying medical illness as a cause of your symptoms. Consult a physician and get a thorough check-up to diagnose and treat the illness.
Supplements to help symptoms of Brain Fog
The various supplements that you can take to reduce brain fog are:
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is also referred to as Cobalamin and is a water soluble vitamin. Dietary sources of this vitamin are liver kidneys, shellfish, oily fish, cheese and egg yolk. It helps in promoting normal energy metabolism, thereby, leading to normal psychological and neurological function while reducing fatigue. According to a study published in the journal Biofactors, there are beneficial effects of supplementation with vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids across two generations on brain development and function in Wistar rats. According to another study published in the journal Advances in nutrition, Vitamin B-12 is essential for brain development, neural myelination and cognitive function. Inadequate Vitamin B-12 status during pregnancy and early childhood has been associated with adverse child health outcomes including impaired cognitive development.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. The major source of Vitamin D is sun exposure. Dietary sources are cod liver oils, salmon, sardines, sunflower seeds and eggs. According to a study published in the International journal of obesity, Vitamin D reversed high fat diet induced cognitive impairments in rats. A review published in the Journal of affective disorders, vitamin-D may be a risk factor for late-life depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids: There are a few types of Omega 3 oils, these include Docosapentaenoic Acid (DPA), Docohexaenoic acid (DHA), and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), however Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the most well known. The natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish oils, plant oils, fish, walnuts, linseed and animal tissues (brain). According to a study published in the journal Biofactors, there are beneficial effects of supplementation with vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids across two generations on brain development and function in Wistar rats. According to another study published in the journal Breast cancer research and treatment, omega-3 fatty acids administered concurrently with doxorubicin chemotherapy have been shown to prevent depressive-like behaviours and reduce neuroinflammation, oxidative stress and neural apoptosis in rodent models.
Citicoline: Citicoline is a lesser known supplement used for brain that raises the flow of blood to your brain, increases mental energy and provides protection to your brain from aging and damage. According to a study published in the journal Folia psychiatrica et neurologica japonica, citicoline enhances the incorporation of blood glucose into the brain and its metabolism in the brain. It increases slightly the cerebral blood flow rate and decreases the accumulation of lactate in the brain. According to another study published in the journal Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy, treatment with oral citicholine within the first 24 hours after a moderate to severe stroke is safe and increases the probability of complete recovery. According to another study published in the journal Cognizin, citicoline supplementation has been used as a potential treatment for traumatic brain injury, ischemic stroke and memory impairment.
Inositol: Inositol is a water soluble structure that resembles vitamin commonly referred to as vitamin B8, yet it is not strictly Vitamin B. Natural dietary sources are oranges and cantaloupe melon. It is found in small quantities in liver, brown rice, lecithin oil, soy flour, cereals, and green leafy vegetables. It works as a neuro-transmitter. According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience, supplementation with myo-inositol leads to a normalization of blood-brain barrier permeability; it is suggested that myo-inositol exerts a restituting effect upon Na+/K+ ATPase activity of the cerebral endothelial cells.
Gingko: The Ginkgo Biloba tree is also referred to as the “Maidenhair tree”. It is thought to be one of the oldest plants on the earth. The active compounds in the Gingko seeds are called Ginkgolides and Bilobalides. They have a beneficial effect on cognitive function. They help to maintain mental well being and preserve memory. It contributes to normal circulation in the brain, thereby, increasing reactivity and performance of the brain. According to a study published in the journal Behavioural Brain research, supplementation with ginkgo Biloba improved cognitive functions by decreasing oxidative damage and increasing the brain-derived neurotrophic factor level in aged female rats.
Ginseng: It is one of the most popular natural remedies in the world. Ginseng is utilised to improve concentration, thinking, physical endurance and memory. It also helps with anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue. According to a study published in the journal Human psychopharmacology, Panax ginseng improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. According to another study published in the journal Alzheimer disease and associated disorders, Panax ginseng enhances cognitive performance in Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain fog is a term that is used commonly to describe symptoms of fatigue, confusion, fogginess, forgetfulness, lack of focus and memory loss. There are numerous causes of brain fog including wrong eating habits, nutritional deficiencies, lack of sleep, chronic stress and certain underlying medical illnesses. There are several nutrition and lifestyle tips that you can follow to manage brain fog. You can also take various supplements such as ginseng, gingko, inositol, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and citicoline.
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