What is Brain Fog? Everything you Need to Know (Plus How to Fix It)

Trying to make it through your daily routine can be really difficult if you’re suffering from brain fog. You find it hard to concentrate, you have memory problems,  you can’t stay on task, you’re tired, and all of this makes you feel frustrated and irritable.

Although brain fog is not considered to be a recognized medical condition, it’s a term that refers to a combination of symptoms. It can be the result of a wide range of underlying health issues. But it does not have to continue to affect your life. Once you have figured out what’s causing it, usually, with some lifestyle changes, you can fix it for good.

 

Symptoms of Brain Fog

There is a wide range of symptoms for brain fog, some people will experience more of them than others. The most common symptom is difficulty thinking. Other symptoms include:

  • Mental fatigue
  • Confused thinking
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Inability to perform cognitive tasks
  • Reduced mental clarity
  • Difficulty performing normal daily activities
  • Headaches
  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • low energy
  • Confusion

 

Understanding the Brain

Understanding some of the brain’s basic functions can help you understand how brain for works.

  • Brain energy: Of all the organs in your body, your brain uses the most energy, that’s 20% of total energy consumption. Your brain gets fuel from the glucose in your diet. If you have an unhealthy diet or problems with your blood sugar levels, this can affect the way your brain functions.
  • Brain fat: Your brain is comprised of around 60% fat; good fat. If your diet is high in unhealthy fats, it will only be able to create poor-quality nerve cell membranes. This means that the nerve cell functions in your brain will be negatively affected.
  • The blood-brain barrier: The blood-brain barrier is a semi-permeable membrane which allows certain substances, such as oxygen and glucose, to enter the brain while blocking toxic substances. [1] The barrier is comprised of tightly packed cells which contain neurotransmitters. It is these which enable you to think, speak, and feel emotions. If the blood-brain barrier becomes damaged in any way, unwanted elements, such as proteins or medications, may pass through. This can have a negative impact on your brain’s functioning.
  • The sleeping brain: While you are sleeping, your brain is still very active. Recent studies suggest that the brain uses this time to eliminate all the toxins that built up while you were awake. [2] It is also busy forming new memories and consolidating old ones, and stores information into long-term memory.

When the brains normal functioning is disturbed by stress, poor diet, or illness, this can lead to brain fog.

 

Causes of Brain Fog

There are numerous reasons why brain fog can occur. Here are some of the most common:

 

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common cause of brain fog. MS is s chronic condition that has no cure. It causes damage to the spinal cord and brain which leads to issues with movement, balance, vision, and other sensations. As is progresses, MS can cause brain inflammation and lesions. The symptoms of brain fog caused by MS are typically planning, following instructions, remembering information, and multitasking.

 

Fibromyalgia

This chronic condition causes joint and muscle pain throughout the body. Many fibromyalgia sufferers report brain fog, which is referred to as “fibro fog.”  Which includes insomnia, memory issues, difficulty staying on task, and difficulty with problem-solving, planning, and organizing.

 

Stress and Worry

If your stress level is through the roof or you’re often worried or feeling overwhelmed, this could be the root of your brain fog. Feeling worried, stressed or overwhelmed can trigger your stress response system. The response begins in your brain with a distress signal sent from the amygdala to the hypothalamus. This triggers a fight-or-flight reaction, which gives your body a rush of adrenalin. If you are suffering from chronic stress, the perpetuation of the stress response can make it very difficult for you to concentrate. It can also affect your memory and ability to perform normal daily activities.

 

Disrupted Gastrointestinal Tract

Your gastrointestinal tract (GI) is a delicate ecosystem which not only helps you absorb nutrients from the food you eat but also plays a major role in your immune system. Around 100 trillion bacteria reside throughout your GI tract. Some are good and some are bad, but of the harmful bacteria begin to outnumber the good, this can lead to symptoms of brain fog. Your GI tract can be disrupted due to an unhealthy diet, use of antibiotics, excessive alcohol intake, and leaky gut.

If you’re experiencing GI issues or discomfort, learn how digestive enzymes could help.

 

Lack of Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can be a major factor for brain fog because it affects brain function very quickly. You need at least seven hours of quality sleep each night. That means sleep without disruptions and frequent awakenings. If you have less than seven hours sleep even just for one night, this can elevate your cortisol level. This can reduce your energy levels, cause weight gain, and cause mood swings.

 

Blood Sugar Imbalances

Your brain depends upon a healthy supply of glucose to function normally, so you can concentrate, remember things, and think clearly. Low blood sugar affects your brain in a number of ways. It can leave you unable to think through problems, remember facts, and find solutions. Low blood sugar can also give you headaches and make you feel anxious.

 

Depression and Anxiety

Depression slows everything down. When you’re depressed the neurons in your brain don’t fire as rapidly as when you are in a happier mood. This also causes a lower level of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine. When these levels start to drop, you will notice you are not able to focus on the task and hand, you become irritable, and your memory is affected. Anxiety is an extreme form of worry. It creates mental distraction, prevents you from focusing on problems and finding solutions, and makes it difficult for your brain to process new information.

 

Poor Diet

The typical American diet is too rich in refined sugar, sodium, and saturated fats, and these are not good choices for your brain. Nutritional deficiencies can cause brain fog. One of the most important brain foods is protein. Your brain needs this to make and maintain neurotransmitters. Without enough protein, your brain signaling will slow down, leaving you feeling tired, confused, and distracted. A healthy, well-balanced like the Mediterranean Diet is good choice if you’re looking to clean up your diet!

 

Thyroid and Hormonal Imbalances

One of the main functions of the thyroid gland is to support brain health. If your thyroid is under-functioning – a condition known as hypothyroidism – it will have a negative impact on your hormonal changes and your brain’s functioning. Hypothyroidism can reduce your ability to focus and remember things. It can also trigger your stress response system.

 

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition which causes extreme lethargy and periods of fatigue which last for a long time and are not due to an underlying medical condition. Once considered to be a controversial syndrome, CFS is now recognized as a medical condition. Brain fog is common for CFS sufferers who often report feeling confused, and unable to concentrate or remember things clearly.

Side Effects of Medication

Brain fog can be a side effect of one of several medications including:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anxiety medications
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Over-the-counter sleep medications

 

How to Fix Brain Fog

Brain fog is rarely a chronic condition, by making some lifestyle changes you can usually eliminate it completely. Here are some tips for fixing brain fog:

 

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep deprivation is bad for your overall health. The recommended amount of sleep for adults at last seven hours each night. Many people only average around five or six hours per night, and some spend even less time getting their ZZZs. So, what can you do when you are having trouble sleeping? The first thing to do is to try and unwind before you go to bed. You can also:

  • Enjoy a hot soak in the tub with a relaxing aromatherapy oil
  • Learn some breathing techniques to help you relax
  • Have a warm milky drink before you turn in
  • Avoid napping during the day no matter how tired you are
  • Go to bed at the same time each night to establish a healthy routine
  • Exercise during the day to burn off steam
  • Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol

 

Keep Stress to a Minimum

Sometimes you can get so used to a high-stress level that you barely notice it anymore, but it could be the cause of your brain fog. Keep stress at bay and improve your mental health by:

  • Don’t obsess over timekeeping and schedules. It’s okay to plan ahead but don’t stretch out too far in advance, or you’ll start stressing when plans have to be changed.
  • Reduce the stress factor at work by keeping noise levels to a minimum, making sure you have adequate lighting, and a comfortable temperature.
  • Don’t overload your nervous system by taking on too much at work. Multitasking is fine so long as you don’t overdo it. Otherwise, you will start to feel overwhelmed.
  • Eat meals at regular intervals. Don’t allow yourself to go hungry. Don’t eat on the go, make time to sit down and savor your meal. This will keep your sugar levels and  blood pressure at a healthy level and keep your mind clear,
  • Don’t let the kids stress you out. Leave them with the family or hire a babysitter so that you can take some time out now and again.
  • Get regular physical exercise. Even a 20-minute walk three times per week will help you minimize your stress levels.
  • Learn some basic relaxation techniques such as creative visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, and mediation. Take time to use them regularly, particularly during stressful times as part of your self-care routine.

 

Maintain a Healthy Diet

If you suffer from food allergies, but you’re not sure which foods are the cause, try an elimination diet. Eat healthy fats, cut out refined foods and include plenty of brain foods into your diet, such as:

  • Berries: Berries such as blackberries and blueberries are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These can help to improve communication between brain cells. [3]
  • Fatty fish: Fatty fish, such as trout, salmon, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Not only do omega-3s help to build brain cells, but they also improve memory and concentration. [4]
  • Turmeric: Curcumin, which is a compound found in turmeric, may be able to help new brain cells grow. [5] It may also help prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. [6].
  • Broccoli: Broccoli is rich in antioxidants and vitamin K which may help improve memory. [7]

 

Exercise Your Brain

Just like the rest of your body, your brain needs regular exercise and stimulation to maintain its health. Learning a new language, doing puzzles such as sudoku or crosswords, and learning a new skill such as painting, are all great ways to boost your brain power and keep the fog at bay.

Mental fog can be debilitating and cause a major disruption to your daily life. If you’re experiencing symptoms of brain fog, such as cognitive impairment, take a look at your lifestyle and see where changes can be made.

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