When you don’t feel as mentally sharp as you normally do, it can be upsetting. Brain fog—or the feeling of being mentally confused and unfocused—can be a distressing sensation. The truth is, brain fog can be a symptom of many different medical conditions, most of them innocuous and short-lasting. Read on to discover what brain fog is, seven common causes of brain fog, and how to get rid of brain fog and get back to feeling like yourself.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is also referred to as “brain fatigue.” It can range from a mild to severe experience of mental confusion. You may have trouble remembering things mid-sentence, find your mind trailing off, or feel a “cloud of consciousness” as it has also been called. But brain fog isn’t solely a feeling of losing your mental sharpness. Other symptoms of brain fog include:
- difficulty concentrating
- low energy or motivation
- trouble sleeping through the night
Is Brain Fog the Same As Dementia?
No. Just because you’re experiencing a bout of brain fog doesn’t mean you need to leap to conclusions. According to rheumatologist Robert Lahita, MD, PhD, who spoke with Prevention, “impermanence is the big difference between what we know as brain fog and actual dementia.” Brain fog may last a few days or weeks, or come and go as the underlying cause gets sorted out, but dementia is much more severe and will continue to eventually progress. Always speak with your doctor about how you’re feeling, but be careful not to jump to conclusions as we’re about to see there are many different things that can cause episodes of brain fog in the first place.
What Causes Brain Fog?
Since brain fog is a symptom and not a condition itself, where, exactly, is it coming from? If you’re experiencing brain fog it could be due to one of these common causes. Remember to always check in with your doctor if you think testing or diagnostics are required.
Yes, with all the other joys of this glorious time of life, menopause can also bring bouts of brain fog. Scour the internet for memes and you’ll find plenty that poke fun at the forgetfulness that often comes with your menopausal years. This is all thanks to—what else —fluctuating hormones in your body. Specifically, a decrease in estrogen. Studies have confirmed that women’s performance on certain memory tasks decline during their menopausal years. But don’t worry: as your hormones even out, your brain fog likely will as well. Research also shows that most women’s memory improve in their post-menopausal years.
Your menopausal years may come with ups and downs, but you can do things to help ease uncomfortable symptoms like brain fog. Studies show that consistent exercise can help you feel more mentally sharp and reduce the frequency of brain fog.
People with Diabetes can often experience periods of brain fog due to fluctuating glucose. Since glucose is the primary energy source for your brain, fluctuating levels in diabetics can cause short-term brain fog. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 Diabetes, if you’re experiencing mental confusion or periods of brain fatigue, speak with your doctors about different ways to manage your Diabetes.
3. Lack of Sleep
It should come as no surprise that when you’re sleep deprived, you’re a bit foggy. Your brain needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function at its best. Especially when you experience chronic, long-term sleep deprivation, brain fog and feeling a bit fuzzy are to be expected. Try re-setting your natural body clock by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, and keeping a lavender aromatherapy diffuser by your bed to help induce sleep.
4. Nutritional Deficiencies
Your brain fog could be from a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 is extremely important for the health of your brain and nervous symptom. If you suffer from digestive woes and often take medications like zantac or Pepcid, you may be particularly prone to having a B12 deficiency, too. To correct it, either take a B12 supplement and/or try incorporating more of the following foods which are high in B12 into your diet:
- Seafood: salmon, shrimp, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring
- Grass-fed beef
- Fortified yeast
5. Side Effects of Medications
Brain fog can be a side effect of many common medications. Even if it isn’t listed as a symptom of your medication, if you notice that your brain fog has only come about when you’ve started a new medication, talk to your doctor. Everybody is different, and the way you metabolize or handle medication can affect your mental state.
6. Neurological Disorders
Aside from things like lack of sleep or nutritional deficiencies, there are specific disorders that can cause brain fog. Conditions like lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and more often cause brain fog. If you’ve ruled out other potential causes and can’t seem to get to the bottom of things, make an appointment with your doctor to make sure one of these disorders isn’t to blame.
7. Depression or Anxiety
If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, you may also experience brain fog. Because of the mental energy it takes to be in a constant state of stress, worry, or depression, these conditions can naturally make you may feel more confused, listless, or mentally drained. Talk with a doctor and/or psychologist to manage underlying mental health conditions, and you’ll likely feel your brain fog lift as well.
How To Get Rid Of Brain Fog
After identifying one of the possible causes above, it’s important to treat the underlying issue that’s causing your brain fog. If the main cause of your brain fog is menopause or aging, though, there are some things you can do to improve your mental sharpness:
- cross-word puzzles
- daily exercise
- learning a new language
- playing an instrument
- Tai Chi
There are also certain foods you can eat that boost brain function. Read below to discover which foods can help with brain fog.
Foods To Help With Brain Fog
Eating a well-balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals is one of the best ways to keep your brain and body healthy. But there are also specific herbs, spices, and foods that have been shown to specifically improve memory and cognitive function. Add the foods below to your shopping cart if you want to feel sharper.
Dried oregano contains some of the highest sources of luteolin, according to the USDA. Why does this matter? Luteolin is a plant compound that fights inflammation, boosts cognitive function, and has been shown to improve your memory.
Walnuts are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, which help boost brain function and can also improve your mood. Add walnuts to your afternoon trail mix or throw onto a salad for some quick brain-boosting power.
Cacao helps improve cerebral blood flow and promotes the development of new blood vessels. (Better blood flow in the brain = the sharper you’ll feel.) It’s also high in antioxidants called flavanols that have shown to help boost memory and overall brain function. Try adding raw cacao nibs to your morning oatmeal or smoothie.
Spinach is high in inflammation-fighting antixoidants which protect the brain from free radicals. Spinach is also high in B vitamins and iron—and a deficiency in either one can contribute to mental fatigue.
In addition to being a wonderful anti-inflammatory, turmeric helps fuel your brain and increase neuroplasticity. Turmeric is found in most curries, and can easily be added to tons of recipes, from your morning oatmeal to chicken, and more. Try this simple recipe for Turmeric Golden Milk, a yummy warming drink that’s as soothing as it is delicious.
A great source of B vitamins, nutritional yeast boosts cognitive function and memory performance. Sprinkle some over roasted veggies, or with some pasta. You can typically find nutritional yeast in the healthy foods bulk section of your grocery store—not everywhere carries it, but it’s worth checking out a co-op or health foods store to find this nutritional powerhouse.