Stop Brain Fog: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

confused womanBrain fog includes symptoms of confusion, forgetfulness, and lack of focus and mental clarity. It is avoidable and treatable. Learn what to do about it …

What is brain fog? 

It’s not a medically recognized term. It’s a commonly used phrase that sums up feelings of confusion, forgetfulness, and lack of focus and mental clarity.

Basically you feel like you just can’t think, which can be very frustrating and even downright frightening.

Everyone feels a little fuzzy-headed once in a while, but if you suffer from a foggy brain frequently, you certainly would like to get your mental clarity back.

So, let’s take a look at the possible causes there are a lot of them!

Then we’ll go into detail on the 3 main causes of brain fog and give you concrete steps to get your brain back on track fast.

An Abundance of Brain Fog Causes

Since brain fog is a catch-all symptom, there are many, many things that can cause it.

Here’s a quick rundown of possibilities: 

  • You can temporarily suffer with a foggy head from lack of sleep, low blood sugar, seasonal allergies, food allergies, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalance following heavy exercise. 
  • If you are a woman of  “a certain age,” brain fog is a common symptom of menopause.
  • Chemotherapy has a well-known side effect referred to as “chemo fog” or “chemo brain.”
  • Substance abuse of any kind can lead to feeling mentally frazzled.
  • Sometimes brain fog symptoms are due to a more serious condition such as mercury poisoning, hormonal imbalance, depression, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions (both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism) or Lyme disease.
  • Losing mental clarity is often considered a “normal” side effect of aging, but that doesn’t mean it is an inevitable consequence of growing older. 

Brain Fog Cause #1 — When Food Is the Problem

One major cause of brain fog could be the food you eat.

Dietary advice has gotten ridiculously complicated. But we’re going to make this brain fog treatment real, real simple …

EAT REAL FOOD.

Those 3 words will take you a long way towards eating the best diet for your brain (and overall health).

If it comes in a  box or package it’s not “real” — it’s processed. Even if it’s from the “health food” store.

That includes products made from flour (even if it’s whole wheat) or that contain sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Your brain needs all three macronutrient groups:  proteins for neurotransmitter production, complex carbohydrates for steady brain glucose levels, and healthy fats. 

You might not realize that your brain is largely made up of fat — about 60% by volume. That’s why low-fat diets have been such a disaster for our brains. 

Skipping meals can leave you with a fuzzy brain. So can eating too large a meal. If you’ve ever felt like you need a nap after a big meal you know what I mean.

wheat corn and soyYou may be eating foods you’re allergic to. The most common allergens that can contribute to your lack of focus include soy, dairy, and any food that contains gluten, especially wheat.

According to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, the average American shockingly gets 67% of their calories from these 3 foods! (1)

If you suspect you are allergic to any foods, keep a log of what you eat and how you feel afterward.

You might be surprised to see clear patterns develop rather quickly. Cut out any questionable food for at least a week and notice if you start thinking more clearly.

Eating real food will keep you away from food additives that mess with your brain like MSG and artificial sweeteners. 

Both artificial sweeteners and MSG are known neurotoxins that can cause brain fog and other brain-related symptom including headaches, mood swings, dizziness, anxiety, and depression. (23)

Check out our discussion of brain foods and how they give your brain the nutrition it needs to function well.

Cause #2 — When Lack of Sleep Is the Problem

63 million Americans complain of sleeping difficulties. If you have brain fog, it’s likely you’re one of them.

Your brain needs sleep. Sleep is critical to the way your brain works in both the short and the long-term.

Lack of quality sleep will impair your memory, creativity, judgment, and attention.

While you sleep, cerebral fluid rushes in, “power washing” your brain, clearing it of debris. (4)

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You consolidate memories while you sleep. Lack of sleep affects your ability to remember what you learned the previous day. (5)

Every day you lose brain cells, but every night you have the opportunity to create new brain cells … provided you are getting enough high-quality uninterrupted sleep. (6)

If you have ongoing problems with sleep, just overcoming insomnia is a potential brain fog cure.

Cause #3 — When Stress Is the Problem

Stress has become a weird badge of honor in our society. Being stressed is wrongly equated with being productive, popular and successful.

stressed womanBut in fact, stress puts you at greater risk for every major disease you hope you never get … including dreaded brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia, and memory loss.

Stress can literally cause your brain to shrink and that’s as harmful as it sounds.

Getting the sleep you need and eating a brain-healthy diet will help diminish stress. Two more things you can do are exercise and meditate.

Exercise

Physical exercise increases endorphins and delivers more glucose and oxygen to the brain.

Recent research shows that physical exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for your brain. (7)

You don’t need to exercise strenuously to give your brain small energy boosts throughout the day.

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Walking is one of the best brain exercises to clear your mind. (8)

Too much sitting is bad for your brain and your overall health. 

But Dr. Joan Vernikos, a former NASA physician, discovered the simplest exercise ever. Apparently, the act of standing up is more effective than walking to counteract the ill effects of sitting.

The laughably easy way to counteract sitting is simply standing up frequently on and off throughout the day. (9)

Also, look at our discussion of brain exercises. Your brain needs new kinds of challenging stimulation regularly to work as it should.

Meditation

Over 20 million Americans meditate regularly. 

woman wearing headphonesThe US Marines use meditation to help troops deal with stressful situations they face on the job. “It’s like doing pushups for the brain,” one general says.

Corporate executives at General Mills, Target, Google, Apple, Nike, HBO, Procter & Gamble, and Aetna Insurance use it to maximize their brain power.

Meditation can make you happier, smarter, and more resilient regarding life’s ups and downs.

Regular meditators experience improved focus and concentration, greater creativity, stress reduction, and better sleep.

Research shows it can actually decrease your biological age by 12 years! (10)

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If the drug companies could bottle the benefits of meditation they’d be ecstatic. It would be their new billion dollar pill.

However, meditation the traditional way can take years to yield its full health benefits.

With the application of brainwave entrainment technology to meditation, many people find that they achieve all these desired results much more quickly and easily.

What About Nutritional Supplements?

Maybe you are already doing what you can — eating and sleeping better, exercising, and meditating — but your thinking is still fuzzy.

Then you might want to take a look at what supplements could do to help. 

You may be shocked to learn that nutritional deficiencies are not a thing of the past! 

Here are the top supplements to consider:

The Most Common Vitamin Deficiency — B12

If your memory is poor or you’re in a constant state of brain fog, you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

This is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the US with an estimated 40% of adults being deficient. (11)

Native Remedies Vitamin B12 Methylcobalamin | Essential for brain health, methylcobalamin B12 is the best absorbed form

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Vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly since it can lead to a wide spectrum of mental disorders. (12)

Two particularly high risk groups are seniors — who often have poor absorption — and vegetarians since B12 is found only in animal products. (1314, 15)

The best quality forms of vitamin B12 are methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin. (16

Vitamin D — the Sunshine Vitamin

couple at the beachVitamin D can lift your mood, banish brain fog and depression, improve memory, and increase problem-solving ability. (17)

Anywhere from 40% to 90% of US adults are vitamin D deficient and over 1 billion people are deficient worldwide. (18)

Sun exposure is the best source, but few people who live in North America and much of Europe can realistically get the sun they need year round.

Vitamin D is rarely found in food, so most people need to supplement.

Take a Multivitamin

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that all adults take a multivitamin supplement as insurance to fill any nutritional gaps. (19

And so do we.

Studies have shown that taking a multivitamin alone can improve your memory and overall brain function. (20)

Omega-3 EFA

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are found in high concentrations in the brain. They are crucial to memory and overall brain health and function, yet are widely lacking in our diet. (21)

The best dietary sources are wild-caught salmon and grass-fed meat. If these aren’t a regular part of your diet, consider taking an omega-3 supplement. 

BioTrust OmegaKrill 5X | Combination of fish and krill oil omega-3 fatty acids for brain health

Omega-3 Supplements on Amazon

Particularly when brain fog is a problem, choose one with a high concentration of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This is a major component of brain cells that is most beneficial for your brain.

Brain Boosting Supplements

If you’ve met your brain’s basic nutritional needs with vitamins B12 and D, a good multivitamin, and an omega-3 supplement, and you still aren’t feeling mentally sharp, you may want to try a supplement designed specifically to boost your brain. 

Wellness Resources Super Brain Booster | Supports better memory, focus and mood with acetyl-l-tyrosine, alpha GPC, vinpocetine and bacopa

There are a large number of these on the market and they generally contain multiple ingredients.

You’ll learn more about these ingredients in our discussion of the 10 best brain supplements.

The Bottom Line

Brain fog is a catch-all phrase used to describe feelings of fuzzy thinking, mental confusion, and lack of focus. 

While there’s a wide variety of causes of brain fog, every brain can benefit from adopting a brain-healthy lifestyle.

This means eating a diet of largely unprocessed foods, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and ensuring that all of your basic nutritional requirements are met with the right supplements.

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  • Debbi Gilbert

    my son has complained of this since he was 16 and he is still suffering at 23. He has about one clear day a month and it is really effecting his life. When the symptoms first appeared he also has a bad headache those have subsided but he is still left dealing with all the other symptoms. He says he is clear for about 10min. after waking up but then the fog sets in. At times he cant even read and sometimes cant put sentences together. Otherwise he is healthy. He has agreed, finally, to see a DR. any suggestion on the type or a referral in Tampa Ft. Myers Florida area? Any thoughts on causes and treatment?

    • http://bebrainfit.com Deane Alban

      Sometimes you have to be a regular Sherlock Holmes to figure out the cause of brain fog. Surprisingly, brain fog is not that unusual in teens. But since this has gone on a long time and is so disruptive to your son’s life I think you are right to be concerned. My first thoughts are lifestyle-related since many young people have pretty poor lifestyle habits. How’s his sleep and diet? Does he spend a lot of time with electronics? Does he get outdoors exercise? Is there anything different about that 1 day a month? Is he taking any recreational drugs (you may not know.) I’m not a medical professional, but I’m a mom. If he were my son I’d take a serious inventory of his lifestyle. Then I’d make sure he was checked for vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency. I’d also eliminate some of the worst allergens from his diet and give him plenty of healthy fats especially omega-6s or DHA. I’d recommend your son sign up for our free email course. It will give him a step-by-step program for taking care of his brain. Sorry I don’t know of any drs in Florida. I used to live in Naples and went to USF in Tampa but that was a long time ago.

  • aaron

    I recently developed brain fog, about 6 weeks ago now. I’m 39 and suffer from the same symptoms as Rick Parker below. In addition to his symptoms, I suffer from blurry vision (I was recently tested with 20/20 vision and the eye doc was at a loss). The fog started one day out of nowhere, and has been relentless since it began.

    So far I have been tested for hypoglycemia, diabetes, heavy metals, hypothyroidism, and candida overgrowth. I’ve changed my diet (cut out dairy and wheat, as the article suggests) and work out 3 times a week (a rigorous 45 minute swim). None of these things have made an ounce of difference for me. In fact, swimming can sometimes make the fog even more prevalent for the hours after my workout.

    I am supplementing my diet with fish oil, vitamin b complex, vitamin b12, and ginkgo biloba. And yep, still fog.

    I recently learned that stress can lead to depression, and while I haven’t felt stressed, I have recently changed jobs twice in 3 months (on my own accord), which warranted high learning curves for the most recent job. I certainly didn’t feel stressed, but who knows, maybe that’s my body’s way of pushing back? In any case, 1.5 months into it, I would think it’d be gone by now. And when I read posts such as Rick’s, I get scared as hell to think that the brain fog could linger over YEARS?!?!

    At this point I’m desperate, so I’m taking St. John’s Wort, but all that does is make me feel high, and just makes matters worse it seems. This is my 3rd attempt at the wort, as I usually give up a few days into it as I don’t like feeling high, especially at my new job, where I’m already struggling (because of the fog).

    I read that someone actually experienced the same high feeling that I speak of and claimed that it goes away, and in a few weeks should kick in, so i’m hopeful. However, I’m pretty sure that this fog is not depression, and I am not a depressed person, so to speak. I’m active, excitable, and ambitious (perhaps overly).

    I hope to find some resolve very soon and look forward to sharing it. It scares the hell out of me to hear about multiple stories of fog lasting for years.

    • 2turnedup

      Have you looked into post-dramatic stress, multiple personality disorder, or some type of schizophrenia?? I was looking into it because I have a past of schizophrenia, but i haven’t had any problems from it in years. After noticing this “brain fog” I thought it may have had something to do with my past medical condition, and after looking into it I realized they all have similar symptoms. So I’m at a lost, and I see a lot of other ppl are lost as to what the cause is, so I just thought I’d throw my 2 cents out and hopefully help to find a solution to this problem because it gets frustrating at times and its even more frustrating not knowing what causes this or what would be a good solution.

    • http://bebrainfit.com Deane Alban

      A few things you’ve said stand out to me. It’s great that your exercising but vigorous exercise can make brain fog worse for various reasons (lowering of blood sugar, increasing free radicals). You might want to take shorter swims or stick to walking and see if it helps. Is it possible the chlorine from the pool is bothering your brain?

      If you suspect St. Johns wort makes your brain fog worse, wean off of it and see what happens. You could try 5-HTP instead if you feel you need help with your mood. See our article on that here: http://bebrainfit.com/lifestyle/nutrition/5-htp-benefits-side-effects/

      I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that ginkgo can cause brain fog in some people. Personally, I tried it for my tinnitus and it made it worse.

      And as you point out stress can do a number on your brain. Now on top of all of other life’s stresses, you’re understandably worried about your brain fog, too. Do you meditate? If not, check out our latest post on meditation. Even 10 minutes a day can help.

      • aaron

        Deane, thanks for your reply. The chlorine possibility is an interesting one, I had thought of that but have ruled it out since I’ve been swimming for years. I was also thinking that it might be black mold related, as the gym where I swim is probably not as well kept as it could be.

        Actually, since I made my original post, I’ve been feeling a ton better. The high feeling has since worn off and I have been feeling much more like my normal self.

        However, I had a few drinks over the weekend (4 vodka drinks in one night). The next day I felt pretty good, however, the day following I now have brain fog that feels very similar to the original onset of it; almost unbearable fog, brain feels squishy, difficulty communicating or getting my thoughts out verbally, difficulty driving a bit due to slower reaction times, terrible short term memory, difficult to multitask, zero creativity, etc.

        Now I’m actually suspecting that whatever is going on is due to something in my gut. Potentially leaky gut syndrome? As I stated in my original post, I have changed my diet quite a bit and have been supplementing it with B vitamins and a daily dose of greek yogurt, coconut oil, kimchi, flax seeds, and garlic; all things that are thought to help heal the gut.

        The fact that I have been feeling better since my original post could be coincidental and have more to do with my diet change than with SJW. It’s hard to say, but I’m suspecting that the alcohol consumption over the weekend is responsible for my severe brain fog today; maybe it shook things up in my stomach?

        I plan on abstaining from alcohol consumption well into the foreseeable future and will post updates on my status. I know that it is frustrating for folks to read posts like this without updates or resolution, so I plan doing just that.

        Unfortunately brain fog can be caused by so many things that my resolution may be entirely different than it would be for others..

      • http://bebrainfit.com Deane Alban

        It sounds like you are on the right track! I hope forgoing alcohol and fixing your gut is the answer. Please do keep us posted!

    • Rob Pino

      Sorry to hear about your hard time. I also suffer from it on a massive scale which sucks because I am in the military. I have had it for the majority of my life and only one time do I remember getting rid of it. I went vegan for about 7 months and felt like a million bucks, I remember how I could focus and remember things that I normally wouldn’t be able to. It seemed like everything was more bright and my emotions turned back to normal. I later found out that I had reactive hypoglycemia and the only way to keep my blood sugar normal was to eat lots of fruits. I also cut out all soda, no breads, no boxed foods or preservatives. I also used all natural products with very few ingredients. I still smoked though…. So you mentioned going swimming, a lot of people don’t realize that it take only about 30 seconds from something on your skin to reach your blood, you could have some type of toxicity building up in your body. I would recommend dong a couple things that might help out. Get a reverse osmosis filter for your water. USe natural products (most you can make at home) and stay away from meats, processed foods,breads, dairy and go vegan. I am not saying this will work for you but it can’t hurt. I got off my diet and feel like crap again, People with a very busy job need to have good time management skills but it is more about energy management than anything else. You need to let your body detox. By eating this way you will lose weight and feel great. I remember how fast my body would heal and it seemed that I only needed about 6 hours of sleep a night to feel great. My body was healing itself faster than normal. Another cool thing was my heart rate that was never high dropped to 45 beats per minute. I hope to have that mental clarity again some day because when you get it back you feel like you are complete again. For me, it made me realize how poisonous our “food” really is. I am now studying to get my degree in soil scince and nutrition. Best of luck to you, the best thing you can do is try to clear your body (detox) and let your body fix the issues naturally if possible. Best of luck!

  • Rick Parker

    Thank you for this article. Good grief. I haven’t tested many of these ideas but at least they’re noted clearly and I can give them a try. I’ve been dealing with brain fog for at least 10 years, it never felt natural, I’m still relatively young (33 yo) and yet my doctors tell me to simply “brush it off”. Yeah, as if! I’ve long felt like a prisoner in my own brain as a result, with seemingly nowhere to turn- fighting through fog, confusion and horrendous memory 24/7/365. For example, I just finished a 600-page book and while I enjoyed it at the time, I can hardly remember what it was even about. It’s ridiculous. It just seems like there’s a cloud hanging over everything I do. English is my first language and yet I often struggle to communicate now- it’s a real drag. I’m hopeful that some of these supplements can clear it up a little bit. Life is hard enough without feeling shorthanded every day. Thanks again for all your work on this issue.

    * By the way, I’m a vegetarian T1 diabetic on a low-fat diet. Haha I hit so many of the check points listed above and I never thought to connect the dots, like Omega-3’s/DHA, B12-deficient, B-complex, other pills I’m taking, etc. I’m gonna give it my best shot now. I hope it’s not too late.

    • http://bebrainfit.com Deane Alban

      Low-fat diets are no friend for your brain. Your brain is largely made of fat, 60% by volume. It has a higher cholesterol content than any other organ — about 25% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the brain. And vegetarians are particularly at risk for B12 deficiency.

      It’s never too late to change! Your brain is changing every day anyway. By taking the right steps you can learn to change it for the better.

    • gilbert101proof

      Reading your post was exactly describing how I feel. I truly understand and feel your frustration and pain. After a few doctor visits last year ,and tests, I tested positive for Lyme disease. I probably have had it for many years already so antibiotic treatment is pretty much too expensive and pointless. A few things have helped with brain fog, almost regularly, but its never completely by any means. Wheat grass pills or powder definitely helps me. I recently discovered a mocha with ganoderma in it, that has helped a lot and I drink it throughout the day. I take the omega oils and a multi-vitamin. Also I have tried spirulina, which helped, but the 2nd brand I used made me sicker instead of better, so the only way id take that again was with the original brand I used. Anyways, after trying so so many things, these have been the most effective thus far. Always looking for new, natural ideas!

    • Hopeful

      I’m so happy to know that I’m not alone in combating this condition. I find myself forgetting words to describe items while talking. .. only to remember the forgotten word an hour later! I’m not stupid, (have a master’s & did well in school) but these situations understandably, make me question my intelligence. Feeeling frustrated & often want to seclude myself. I will change my diet and start walking & hope for the best!! I’m not consistent so this will definitely be a challenge. In any case, I’m so glad to have found this site!

  • Amanda

    I’m 24 and have been dealing with this for years, “dealing” by which I mean suffering and stressing that my doctors didn’t have an answer for me. Shame that a random google search got me more information but I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only one and it could be a relatively easy mend.

  • Joseph Dabon

    I know the feeling but I never called it brain fog. It is just being overwhelmed with so many things to do, with so little time to do them. or arranging them in logical order. – http://elderlytalk.com/