Brain 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 three main causes of brain fog and give you concrete steps to get your brain back on track.
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.
- Mental fog can be caused by medications. Click here for a list of drugs that cause memory loss.
- 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.
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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.
You 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.
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According to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, the average American shockingly gets 67% of their calories from these 3 foods!
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.
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.
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While you sleep, cerebral fluid rushes in, “power washing” your brain, clearing it of debris. (3)
You consolidate memories while you sleep.
Lack of sleep affects your ability to remember what you learned the previous day. (4)
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. (5)
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.
But 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.
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. (6)
You don’t need to exercise strenuously to give your brain small energy boosts throughout the day.
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Too much sitting is bad for your brain and your overall health.
But Dr. Joan Vernikos, a former NASA physician and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, 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.
Read our discussion of brain exercises. Your brain needs new kinds of challenging stimulation regularly to work as it should.
Over 20 million Americans meditate regularly.
The 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.
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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! (8)
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. (9)
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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. (10)
The best absorbed forms of vitamin B12 are methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin.
Vitamin D — the Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D can lift your mood, banish brain fog and depression, improve memory, and increase problem-solving ability. (14)
Anywhere from 40% to 90% of US adults are vitamin D deficient and over 1 billion people are deficient worldwide. (15)
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. (16)
And so do we.
Studies have shown that taking a multivitamin alone can improve your memory and overall brain function. (17)
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. (18)
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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.
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.
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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.
Brain Fog: 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.