Brain fog is not a new concept. In fact, it has been affecting people for quite some time and is much more than forgetting where you set your car keys.
However, brain fog is not a diagnosable medical condition but rather a symptom. This can make it tricky to prevent and treat the issue.
While suffering from brain fog can be frustrating, finding relief is not a lost cause. Find out what brain fog is and how it may be managed.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is not a medical condition itself. It is, though, an underlying symptom of another medical condition or health issue.
Brain fog impacts cognitive function, including those involving memory, mental clarity, concentration, and focus. People with brain fog may report it is cloudy thinking.
More specific brain fog symptoms can include the following:
• Being easily distracted
• Having a hard time focusing or concentrating
• Feeling confused or disoriented
• Struggling to find the right words
• Finding it challenging to process information
• Experiencing issues with executive functioning
Causes of Brain Fog
The causes of brain fog are varied and can be related to a number of lifestyle factors, including diet, sleep, and stress.
It may be a symptom of a medical condition or a side effect of certain medications, too.
Poor Diet and Dehydration
Diet can impact brain health for better or for worse. Besides, going long stents of time without nourishment can fluctuate blood sugar and decline the ability to think clearly.
A poor diet can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, which may impair brain function. For instance, zinc is essential in the roles of memory and learning functions. Furthermore, a lack of zinc can increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
Water intake is of mention, too, as dehydration can cause brain fog and lethargy.
Too Little or Too Much Sleep
If you ever had a bad night's rest, you likely noticed the mental repercussions that follow the next day. Sleep is vital to brain function and when deprived of it, related processes can fall short.
On the contrary, though, too much sleep can lead to brain fog as well.
Stress, Anxiety, & Depression
There is a strong link between brain fog, anxiety, and stress. And feeling stressed can make it overwhelmingly difficult to think clearly.
When stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol. The stress hormone is known to interfere with memory, learning, and other brain functions.
Brain fog and depression likewise have a connection. People with depression often find it hard to concentrate and remember things.
Changes in Hormones
Hormonal changes can lead to brain fog, including those linked to menopause and thyroid disease.
Pregnant women may also experience pregnancy brain, a phenomenon in which memory and other cognitive functions fall short. This is speculated to be the outcome of changes in hormones.
Health & Medical Conditions
Certain health and medical conditions can compromise brain function and lead to symptoms of brain fog. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition that often causes issues with memory, attention, planning, and language.
• Chronic fatigue syndrome, which results in both physical and mental fatigue.
• Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia known to trigger memory loss.
• Lupus, a long-term autoimmune disease that may compromise cognition.
Certain medications can cause brain fog as a side effect.
One of the most well-known drugs that can compromise brain function is chemotherapy agents to treat cancer. This is often referred to as chemo brain.
Other prescription or non-prescription drugs that may result in brain fog include some blood pressure medications, pain relievers, and sleep aids.
Brain Fog Treatment and Management
First and foremost, anyone who experiences brain fog is encouraged to consult with a doctor to help pinpoint what might be causing it. This is because treating and managing brain fog is dependent on the underlying cause.
As a whole, though, methods to improve brain fog may include the tips detailed below.
Eat a Varied Diet
With so many nutrients playing a large role in brain health, it is important to eat a balanced and varied diet. Aim to include more nutrient-dense foods, including:
• Whole grains
• Fruits and veggies
• Lentils, beans, and other legumes
• Lean meats and eggs
• Nuts and seeds
• Fish and shellfish
• Milk and dairy products
• Plant oils such as olive oil
A doctor and/or Registered Dietitian can help create a custom diet to meet individual needs and preferences. This helps avoid the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
In addition to diet, drinking more water may clear brain fog instantly, or at least very quickly.
Ensure Adequate Sleep
Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep on a regular basis. Help ensure the body and brain gets the right amount of sleep by:
• Keeping caffeine intake in the morning and early afternoon hours.
• Limiting or avoiding alcohol.
• Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
• Minimizing screentime leading up to bedtime.
• Ensure a comfortable sleep environment.
If lack of sleep is related to sleep apnea or other sleep conditions, consider working with a sleep specialist to resolve such issues.
Since stress is a risk factor for brain fog, manage it through positive coping techniques. Proven methods to lower and manage stress include:
• Practicing yoga
• Taking a walk
• Calling a friend
A team of healthcare professionals, including a doctor and counselor, can help one navigate how to prevent and manage blood fog.
Ocon A. Caught in the thickness of brain fog: exploring the cognitive symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Front Physiol. 2013;4. doi:10.3389/fphys.2013.00063