9 Ways to Eliminate Brain Fog
Most people have experienced brain fog. It’s often described as a “cloudy-headed” feeling. Common conditions include poor memory, difficulty focusing, low motivation or energy, forgetfulness, processing information slowly and struggling with articulation. Overworking, multitasking, or substance abuse (i.e. alcohol) can cause this foggy feeling.
feelings of mental confusion or lack of mental clarity – clinical definition of brain fog
1. Regulate your Blood Sugar
Cutting back on packaged and processed foods that are loaded with sugar, in addition to many other artificial and harmful ingredients — like artificial sweeteners — is the first step to eliminating brain fog. While sugar might make you feel energetic and improve your mood initially, ultimately it robs you of steady energy and focus. That being said, going too low in terms of natural sugar/carbohydrate intake can backfire and increase brain fog. While refined sugar raises inflammation, quality carbs from things like fruits and veggies help to reduce it.
Serotonin is the hormone that’s released when you need carbohydrates, and its main role is to keep you calm, hopeful and confident. When levels of serotonin fall too low (perhaps from a very low-carb diet), increases in feelings of vulnerability, insecurity, sadness and anxiety can set in. What’s the best way to keep serotonin levels within their optimum range? Eat complex, unprocessed carbohydrates throughout the day in appropriate quantities. Focus on consuming brain foods that improve focus and memory — things like sweet potatoes, yams, fruit, and ancient grains are all good sources of serotonin-boosting carbs.
Another reason to cut down on inflammatory carbs and sugary products? Relying on processed foods to keep your energy up can lead to long-term health problems — such as higher likelihood of weight gain, depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Research shows that consuming plenty of fruit and starchy/non-starchy vegetables realigns hormones and also reduces inflammation; in fact, studies suggest that increasing more of them generally makes people happier!
While vegetables provide less glucose, they are chock-full of antioxidants and vitamins that fight oxidative stress and brain damage. For example, flavonoid antioxidant foods show promise for managing symptoms of various anxiety disorders, neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.
2. Get Enough Protein, Healthy Fats & Clean Water
We all require a steady supply of amino acids and essential fatty acids in order to make all of the brain chemicals we need to think clearly. Protein deficiency is caused by a lack in certain amino acids, specifically the “essential amino acids,” that is those the body cannot on its own. Complete proteins are food sources like meat, dairy products, fish and eggs that supply all the essential amino acids we require. Consuming these foods in sufficient quantities to support your lifestyle and level of activity is the best way to keep the body pumping out enough of the hormones that support a positive mind-set.
In addition to sufficient protein, our bodies also need plenty of healthy fats to produce adequate happiness hormones and fight inflammation. Similar to low-carb diets, low-fat diets pose risks too. Higher inflammation levels are in part the result of imbalances in fatty acids and linked to depression, cognitive decline, weight gain and many other disorders. Unfortunately, the standard American diet (also referred to as the SAD Diet) is filled with pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats from foods like refined vegetable oils and farm-raised animal products, but is low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids from things like wild-caught fish, grass-fed eggs or beef, and certain nuts/seeds.
While it varies a bit from person to person, a diet consisting of 20 to 30 percent quality sources of protein (grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, pasture-raised poultry and wild fish, for example) and 30 to 40 percent healthy fats (including coconut and olive oil, avocado, and nuts/seeds) is the best way to ensure you cover your bases and help manage inflammation.
Dehydration can also cause impaired cognitive performance. Your brain is 75% water by volume and even mild dehydration will affect your ability to think clearly. It takes only 2% dehydration to affect your attention, memory and other cognitive skills. Drinking too little water also leads to an unhealthy gut, which can cause constipation or diarrhea. Be sure to drink clean fluoride and chlorine free water.
3. Manage Stress
These days, it’s tough to go more than a few hours without an influx of “stressors” like emails, texts and cell phone calls. This becomes distracting, tiring and makes it hard to work uninterrupted for any extended period of time. Although you might not realize it, it’s also stressful to receive various alerts and so much information all day long.
High amounts of stress increase the production of cortisol, which has side effects including feeling “wired but tired,” weight gain, suffering hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, depression, adrenal fatigue and further anxiety. In modern-day society, to keep cortisol in check, most people need to regularly put aside time for practicing “stress-reducing techniques,” particularly since chronic stress can significantly reduce your quality of life and is a contributing factor to just about all known diseases. These can include praying, meditating, exercising, journaling, reading and spending more time in nature.
You can also combat stress by regularly doing things that you love, which increases the brain’s production of dopamine, the “happy hormone” . Dopamine is the primary chemical that makes you feel pleasure, excitement and motivation. It’s released every time you do or experience something thrilling, like trying a new fun activity, laughing out loud, spending time with people you love, or engaging in hobbies. A lack of dopamine leaves you unfocused, bored and uninspired, not to mention it’s associated with a higher risk for addictions, learning disabilities and mental illnesses. Make it a priority to do something fun every day if you can, even if it’s only for a short period of time.
4. Get Adequate Sleep
One of the fastest and more reliable ways to improve brain function is to get better sleep. The hormones in your brain stay in balance when your body gets adequate rest every night, seven to eight hours for most adults. When you’re constantly “running on fumes,” you’re very likely to find it hard to pay attention at work, engage in meaningful conversations and retain information. You’re also better able to manage your hunger, food cravings and emotions when well-rested, which can benefit your weight and health in multiple ways.
Brain fog is also kicked off by a lack of sleep because this raises cortisol levels, which means you can become more irritable and, ironically, might find it even harder to get good rest through the night. High cortisol depresses dopamine levels and makes it difficult for serotonin to work like it’s supposed to, so it feeds into a vicious cycle of poor moods and behaviors.
Human growth hormone is also released under conditions of sleep. In men, 60% to 70% of daily human growth hormone secretion occurs during early sleep which is typically when the deepest sleep cycles occur. Research suggests that it is during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep that the body is able to: restore organs, bones, and tissue; produce and circulate human growth hormone (HGH) and replenish immune cells. Poor quality sleep can negatively impact HGH levels and insulin sensitivity both of which in turn can lead to accelerated aging.
According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, after four nights of sleep deprivation (sleep time was only 4.5 hours per night), study participants’ insulin sensitivity was 16 percent lower, while their fat cells’ insulin sensitivity was 30 percent lower, and rivaled levels seen in those with diabetes or obesity. The study’s senior author, Matthew Brady, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, told CNN:2
This is the equivalent of metabolically aging someone 10 to 20 years just from four nights of partial sleep restriction. Fat cells need sleep, and when they don’t get enough sleep, they become metabolically groggy.
Furthermore, when you’re sleep deprived, leptin (the hormone that signals satiety) falls, while ghrelin (which signals hunger) rises. In one 2010 study, researchers found that people who slept only four hours for two consecutive nights experienced:
- 18 percent reduction in leptin
- 28 percent increase in ghrelin
This combination leads to an increase in appetite. Additionally, sleep deprivation tends to lead to food cravings, particularly for sweet and starchy foods. Researchers have suggested that these sugar cravings stem from the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose (blood sugar); therefore, when lack of sleep occurs, and your brain is unable to properly respond to insulin (which drives glucose into brain cells) your brain becomes desperate for carbohydrates to keep going. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, consistently giving in to these sugar cravings will virtually guarantee that you’ll gain weight.
5. Exercise in a Healthy Way
Exercise lowers inflammation, helps reduce stress and increases energy levels, however, too much poses risks for hormonal imbalance and even more fatigue. For most people, moderate and regular exercise can help balance hormones, improve insulin resistance and help you to get better sleep, all of which are important for fighting fatigue. Exercise releases natural endorphins, boosting your stamina and lifting your mood, however, overexerting yourself without sufficient rest increases cortisol and depletes the body of electrolytes, nutrients and energy. That’s why it’s vital to get sufficient rest between workouts.
Symptoms of brain fog from overtraining are your body’s way of letting you know that enough’s enough and the total allostatic load is exceeding your capacity and wearing you out. The type of exercise you do should make you happier and more energetic, not the opposite! To avoid overtraining but still get all the benefits of exercise, make sure you take at least one to two rest days weekly and avoid any exercises you absolutely hate, such as extended cardio sessions.
6. Balance Your Hormones
Low thyroid function, adrenal fatigue / insufficiency and chronic fatigue syndrome can all increase symptoms of brain fog. These hormonal imbalances are mostly caused by the same factors as inflammation: a poor diet, possible sensitivities and allergies, stress, and not enough rest.
In order to regain your energy and solve underlying adrenal or hormonal issues, adjust your diet to balance hormones naturally and also aim to cut back or eliminate caffeine, alcohol and excess sugar or “white carbohydrates.” In addition to avoiding inflammatory hydrogenated oils, along with processed and packaged foods, these substances further drain you and leave you overly tired. For example, alcohol can suppress the central nervous system while too much caffeine can stress the adrenals. Instead, fill up on hormone-balancing healthy fats, proteins and plenty of fresh vegetables while getting sufficient rest.
Modern living means high exposure to toxins from our environment. Of the 80,000 new chemicals we have placed into our environment in the past 100 years, only a few hundred have been tested for safety. Toxins are lurking in your home, your food, in the water you drink, and the air you breathe. While outdoor pollution can cause cognitive problems, indoor air pollution is often ten times higher! Toxins like formaldehyde and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) outgas from your carpet, furniture, and mattress. Molds, dust, pet dander, pollen, perfume, air fresheners, cigarette smoke, and household cleaners get trapped inside the average home. These toxins build up in your liver, kidney, and throughout the body and this chemical stew can cause brain fog, fatigue, and memory loss.
Detoxifying involves fasting, drinking plenty of water, changing your diet, improving your GI function and ensuring proper elimination (that is bowel movements once to twice a day) and sauna usage. Reducing mental fog goes hand in hand with reducing your toxic load while increasing your bodies detox capacities.
8. Address Unknown Food Allergies or Sensitivities
When people suffer from a food sensitivity but don’t cut out all sources from their diets, they experience gut-related damage that affects brain function. Despite what most people think, food-related reactions like the symptoms of lactose and gluten intolerance are more than just digestive problems.
These can cause significant changes in the gut microbiota — which is problematic because your overall health depends heavily on the health of your gut and in fact it’s been suggested that all disease begins in the gut. An allergy triggers inflammatory reactions, which affect everything from nutrient absorption to hormone-synthesizing.
Consider your own diet and if there is anything possibly causing your mental fog. Take note of how your meals sit with you and experiment with elimination in order to discover what foods might be clouding your head. Nearly every cell, tissue and system in the body, especially the gut-brain connection, suffers from an unresolved sensitivity, so consider an elimination diet or food sensitivity testing if you haven’t yet experimented with eliminating some of the most common food sensitivities: gluten, dairy, egg, corn, tree nuts and soy.
9. Nutritional Deficiencies – Supplements to Help Stop Brain Fog
Certain supplements can help clear up brain fog and get the wheels in motion when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. That said, there’s no substitute for a healthy diet, regular rest, exercise, and a fun and connected lifestyle. The bottom line is that if your brain’s major hormones are off, all the supplements, self-help books and even therapy likely won’t make you feel better. So first, tackle the lifestyle changes mentioned above that apply most to you, then consider adding in certain supplements to further speed up the healing process.
- Adaptogens like Rhodiola Rosea, Holy Basil, Maca and Ashwagandha − Adaptogenic herbs help lower cortisol and support your body against the physical and metal affects of stress. Rhodiola works by increasing activity of the major neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. If you have low energy, depression, or anxiety along with brain fog, it might be a good choice for you.
- Omega-3 Fish Oils — Effective in helping to reduce inflammation, omega-3s balance the ratio of fatty acids in your diet and support brain health.
- B Vitamins — Deficiencies in various B Vitamins can leave you feeling sluggish and moody. B Vitamins help convert nutrients from the foods you eat into usable fuel for the body, so taking a B Vitamin Complex supplement can make sure you’re in the optimal range.
- Citicoline — is a little-known brain supplement that increases blood flow to your brain, increases mental energy, and protects your brain from damage and aging. Since it raises levels of acetylcholine — a neurotransmitter responsible for memory and learning — it’s especially important to take if your brain fog is caused by any medications that work by blocking this essential brain chemical.
- Magnesium — If you have brain fog and often feel tired but wired, you might benefit from taking a magnesium supplement. Up to 75% of Americans don’t get enough of this “master mineral” that plays a role in over 600 biological functions.
- Vinpocetine — is related to a compound found in the periwinkle vine (Vinca minor), a flowering vine that’s been used to treat memory loss since medieval times.It rapidly enters the brain to increase blood flow, decrease brain inflammation, protect against free radical damage, and balance neurotransmitter levels. Doctors in Europe find it even more effective than Ginkgo Biloba, which is generally thought to be the best all-around herbal memory supplement.
- Guta Kola — (Centella asiatica) is a traditional herbal remedy that shields your brain from everyday neurotoxins like lead, fluoride, aluminum and MSG. This safe and effective cognitive enhancer also protects the brain from free radical damage and reduces brain inflammation.
Also keep in mind that certain medications can lead to brain fog, including antidepressants, stimulants, sleep aids, antipsychotics and even blood pressure medications. There is speculation that many medications increase brain inflammation and impair hormone function. If you regularly take any prescriptions and have noticed changes in your mood and energy, talk to your doctor about what you can do to minimize brain fog symptoms.