What Causes Brain Fog? Here Are 3 Simple Tricks to Clear It, By an RD
Have you experienced difficulty concentrating, not feeling as ‘sharp’, along with low energy and mental fatigue? Perhaps you have also been told by a medical professional that you have nothing wrong with you? Well, if you answered 'yes,' it sounds like you could be experiencing brain fog.
Let’s discuss what exactly brain fog is, the causes, and how we can change our diet to beat brain fog.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog, otherwise known as functional cognitive disorder (FCD), can be described as cognitive dysfunction in the absence of underlying brain pathology. In other words, it’s characterized by a subjective set of symptoms that can’t be diagnosed through conventional medical tests. You know it when you have it. Symptoms can range from any of the following:
- Memory problems
- Poor ability to focus or concentrate
- Trouble problem-solving
- Disorganized thoughts
- Difficulty finding words
What Causes Brain Fog?
The symptoms of brain fog can overlap with many medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or Obstructive Sleep Apnea or can be a side effect of some medications. Your medical practitioner would need to address and rule out these factors.
Brain fog does rarely occur as a stand-alone symptom and there is often an underlying cause.
Lifestyle and diet factors can contribute to brain fog
- B-Vitamins: We need B vitamins for healthy nerve and brain function. Three B vitamins are often linked with brain health – B6, B9 (folate), and B12. These B vitamins help to break down homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid, however, it has been found to contribute to poor health. High homocysteine levels cause vascular disease and brain fog by elevating oxidative stress. You can easily get enough B-vitamins through diet, so you don’t need to supplement!
- Iron: The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Symptoms of iron deficiency can include brain fog. This is because iron is needed to transport oxygen to the body and brain. Those who are most at risk for iron deficiency include menstruating women or those were gastrointestinal conditions that cause malabsorption.
Digestive Concerns, Food Allergies, and Sensitivities
In addition to digestive problems after eating a certain type of food, fatigue, headaches, and brain fog can also emerge as symptoms of food sensitivities or food allergies.
Documented foods that folks have developed sensitivities or allergies to, resulting in symptoms such as brain fog include wheat, histamines, FODMAPS, alcohol, dairy, and artificial sweeteners.
Chronic Stress and Lack Of Sleep
We knew this one was coming! Poor sleep quality can interfere with brain processing. When your brain is exhausted, it becomes harder to think and focus.
Dehydration and focus problems
About ¾ of your brain is composed of water and when dehydrated, your brain actually shrinks in volume. Even milk or temporary dehydration can alter your brain function. Studies have shown that even a drop of 2% in body water can impact your short-term memory and experience problems with focusing.
High or Low Blood Sugar and concentration
If our blood sugar is often too high or too low, brain fog can be a symptom.
High blood sugar can damage blood vessels, resulting in poor blood circulation and when there’s insufficient blood circulation in the brain, you may not think as clearly.
Additionally, low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can have a similar effect, resulting in brain fog. When the body doesn’t receive enough glucose for energy, brain cells can’t function properly.
What to Eat to Beat Brain Fog
Again, I want to emphasize that it is important to speak to your family physician, to rule out underlying medical concerns that could be contributing to brain fog. Other lifestyle modifications can include:
1. Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
Take extra care to make sure that your diet is full of complex, high-fiber carbohydrates (for blood sugar balance) and is rich in B vitamins and iron. Foods that are rich in B vitamins include peanuts, oats, soybeans, wheat germ, bananas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy greens, chickpeas, and nutritional yeast. Iron-rich foods that you can incorporate into your diet every day include white beans, lentils, dried fruit, cooked spinach, and pumpkin seeds. To make the iron from these sources absorb better, pair them with a vitamin C source (such as red pepper or citrus fruit) and avoid drinking coffee/tea at meals that contain them. Coffee and tea contain compounds that can inhibit iron absorption!
2. Rule Out Food Sensitivities
If you suspect a food sensitivity, please speak to a medical professional, such as a Registered Dietitian about this. An elimination diet can be very helpful to rule out potential sensitivities – I’ve seen success with my clients around this! A caution about food sensitivity tests – they aren’t always accurate and could lead you to an unnecessarily restricted diet. Work one-on-one with a Registered Dietitian and discuss if an elimination diet is right for you.
3. Lower Stress, Sleep More and Move!
Moving more can assist with better sleep, along with boosting blood flow to the brain. Many studies have shown that aerobic exercise in particular improves thinking skills. As well, there is no better time than now to develop a nighttime routine and put down that blue light so your brain can get some well-deserved rest. Also, that nightcap before bet is probably not helping you any, as that can perpetuate brain fog.