Along being vital to mental capacity, brain health is also extremely important for emotional well-being as your thoughts and feelings are interconnected very closely. But several times, you may have felt that your thoughts are unclear and that you’re feeling “cloudy headed”. This feeling is known as brain fog or mental fog.
Common symptoms of brain fog include:
Although there is no particular cause for brain fog, it could be caused due to specific unrelated factors or a combination of them. Almost anyone can suffer from brain fog although it may be caused commonly because of multi-tasking,overworking or substance abuse.
Or, brain fog can be caused due to chronic illnesses such as lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or certain mental illnesses. Apart from chronic illnesses, other factors such as diet, sleep and exercise can play a vital role in the occurrence of brain fog. It can also be due to chronic fatigue caused by hormonal changes and imbalances.
At a cellular level, it is believed that brain fog is caused due to high levels of inflammation and changes in the 3 main hormones in the body responsible for your energy, focus and mood, i.e. serotonin, cortisol and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are hormones which keep your motivated, calm, joyful and positive, while cortisol is the “stress hormone”, which keeps you alert and awake.
Your body and the brain work on a complex symphony of the various hormones which work in tandem to keep each other in check. So, if the level of any hormone is too high or falls too low, your entire system is thrown off-balance. And, rebalancing these hormones is necessary to get your body function back on track and brain functioning normally.
Another factor that can increase the symptoms of brain fog is “inflammation”, which is also the root cause of most diseases. Typically, the cause of inflammation is the low-grade overactivity of the immune system and is related to mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, dementia and insomnia. The high levels of inflammatory molecules such as histamines and adipocytokines which stimulate the microglia activation can be a major cause of symptoms of brain fog.
It can be quite hampering and frustrating if you suffer from mental exhaustion and a cloudy headed feeling all the time. Making a few changes in your lifestyle can make a huge difference. In this article, we will discuss some of the ways by which you can combat brain fog.
The quickest and most effective way to improve your brain function is to get good sleep at night. Good sleep is essential for both physical and mental health. When you get sufficient rest each night — at least 7 hours for adults — your brain hormones remain in balance. Constant lack of sleep at night makes it very difficult to function, retain information, pay attention to your work, have meaningful conversations, etc.
Lack of sleep increases the cortisol levels and triggers brain fog, which makes you irritable and makes it harder for you to get good sleep through the night. High levels of cortisol depress the dopamine levels, which hampers the functioning of serotonin and leads into a vicious cycle of poor behavior and moods. Maximizing your sleep can help to improve your memory, mood and attention.
Some recommendations that can help to improve your sleep quality are:
Life today has become extremely fast paced and full of stress and you cannot go through a day without being inundated with phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. This can get quite distracting and tiring. When the stress levels become very high, this causes increased cortisol production, which has plenty of side effects including fatigue, insomnia, hormonal imbalance, depression and anxiety.
To keep a check on the cortisol levels, you must practice techniques that can reduce stress such as meditating, yoga, exercising, reading, journaling, taking up some hobby, etc. Doing things that you love also helps to fight stress and also increases the production of dopamine or the “happy hormone”. Lack of dopamine leaves you feeling bored, unfocused with a higher risk for mental illnesses, learning disabilities, etc.
While the ability to multitask in the corporate environment can be a sign of efficiency, multitasking can have a serious cost if you’re suffering from brain fog symptoms. When you multitask, your concentration suffers and it compromises the time you actually spend on doing work that is productive because you are constantly loading and reloading your short-term memory.
Studies show that switching between tasks causes the burning of more calories and it actually tires your brain, thereby reducing your capacity for productive thinking and work. So, the best option is to complete one task at a time and remove all the potential causes of disturbances such as your email alerts, mobile phone, etc. that can cause you to switch between tasks.
You can use the “3-to-1 method”, where you narrow all your tasks down to 3 important ones and give 1 task your complete attention for a specific period of time. Rotate between the 3 tasks and complete them. This will give you the best balance of variety and singular focus.
The symptoms of brain fog can increase due to chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal insufficiency and low thyroid function and these hormonal imbalances occur due to factors such as poor diet, inflammation, allergies and sensitivities, insufficient rest and stress.
Adjust your diet so that your hormones are balanced and this, in turn, will solve the hormonal and adrenal problems. Cut down your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, refined carbs, hydrogenated oils, processed foods and sugar as these increase the inflammation in your body and cause you to feel extremely tired and fatigued.
Medications such as stimulants, antidepressants, antipsychotics, sleep medications and medications to control blood pressure can cause brain fog. If you are taking any medications regularly and you notice any changes in your energy levels, mood and generally go around feeling “woolly-headed” then you must speak to your medical practitioner to see what can be done to reduce the symptoms of brain fog.
Exercising helps to increase energy levels, reduce inflammation and bust stress. Regular and moderate exercise can help to balance the hormones in your body, helps to sleep better, prevents insulin resistance, reduces stress, fatigue and brain fog. Exercise helps to boost your stamina, lift your mood and release natural endorphins.
Exercise helps to open out your blood vessels, gets the blood pumping and increases the levels of oxygen in the blood, which enables you to perform better, both physically, as well as mentally. Studies reveal that exercise can boost the cognitive flexibility of the brain and walking for around 40 minutes thrice a week can be extremely beneficial for brain health.
Following a regular exercise routine can help to improve memory and learning and taking up aerobics, Tai Chi or yoga are excellent for improving your memory and reducing brain fog. However, you should also take care not over-exercise, as this can also cause brain fog, which is your body’s way of letting you know that you have exercised enough. Choose an exercise routine that makes you more energetic and happier and take 1-2 days of rest in a week to avoid overtraining.
One of the first steps to fixing brain fog is by cutting back on processed and packaged foods. These foods are loaded with sugar and other artificial ingredients such as artificial sweeteners that can be harmful to health and also cause brain fog.
When you consume sugar, you feel energetic and happy at first, but ultimately the sugar rush wears off and the steady energy and focus also drops. While too much sugar is bad for you, extremely low carb or sugar intake can also result in increased brain fog symptoms.
Good quality carbs from veggies and fruits reduce inflammation, while refined sugar causes an increase in inflammation in the body. The hormone serotonin that is released when you require carbs plays an important role in keeping you confident, hopeful and calm.
When you follow a very low carb diet, the serotonin levels fall very low causing feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, anxiety, sadness, etc. Eating unprocessed complex carbs i.e. foods like fruits, sweet potatoes, yams, ancient grains, raw dairy can help to boost your serotonin levels and also improve memory, focus and help to reduce the symptoms of brain fog.
To get all the brain chemicals functioning properly and to think clearly, your body needs a good supply of essential fatty acids and amino acids. Including complete protein sources such as fish, eggs, dairy products and meat to your diet supplies your body with all the essential amino acids to keep your brain functioning efficiently and also hormones that are needed for a positive mindset.
The body also needs healthy fats to fight inflammation and produce “happy hormones”. Imbalances in fatty acids cause higher inflammation and are linked to various problems such as cognitive decline, depression, brain fog, etc. Research reveals that while low-fat diets can cause cognitive decline, high-fat diets caused a decrease in brain focus in patients suffering from dementia. A diet comprising of 20-30% of high-quality protein and 30-40% healthy fats can help to manage inflammation and keep you mentally healthy.
Free radicals in our body damage the DNA and the brain cells by oxidation, which causes brain fog symptoms. Studies reveal that fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids, which are compounds having antioxidant properties that can scavenge the harmful free radicals in the body. This helps to improve the brain function and memory and also reduce the symptoms of brain fog. Fruits such as pomegranates, grapes, blueberries and strawberries can help to improve various aspects of learning and memory like long-term reference memory, short-term working memory, slow and rapid memory acquisition, memory retention and memory retrieval.
Following the right type of diet can keep your brain function healthy. Also, equally important is keeping yourself well hydrated. You can develop a problem of an unhealthy gut if you drink too less of water, which can, in turn, lead to diarrhea or constipation.
Water plays a very important role in the way your brain functions and around 75% of all the brain functions occur when there is water. Dehydrating can result in your cognitive performance getting impaired. Drinking sufficient amounts of water can help to increase concentration and mental clarity, prevent headaches and elimination of cellular wastes and toxins that get accumulated in the blood and travel to your brain.
The foods in your diet can be a cause of brain fog and over 15 million people in the US suffer from food allergies and sensitivities. If you suffer from a food sensitivity but do not eliminate them from your diet, you could suffer from gut damage that can also affect your brain function. Issues like lactose intolerance are much more than just digestive problems and can cause considerable changes in your gut microbes, which can affect your gut health.
Gluten sensitivity is a major cause of brain fog and a study revealed that a gluten-free diet helped the participants to improve memory, focus and also verbal fluency. Food allergies trigger inflammatory reactions in the body that affects the synthesis of hormones, nutrient absorption and also causes brain fog.
Some foods like peanuts, MSG (monosodium glutamate), dairy products, aspartame can trigger symptoms of brain fog. By eliminating these foods from your diet, you can reduce brain fog. Trying out an elimination diet can help uncover your food sensitivities and allergies.
Having certain supplements can help to enhance the cognitive and mental function and clear brain fog. Some of the supplements that can help are:
One of the banes of living in the modern world is our exposure to toxins in the environment. Everything around us that we use like clothing, upholstery, cleaning supplies, cars, chemicals to maintain your furniture, lawns, etc. have toxins which can hamper the cognitive function.
Over time, these toxins build up throughout the body, especially in the kidneys and liver. Toxins that are commonly found in the air, food and water are heavy metals which cause various problems including brain fog. So, it is vital that we limit our exposure to toxins. Ailments such as candida fungus skin infection and bowel toxicity cause brain fog and require detoxification, which involves drinking a lot of water, fasting and making changes in your diet.
In today’s world, our lives are extremely hectic and filled with stress and often, we don’t take out time to relax and chill out. Stress weakens the immune system and is the main cause of brain fog. A few ways by which you can chill out are:
If you suffer from brain fog, adopting one or some of the above techniques can help to improve your performance dramatically. Getting rid of brain fog can be different for each person. So, you need to figure out the techniques that work best for you. Apart from this, you must address the larger picture of following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and less stress and all this is sure to help you get rid of your “cloudy head” symptoms for good.