What is Brain Fog?
As the effects of your venti Americano with an extra shot start to wear off, you can feel your mind slowly drifting along with it. You’re distracted from the task at hand and a wave of fatigue crashes over you, leading you to believe that you could fall asleep right at your desk if you simply closed your eyes. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. This sensation in the wellness world has been coined as “brain fog.” In the simplest words possible, it basically feels like the lights are on, but no one’s home. Focusing becomes an unfathomable task, energy levels are low, and oftentimes you may experience minor headaches.
Brain fog is essentially a set of symptoms including the inability to focus or concentrate, impaired memory, fatigue, sensations of confusion and having a hard time calculating or problem-solving. Brain fog may simply be a sign of the times, and it’s normal to experience it here and there, especially when stress is high or on days when you didn’t sleep well. It becomes concerning when your mental fatigue takes over your life, indicating that there may be something deeper going on. Chatting with a practitioner and getting to the root cause is key, but there are some actions you can take to settle the fog, or at best shine a light through it.
Before we deep dive into actions you can take, let’s explore some common causes of brain fog. Some bigger issues include adult ADHD, thyroid conditions, hormonal changes, depression, anxiety and dementia. More commonly, and of less concern, brain fog is caused by impaired sleep, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, food sensitivities or stress.
Some actions you can take…
You may have heard that your gut is your second brain and this couldn’t be more spot on. Your gut and your brain are so connected and intertwined that a lot of digestion issues can manifest as mental health symptoms and vice versa. It can be confusing and it often winds up becoming a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. All this to say, if you’re experiencing brain fog, your gut could be trying to communicate with you. Adding probiotics to your routine, and limiting foods you may be sensitive to (gluten, corn and dairy are all common allergens) is a great place to start to strengthen the digestive system.
A Balanced Diet
Did you know that the human brain is 60% fat? So naturally it gets its fuel from, you guessed it—fats. You may have heard that foods like salmon and walnuts are considered “brain foods” and this is because of the high concentration of Omega’s. Opting for food like avocados, extra virgin olive oil and flax seeds are great options to support the brain. Brain fog can also be caused by an increase in sugar and alcohol causing mental fatigue, so limiting these until symptoms ease up is a good option as well.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Sleep, stress and brain fog all go hand in hand. We know limiting stress is easier said than done, and if you’re lost on what steps to take, this blog is a great place to start. As for sleep, we have a few tips in that department too. The crux of it comes down to getting at least 7 hours a night, but ideally 8-9. Limiting screen time before bed, setting boundaries with work and school (trust us when we say that staying up an extra hour or two will wind up setting you back in the long run), and taking herbs like valerian root and lemon balm can all help you to destress and wind down.
We know that exercise is good for physical health and lately there’s been more emphasis on how it supports your mental health, but there’s also a direct link in exercising enhancing cognitive performance. It can improve your reaction time, focus and ability to perform tasks. In the midst of the pandemic there was an influx in people experiencing brain fog and it’s suggested that this was due to the lack of stimulation, including physical activity. Keep in mind, this movement doesn’t have to be intense—anything that stimulates the mind, but is sustainable for you will get the job done.
Be mindful in knowing that slowing down is just as important. Working out stimulates a stress response and puts the body into fight or flight, meaning your body doesn’t know the difference between a set of burpees and hitting an important deadline, so be sure to slow down and allow cortisol levels to balance out, this could be a mindful walk, yoga or breathing exercises.
Now let’s dive into supplements…
Brain fog can occur when the body is deficient in vital nutrients, so making sure your magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin D and B complex levels are all optimal may help to reduce mental fatigue and improve cognitive function. At the minimum this is a great place to start, but there are additional supplements you can lean on to support your overall cognitive health.
When it comes to supporting the human brain, phosphatidylserine (fos-fuh-tie-dul-SER-een) is a powerhouse. Touted for its cognitive supporting benefits, phosphatidylserine has been used to relieve stress and minimize symptoms of depression. It has also been used to ease the effects of ADHD. Phosphatidylserine is found naturally in the body, and while we can make a little of our own, most of the 100 mg needed daily is obtained through diet and supplementation. Studies have shown that phosphatidylserine can improve memory—both short term and long, as well as improve focus, concentration and problem solving skills.
Bacopa is an ancient herb rich in powerful antioxidants that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Beyond its ability to reduce free radical damage and helping to reduce stress and anxiety, it has also been known to increase mental awareness and boost cognitive function. One study that followed 46 adults over the span of a 12 week period indicated that a 300mg dose of bacopa (a great place to start) significantly improved memory, learning rate and processing speed. Another study showed symptom improvements in those with ADHD, decreasing impulsivity by up to 85%.
Ginkgo Biloba Extract
What can’t this little herb do? Another antioxidant-rich herb used for centuries, ginkgo has been linked to improving overall cognitive function and supporting the nervous system to reduce stress and anxiety. One study that followed 262 volunteers over a 6 week period indicated that there was significant improvement in memory and recall when taking 180mg a day in comparison to those taking a placebo. We suggest starting with 120 mg to see how your body reacts.
What’s not to love about this ancient beverage? It is rich in polyphenols and full of antioxidants. The l-theanine and caffeine found in green tea are what make this a staple when supporting cognitive function. In a review of 21 studies it was found that the caffeine and l-theanine synergistically work together to enhance mood and cognitive performance, improving both memory and overall attention span. Our in-house nutrition experts recommend starting at a 50mg dose and working your way up, depending on your goals.
Now that the tips and tricks are out of the way, we challenge you to check in with yourself—notice when brain fog starts to creep in and try some of these out! We know some tips are easier said than done, but in the long run, your brain will thank you.