Brain fog is a generic term for that fuzzy out-of-it feeling that doesn’t seem to go away. Brain fog can be a symptom that something is out of balance with your body in one way or another.
You may have trouble concentrating, have trouble thinking of the right word, or your memory is not what it used to be, or you feel tired all the time. Or you feel depressed.
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Causes of brain fog
Causes of brain fog can be numerous, and it can take some investigation to get to the source.
- Lack of sleep
- Nutritional deficiencies, digestive distress
- Food addictions can damage the pleasure center and hormones
- Allergies to specific foods
- Side effects of medication
- Exposure to toxins
- Chronic fatigue
- Neurological conditions like lupus, Lyme disease, or fibromyalgia
- Hormonal imbalances
To name just a few of the many things that can cause brain fog. If you have been experiencing the worrying symptom of brain fog, you are not alone.
Daily living exposes us to many things our ancestors didn’t have to deal with. From birth, we are assaulted by toxins and digestive distress from refined foods.
We tend to live sedentary lives and spend too much time indoors because of our jobs and tasks. We suffer from a lack of time and lack of access to natural light and scenery. Lack of time to relax and enjoy our lives has made brain fog a growing concern for many people.
Here are 11 ideas that might help you clear your head!
1. Dietary changes:
- Try a whole-foods plant-based diet. Add lots of leafy greens, root veggies like sweet potatoes and squash, beans, nuts, seeds gluten-free grains, and fruit.
- Delete processed food, sugar, flour, caffeine, and alcohol or at least cut way back. If you are like me and can’t easily do this see my food addiction page for more help.
- Avoid pesticides, chemicals, and GMOs which contain glyphosate.
I know it can be hard to cut out junk foods if you are a foodie like me, and the first couple of weeks might be rough, but you can learn to enjoy awesome new recipes that don’t have to be time-consuming. Organic food is more expensive, but it can make a big difference depending upon the item. Check out the Environmental Working Group for a list of the dirty dozen and the clean 15 in produce and other consumer guides on toxins
At first, the subtle flavors of real food might not taste all that great compared with processed foods which are designed to be stimulating and addictive. But after a few weeks, you will learn to appreciate the pure natural flavors of real food, and it is so worth it because your mental clarity will return.
- Plant-Based Nutrition page on Mind-Body Clarity
- Demolish Food Addiction page at Mind-Body-Clarity
- A mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan is one of my favorite book discoveries lately. She also has a more extended, more comprehensive online program. She suggests a paleo diet high in healthy fats and red meat, but you can adjust the diet to suit your individual needs.
- Dominate Depression is a six-week online program to revamp your system if you are chronically depressed and sluggish. AJ Nelson was depressed for 11 years and finally had enough. He has put together a ton of resources on nutrition, supplements, and more.
- The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss. Even if you don’t need to lose weight chef AJ has excellent insight into food addiction and ways to kick the junk food habit and start feeling better. She suggests a vegan, low-fat diet because fats seem to trigger cravings and binges in people with food addictions.
- The End of Dieting by Dr. Joel Fuhrman is another excellent book on kicking the junk food habit. He is a specialist in high nutrient low-calorie foods so that you feel full and satisfied.
- Forks Over Knives is an inspiring site for reading about people who have gained tons of energy through changing their diet and even turned around significant health crises.
- The Slow Down Diet by Mark David. He has an institute called the Psychology of eating with a great free seminar and lots of resources if you have trouble dumping the junk food and you know it’s an issue for you.
2. Improve gut health with probiotics
Dietary changes should improve your gut health and heal your digestion once you switch to a whole natural-foods diet and get rid of toxins and irritants in your system. But it can take a few months for your body to recover, especially if you have been extra naughty for a long time.
When you have brain fog, your serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol levels can contribute to feeling foggy. Many neurotransmitters are created predominantly in our gut in what is called our enteric nervous system. Our brain and gut communicate via the vagus nerve, which runs the length of the trunk and up into the head; this is known as the gut-brain axis.
Nutrition is the first defense for gut health
When we eat a diet high in processed foods, hormone-laden meats, etc., this can lead to inflammation in the gut, which can affect many different systems, including the brain and nervous system.
This is why your nutrition and your microbiome or gut health are so important. If you have an irritated gut, it causes inflammation in many different parts of the body and lead to immune system issues as well as depression and fatigue and can affect thyroid health.
Your gut is often the key to many disease manifestations, so dealing with nutrition is step one.
Which Probiotic to take?
You don’t necessarily have to take probiotics forever because a healthy diet should eventually provide a healthy gut. The brand I like is called hyperbiotics. It is better than standard probiotics because it is time-released so doesn’t get eaten up by your stomach acids, and it is reasonably priced and has a lot of strains. Another well-researched brand that has two layers to protect the probiotics from stomach acid, is called Seed. Some people do not tolerate probiotic supplements, so start slowly.
Other digestion issues
If you have a lot of the digestive problems, you may want to find out if you have other problems like leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome or other digestion issues and try one of the specialized diets for this. If your doctor doesn’t know how to deal with nutrition, a functional medicine expert or naturopathic doctor might be a better choice. And if you can’t afford a specialist or your insurance doesn’t cover it there are many excellent guides and books to help you get started.
- Low FODMAPS diet, Fodmaps stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols
- GAPS diet Gaps stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome Nutritional Protocol
- SCD or Specific Carbohydrate Diet
3. Delete gluten
Even if you do not have celiacs disease you may be sensitive to gluten. There are home DNA tests for food sensitivities that can help.
This may sound difficult, but there are so many delicious gluten-free products that it isn’t all that hard to substitute. It might be a good idea to try it and see if you feel better without Gluten-containing grains.
- Oats if prepared in a factory that also processes grains that contain gluten.
You can substitute with grains that do not contain gluten if you love the texture of bread and pasta. There are some surprisingly tasty brands of pasta and bread made from gluten-free grains.
You can also try bread made of sprouted and sourdough versions of the gluten-containing grains and see if that helps. Some people find that these sprouted and sourdough versions of their favorite breads work much better for digestion.
One of the problems with wheat is that centuries of tinkering have made the proteins less and less digestible. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is on the rise and can be a significant cause of brain fog as well as other symptoms.
Gluten can mimic thyroid hormones causing your thyroid to stop producing the correct amounts of thyroid hormone, and this can affect a lot of different bodily systems.
If going off gluten doesn’t seem to help your energy levels, you might consider staying away from all grains for a few weeks and reintroducing them one at a time to see if any specific grain is affecting you.
4. Uncover hidden food sensitivities
This is another key to health that your doctor probably will never mention.
With modern sanitation, less breastfeeding for babies, more chemicals, lower air, and water quality, we have become a fragile species with many hidden food intolerances.
I don’t mean a significant peanut or shellfish allergy where you go into anaphylactic shock. You would certainly know if you had that type of a food allergy.
Hidden food sensitivities are tricky because they can be an intolerance to a food you have been eating every day all your life that may be causing chronic health problems. But since you eat the food-item every day, you never get a break from it, and so you are not connecting the food source as the root of the problem.
You could be intolerant to something that is considered entirely healthy, like carrots or apples or legumes. Here is a quick way to find out if you have a food intolerance.
5. Fix your sleep
If you are on a sporadic sleep schedule, try hard to get yourself onto a regular schedule 7 days a week and try not to deviate on the weekends. I know this is a tough one, but it can help.
Tips for better sleep:
- Go to bed by 10:30 pm or at least start winding down by 10:30 with 11:30 bedtime at the latest.
- Dim light conditions at night and bright light in the morning
- Get enough natural light each day, early in the day, first thing in the morning if you can
- Use bed mainly for sleeping so that you don’t condition yourself to do everything but sleep in the bed. For instance, don’t eat or watch tv or read in bed.
- Wear blue and green light blocking glasses and use a blue blocker app for your phone and screens from about 8 pm until 6 am the next day.
- Natural sleep aids like GABA, Valerian, L-Tryptophan, and Melatonin are an alternative to habit-forming sleeping pills.
- If you wake up after a few hours of sleep, it could mean you have a low blood sugar issue. Try cutting back on sugar and setting up regular meal times.
- Binaural recordings while going to sleep can slow brainwaves and help you relax
- Try a weighted blanket to calm the nervous system and help you stay asleep longer and sleep deeper. Studies have shown that weighted blankets help soothe people with autism, but they are also great for the rest of us.
- Exercise early in the day finish at least 3 hours before bedtime
- Stop stimulants like tea, coffee, chocolate, and pain medications 4 to 6 hours before bed.
- Optimize your bedroom. Make sure it’s dark, cool, and well ventilated
- Keep phones, tv, gadgets out of the bedroom. The light stimulates wakefulness.
- Do something calming before bed, meditation, self-massage with massage balls and tools, or a warm bath or quiet reading.
- It is also essential to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night consistently.
- If you want to learn more read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
6. Meditation helps clear out brain fog
Meditation for only ten minutes a day can help relieve stress and make you feel more focused and alert. There are many meditation programs online, and classes you can go to, and many meditation centers have free sessions. Sometimes meditating with a group once or twice a week can help augment your practice and help you to focus and deepen your meditation practice.
- Dina Proctor found it so hard to meditate when she first started that she came up with 3-minute meditations and found that this was enough to start making a difference in how she felt.
- Brainwave Love binaural recordings help you to slow down your brainwaves so you can focus better and longer. The programs at brainwave love come with meditation instruction rather than just recordings.
Sometimes food can’t give you everything you need no matter how well you are eating.
Food is the ideal source for all the vitamins and minerals we need in their most absorbable, natural forms. But our fast-paced culture provides sub-optimal soil for growing food. Even organic produce travels miles to reach your plate, so it is not as nutritious as it should be. Certain supplements can help, especially during recovery. Here are some of the foundational supplements you need to feel good:
- B complex
- Super C
- Essential fatty acids, EFA and ADA an algae-based supplement may be safer than fish oil according to recent studies
- Get levels of b12, magnesium, D3 checked with lab tests. You can often order these online.
8. Protect yourself from Electromagnetic radiation
Although many people are not that sensitive, the more you work with and around Wi-Fi and tech products, you can develop sensitivity.
Better safe than sorry.
- Invest in a cell phone protective cover and keep your cellphone on airplane mode if you have to carry it around with you.
- Keep tech out of the bedroom at night.
- Turn off your router if you can at night.
- Get a laptop pad to protect yourself from EMFs while you work.
- Get a belly armor blanket to protect your gut from EMFs.
- Check out the Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs. Nick Pineault has put together all the research and info, so you don’t have to.
9. Detox your personal care products
This can be difficult when you have makeup and shampoo you love, but there are a lot of great alternatives that work.
- DIY home cleaning and personal care products: Everyday roots
- DIY skincare products you can make in your kitchen
- Stop using hair dyes. Instead, try Henna or Hairprint a non-toxic hair color rejuvenator.
- Beauty Counter is a safer makeup and skincare line. They have banned over 1500 toxic ingredients that other companies still use.
10. Get oxygen to the brain to wipe out brain fog
I know the last thing I feel like doing is moving around when I have brain fog, but a brisk daily walk for half an hour a day outdoors or on a treadmill can do wonders if you have the energy. It doesn’t need to be strenuous. If you want to work out more add some stretching, yoga, pilates, or resistance band training.
If you have been exercising like a maniac for years and you still feel tired and foggy all the time you might need to cut back for a while.
Too much exercise can be a problem as well as too little, especially if you have issues with chronic fatigue or nutritional issues to fix. Work on finding your sweet spot.
11. Light therapy for brain fog
Sunshine works best for half an hour a day minimum, but if you live in a northern climate or you have to work indoors, a lightbox can help regulate your waking and sleeping.
You can get an inexpensive desktop lightbox for those rainy or snowy winter months or if you have to be indoors a lot. Use it early in the day, so you don’t overstimulate your brain and end up being up late at night.
Low-level laser light therapy (LLLT) or photomodulation is used for pain relief and wound healing as well as healing brain injuries, and cognitive function.
Veilight is a home photo-modulation device that emits near-infrared light to the brain through a nasal clip-on using diodes.
Bonus tip for getting reducing brain fog
Get your thyroid checked out by someone who knows what they are doing. If you have tried everything else and you still don’t feel like yourself, your thyroid may be part of the problem.
Your doctor may not know what tests to do, but there is a lot of information, and you can even get tested online. Even if it turns out that you do have a thyroid problem that doesn’t mean you have to take thyroid medication for life.
Thyroid imbalances can often be corrected with diet and lifestyle changes. Here is an excellent resource for getting the right testing done by Kelly Brogan again. She is an MD who treated her Hashimotos thyroiditis without pharmaceuticals.
Thyroid Change has a lot of great information to get you started as well.
Don’t give up until you find the answer!
And don’t give up if you feel like you have tried everything, and nothing has worked. Our antiquated medical system might not be the best route. Often well-meaning doctors don’t know what to do with symptoms like brain fog and fatigue.
Your MD may suggest an antidepressant because they don’t know what else to do. But before you go, there find a good functional medicine doctor who is familiar with treating the whole person rather than just relying on a “parts mechanic.”