What is Brain Fog?

senior with brain fogHave you been feeling forgetful, confused, unmotivated, irritable, anxious?  These may be symptoms of “brain fog,” a general term for decreased cognitive ability.

Top descriptors of brain fog are ‘forgetful,’ ‘cloudy,’ and ‘difficulty focusing, thinking, and communicating’.1 Symptoms of brain fog can include: slow or hazy thinking, difficulty focusing, confusion, lack of concentration, low motivation, trouble remembering things, irritability, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and lack of incentive to exercise.

Causes or Contributing Factors

Metabolic Factors

    • Hormonal changes. Changes to the three primary hormones dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol, determine your mood, energy, and focus. Cortisol helps keep you awake and alert and is often called the body’s primary ‘stress hormone.’ Dopamine and serotonin help keep you joyful, motivated, and calm. Hormonal changes that occur with menopause can also cause brain fog as can imbalances in thyroid output.2
    • Chronic fatigue syndrome is a clinically defined set of symptoms of unknown etiology most notable for persistent fatigue lasting greater than six months, is of new onset, not related to exertion or improved with rest, and is debilitating to a person’s lifestyle.3

Inflammation and Oxidative Stress Inflammation.

On a cellular level, brain fog is often caused by chronic inflammation when molecules such as adipocytokines and histamine are released from mast cells, which further stimulate microglia activation.4

Fibromyalgia is an example of a chronic inflammatory disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas.

Diet and Nutrition

Energy levels can be depleted by nutrient deficiencies, sugar, or caffeine overload, overeating of refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, or other foods one may be reactive or allergic to including foods containing corn, wheat, and peanuts in particular. The brain relies on a steady stream of vitamins and minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and glucose from complex carbohydrates as well as getting enough rest and relaxation.

    • Dehydration. We tend not to drink enough water each day. Recommended dosage is 6-8 glasses of water per day, ideally separated in 4oz dosages unless after exercise or other physical activity.
    • Iron deficiency is often characterized by brain fog and impaired brain function, and has been associated with oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases. Research suggests that iron plays an important physiological role in neuronal processes such as myelination, synaptogenesis, behavior, and synaptic plasticity. Brain fog is one of the early symptoms of iron deficiency.5
    • Food allergies include: gluten, corn, peanuts, milk, eggs, nuts, soy, and shellfish.

Exposure to Toxins.

    • Medications such as antidepressants, stimulants, sleep aids, antipsychotics, and even blood pressure medications can cause brain fog. Discuss your medications with your doctor if you have chronic brain fog.
    • Chemo brain is the term that refers to side effects from cancer treatments which include changes in cognitive function, memory, and attention. Such treatment can result in epigenetic changes and oxidative DNA damage.6
    • Environmental pollutants, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, can cause brain fog.7 People exposed to air pollution are much more likely to exhibit evidence of neurodegeneration.8 The same is true of industrial-, combustion-, and friction-derived nanoparticles.9

Allergies

People with allergies, inflammatory disorders, and dietary sensitivities often complain of brain fog.10 11

For example, seasonal allergies can lead to reduced cognitive performance, including impaired attention, memory problems, and reduced speed of information processing.12

Celiac Disease results from being highly allergic to gluten (such as found in wheat and other grains) resulting in gut-related symptoms like abdominal pain or bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Other symptoms can include fatigue, joint pain, or mouth sores, and brain fog reports such as feeling disoriented, unable to focus or pay attention, and forgetfulness.13

Over 90% of patients with mast cell disorders, which increase inflammation, report frequent cognitive impairment consistent with brain fog.14

Daily Life Factors

Lack of sleep, sedentary lifestyle and high amounts of stress impact brain functioning and cognition.

Medical Conditions

Brain fog is a symptom or side effect of many other conditions, including bacterial infections such as Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, anemia, depression, diabetes, migraine headaches, arthritis, or high levels of fats in blood plasma. As many as 50% of people who have the autoimmune disease lupus also have “lupus fog,” with lapses in memory, difficulty concentrating, and confusion. Poor circulation can cause a lack of nutrients and oxygen from reaching the brain.

Nutrient Research

A new review of recent studies15 reports that 21 nutrients and phytonutrients appear to be helpful in combating brain fog.16 These were: α-lipoic acid, Bacopa monnieri, B vitamins, cholinergic precursors, vitamin D, vitamin E, Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, lion’s mane mushroom, N-acetyl cysteine, omega-3 fatty acids, aloe polysaccharides, Rhodiola rosea, rosemary, saffron, tart cherries, turmeric, wild yam, Withania somnifera, xanthines, and zinc.

The researchers wrote: “Particular noteworthy effects on cognition included memory, recollection, attention, intelligence, vocabulary, recognition, response inhibition, arousal, performance enhancement, planning, creative thinking, reaction time, vigilance, task switching, orientation to time, place, and person, reading, writing, comprehension, accuracy, learning, information processing speed, executive function, mental flexibility, daily functioning, decrease in mental fatigue, and freedom from distractibility.”17

Two other small studies report other phytonutrients that might be helpful.  Mango leaf extract, containing the compound mangiferin improves reaction time, reduces mental fatigue, and boosts attention, performance accuracy, and working memory.18 19  Peppermint oil reduces the development of mental fatigue and improves aspects of attention and memory. 20

Recommendations

You can do a lot, just in your daily routine, to reduce brain fog.

  1. Eat a healthy diet high in vegetables and low-sugar fruits such as berries. Reduce intake of all refined sugars and carbohydrates. See our information on cutting down on sugar. Also take a look at more detailed diet information.
  2. Get plenty of rest.
  3. Exercise regularly. Even an accelerated 20-minute walk daily is excellent.
  4. Avoid foods that make you feel lethargic.
  5. Drink plenty of water daily.
  6. Take regular breaks from the computer to stretch and do eye exercises. For our free eye exercise e-booklet, go to https://www.naturaleyecare.com/blog/free-eye-exercise-ebook/

Nutrients


Ginseng Supreme 1 oz
– this is a wild-crafted, GMO-free tincture.

Brain Cell Support 60 caps – includes citicoline, ginkgo biloba and other nutrients.

Dr. Grossman’s Bilberry/Ginkgo Combination 2oz (60ml) – this is a wild-crafted, GMO free tincture.

Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula (whole food) 60 vcaps – our whole food, organic, non-GMO eye formula. Good for brain health.

Retinal Support (wild-crafted herbal formula) 2 oz – wild crafted herbal tincture for overall eye and retinal support.

Books

Natural Brain Support: Your Guide to Preventing and Treating Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Other Related Diseases Naturally

Natural Eye Care: Your Guide to Healthy Vision and Healing

  1. Ross AJ, Medow MS, Rowe PC, Stewart JM. (2013). What is brain fog? An evaluation of the symptom in postural tachycardia syndrome. Clin Auton Res. Dec;23(6):305-11.
  2. Martin S, Chen K, Harris N, Vera-Llonch M, Krasner A. (2019). Development of a Patient-Reported Outcome Measuring Chronic Hypoparathyroidism. Adv Ther. Jun 10.
  3. Fukuda K, Straus SE, Hickie I, Sharpe MC, Dobbins JG, Komaroff A. (1994). Chronic fatigue syndrome: a comprehensive approach to its definition and study.  Ann Intern Med. Dec 15; 121(12):953-9.
  4. Theocharides TC, Stewart JM, Hatziagelaki E, Kolaitis G. (2015). Brain “fog,” inflammation and obesity: key aspects of neuro psychiatric disorders improved by luteolin. Front Neurosci. Jul3;9:225.
  5. Deans M. (2015). Heavy Metal: Iron and the Brain. Psychology Today. Nov 29.
  6. Kovalchuk A, Kolb B. (2017). Chemo brain: From discerning mechanisms to lifting the brain fog-An aging connection. Cell Cycle. Jul 19;16(15):1345-49.
  7. Schmidt S. (2019). Brain Fog: Does Air Pollution Make Us Less Productive? Environ Health Perspect. May;127(5): 52011.
  8. Calderon-Garciduenas L, Leray F, Heydarpour P, Torres-Jardon R, Reis J. (2016). Air pollution, a rising environmental risk factor for cognition, neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration: The clinical impact on children and beyond. Rev Neurol (Paris). Jan;172(1):69-80.
  9. Calderon-Garciduenas L, Reynoso-Robles R, Gonzalez-Maciel A. (2019). Combustion and friction-derived nanoparticles and industrial-sourced nanoparticles: The culprit of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases. Environ Res. Jul 5;176:108574.
  10. Hartgerink-Lutgens I, Vermeeren A, Vuurman E, et al. (2009.Disturbed cognitive functions after nasal provocation in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Clin Exp Allergy.  Apr;39(4):500-8.
  11. Makhlouf S, Messelmani M, Zaouali J, et al. (2018). Cognitive impairment in celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity: review of literature on the main cognitive impairments, the imaging and the effect of gluten free diet. Acta Neurol Belg. Mar;118(1):21-7.
  12. Ibid. Hartgerink-Lutgens. (2009).
  13. Yalland GW. (2017). Gluten-induced cognitive impairment (“brain fog”) in coeliac disease. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. Mar;32 Suppl 1:90-93.
  14. Moura DS, Sultan S, Georgin-Lavialle S, Barete S, Lortholary O, Gaillard R. et al. (2012). Evidence for cognitive impairment in mastocytosis: prevalence, features and correlations to depression. PLoS ONE. 7:e39468.
  15. Published between 2020 and 2021. 2234 studies were identified, 9 were selected on the basis of merit.
  16. Lewis JE, Poles J, Shaw DP, Karhu E, Khan SA, et al. (2021). The effects of twenty-one nutrients and phytonutrients on cognitive function: A narrative review. J Clin Transl Res. Aug 4;7(4):575-20.
  17. Ibid. Poles. (2021).
  18. Lopez-Rios L, Wiebe JC, Vega-Morales T, et al. (2020). Central nervous systemactivities of extract Mangifera indica L. J Ethnopharmacol. Oct 5;260:112996.
  19. Wightman EL, Jackson PA, Forster J, et al. (2020). Acute Effects of aPolyphenol-Rich Leaf Extract of Mangifera indica L. (Zynamite) on CognitiveFunction in Healthy Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled CrossoverStudy. Nutrients. Jul 23;12(8).
  20. Kennedy D, Okello E, Chazot P, et al. (2018). Volatile Terpenes and Brain Function:Investigation of the Cognitive and Mood Effects of Mentha x Piperita L. Essential Oil with In Vitro Properties Relevant to Central Nervous System Function. Nutrients. Aug 7;10(8).