Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
May 19, 2022
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

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Do you feel like you’re walking around in a haze? And your lack of focus is already impacting your daily functions? If so, you might be experiencing brain fog.

And you’re not alone. Thousands of people in the US alone are dealing with extreme brain fog, especially those who are experiencing long covid.

Thankfully, there are ways to beat brain fog so that you can reclaim your mental clarity and keep your brain healthy in the long run.

This blog post will talk about the 11 causes of chronic brain fog and various ways to get rid of it and improve your cognitive function.

So, let’s get started.

What is brain fog, exactly?

Brain fog or mental fog is often a symptom of an underlying health condition. It’s characterized by a lack of mental clarity, focus, and concentration.

Brain fog can make it difficult for you to think clearly, remember things, and complete tasks.

It can also cause mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, and irritability. This cognitive impairment can interfere with your work, social life, and relationships in severe cases.

Mild cases of this cognitive dysfunction usually last for a few days or weeks. However, severe brain fog may last for months or even years, affecting people’s lives sporadically.

How do you know if brain fog is serious?

A mental fog episode is considered normal if the person can identify the specific and seemingly harmless cause, such as being tired, lacking sleep, having a cold, or dealing with work-related stress.

However, brain fog is serious if it happens regularly and is now significantly affecting your ability to focus on things and complete essential tasks—if you’re already struggling with your daily functioning.

Also, if your cognitive fog is accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations, it could be a sign of a more serious condition, and you should see a doctor right away.

What causes extreme brain fog and fatigue?

There are many potential causes of extreme fatigue and brain fog. But we listed the most common ones as well as what you can do to aid the causes:

1) Chronic stress

High-stress levels can lead to adrenal fatigue, which in turn can trigger brain fog or mental fatigue. When you’re constantly under stress, your body produces cortisol—the stress hormone—to help you cope with the situation.

Cortisol helps by giving you a boost of energy so that you can deal with the stressful situation at hand. However, if you’re constantly under stress, your body can’t keep up with the demand for cortisol, leading to adrenal fatigue.

When you have adrenal fatigue, you’ll feel exhausted all the time, even if you’ve had a good night’s sleep. You might also experience brain fog, anxiety, and depression.

If you think chronic stress is the cause of your brain fog, there are many things you can do to manage your stress levels, such as exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques.

You can also talk to a therapist who can help you find ways to cope with stress in a healthy way.

2) Sleep deprivation

One of the most common causes of brain fog is sleep deprivation. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body and brain cells don’t have time to repair and regenerate.

This can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, and difficulty focusing on tasks. This is why a chronic lack of sleep can lead to an even serious case of mental fog and immune system collapse.

If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, you can do a few things to improve your sleep quality, such as following a bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and sleeping in a dark and quiet room.

If you still can’t get enough restful sleep, you might have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea. In this case, it’s best to see a doctor so that they can diagnose and treat the underlying condition.

3) Poor diet

What you eat significantly impacts your brain function. A high in sugar and unhealthy fats diet can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage your brain cells.

This can eventually result in severe brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.

To improve your diet, make sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

You should also limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and alcohol. If you need help making healthier food choices, you can talk to a registered dietitian who can create a personalized meal plan for you.

4) Dehydration

Dehydration can also lead to brain fog. When you’re dehydrated, your body doesn’t have enough fluids to function properly.

This can lead to a decrease in the flow of red blood cells to the brain, which can impact your cognitive function.

Dehydration can also cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, which can contribute to brain fog.

To prevent dehydration, make sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. The best choices are water, unsweetened tea, and natural fruit drinks.

You can also eat foods that are high in water, such as fruits and vegetables.

If you’re struggling to drink enough fluids, try carrying a water bottle with you everywhere you go or setting reminders on your phone to drink water at regular intervals.

You should also avoid diuretics like caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you even further.

5) Nutritional deficiencies

Certain vitamins and minerals are essential for the immune system and optimal brain function. If you’re deficient in any of these nutrients, it can lead to brain fog and other cognitive dysfunction.

Some of the essential nutrients for brain health include omega-three fatty acids, iron, magnesium, vitamin B12, and iodine.

You can get most of these nutrients from a well-rounded diet. However, some people might need to take supplements if they’re deficient in specific nutrients.

For example, vegans and vegetarians might need a vitamin B12 supplement since this nutrient is mainly found in animal products.

Anemic people are often recommended to supplement with iron to help increase the flow of red blood cells to the brain.

If you think you might have a nutritional deficiency, talk to your doctor. They can order a blood test to check your levels and recommend the best course of brain fog treatment.

6) Physical inactivity

Physical inactivity can also lead to brain fog and negatively impacts your central nervous system. When you don’t get enough exercise, your body and brain miss out on the many benefits of being active.

For example, exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps deliver essential nutrients and oxygen. It also promotes the growth of new brain cells and connections.

Additionally, exercise can help reduce stress and improve your sleep, both of which are important for maintaining a clear mind.

If you’re not active enough, start by adding more physical activity to your daily routine. This could mean taking a brisk walk around the block or going for a swim.

You can also join a sports team or take an exercise class. The important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it.

Eventually, you might even want to start working out for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.

But if you’re not used to being active, it’s best to start slow and gradually increase your activity level over time.

7) Hormonal imbalances

Hormonal imbalances can also cause extreme brain fog and fatigue. This is because hormones play a crucial role in regulating many bodily processes, including mood, energy levels, and sleep.

For example, an imbalance of the hormone estrogen has been linked to fatigue, poor concentration, and memory problems.

Other hormonal imbalances that can lead to brain fog include imbalances of thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, and sex hormones.

Talk to your doctor if you think you might have a hormonal imbalance. They can order blood tests to check your hormone levels and recommend the best treatment options.

8) Side effects of medications and treatments

Certain medications and treatments can also cause brain fog as a side effect.

For example, some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can lead to fatigue and cognitive problems. Some people even refer to it as the “chemo brain.”

Other common culprits include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and birth control pills.

If you think your medications might be causing brain fog, talk to your doctor. They might be able to switch you to a different medication or adjust your dosage.

You should also let them know about any other medications or supplements you’re taking, as these can interact with each other and cause side effects.

Make sure to read the instructions that come with your medications carefully and report any side effects to your doctor.

9) Exposure to heavy metals and toxic mold

Exposure to heavy metals and toxic mold can also lead to severe brain fog.

Heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, can damage the brain and nervous system. They can build up in your body over time and cause cognition, memory, and concentration problems.

Toxic mold exposure has also been linked to cognitive problems and neurological damage.

Talk to your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to heavy metals or toxic mold. They can order tests to check for these toxins in your body and recommend the best treatment options.

10) Underlying health conditions

There are also many underlying health conditions that can cause chronic brain fog.

For example, sleep disorders like insomnia can lead to fatigue and poor concentration.

Depression and anxiety are also common causes of brain fog. These mental health conditions can make it hard to focus and remember things.

Other potential culprits include autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you have chronic brain fog, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

11) Long-covid or post-covid syndrome

Lastly, the long-covid or post-covid syndrome can also cause extreme brain fog.

This is a relatively new condition that’s being seen in people who have had covid-19.

Symptoms include fatigue, headaches, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating.

Talk to your doctor if you think you might have long-covid or post-covid syndrome. They can order tests to check for the virus and recommend the best treatment options.

Concluding Thoughts

Brain fog can be a debilitating condition that affects many aspects of your life.

If you’re experiencing chronic brain fog, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

You can also make many lifestyle changes to help improve your cognitive function and reduce brain fog.

These include getting enough sleep, exercise, and relaxation. You should also avoid processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol.

Talk to your doctor if you make these lifestyle changes and still struggle with brain fog. They might be able to recommend other treatment options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.

If you want to learn more about getting rid of brain fog, here are more resources on the topic. Also, check out this online community of brain health advocates. 

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