Written by Alaina Alexander on
May 31, 2021
Written by Alaina Alexander on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

When someone says they’re feeling “brain foggy,” it can be hard to pinpoint what the problem is. There are many different causes of brain fog that can lead to a feeling of constant confusion and mental fatigue. However, the right combination of nutrients, sleep, and exercise can help clear up brain fog in just a few days!

What is brain fog?

Brain fog is a vague term that refers to an overall feeling of mental cloudiness. It is used to describe many brain-related symptoms and cognitive impairments, including memory loss, confusion, concentration problems, inability to make decisions or think clearly. The condition may be temporary, or it can last for years. It is a symptom of other medical conditions, many of which are treatable.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s causing your symptoms—but there are lots of potential culprits.

What is COVID-19 brain fog?

COVID-19 related brain fog has the same symptoms as normal brain fog. It’s just the causes that are different here, such as fatigue from damage to organs like the lungs or heart and being unable to exercise.

What are the causes of brain fog?

There are many explanations for why your brain is not working well. Take a look at this list and see if any of these are factors for you.

1. Stress

For many people, stress can be difficult to manage. The thing here is that stress can cause brain fog. This is because stress can put a lot of pressure on your brain; it is mentally exhausting, as anyone with chronic stress knows.

It’s important to find ways to manage your stress. One way is by getting a good night’s sleep and practicing deep breathing exercises before bed each night. This will help you relax more so that the next day you’re not as stressed out, which can decrease pressure on you.

Stress can also be managed by taking regular breaks and trying meditation or yoga to help cope with the pressure. Doing these things will also give you more energy which in turn helps improve focus as well!

2. Lack of Sleep

Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep a night. Are you getting enough?

A reason why lack of sleep causes brain fog is that while you’re sleeping, your brain clears out toxins from your body which can cause foggy thinking or sluggishness in other parts of your life. It also has time to repair itself at night, so it will be better able to function when you wake up in the morning.

One way to get better quality sleep is making sure the room is dark; this is due to light being such an important factor in the circadian rhythm. Turn off sources of blue light such as your computer and phone, or invest in blackout curtains. Another thing you can do is avoid alcohol or heavy meals before bed.

Also, your mattress and pillow should be comfortable so they don’t cause any issues with pain or stiffness, which can also lead to poor sleep quality.

3. Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes during puberty, menopause, pregnancy, or cancer treatments can cause brain fog by throwing off the balance of hormones in your body.

Changes in the levels of progesterone and estrogen can affect memory, creating a temporary cognitive impairment. This is commonly seen with premenstrual brain fog. Low thyroid or adrenal function are also hormone-related reasons.

To treat brain fog from hormonal changes, doctors will typically prescribe hormone therapy or anti-depressants that regulate those levels. There are also over-the-counter supplements you can use to support hormone balance, such as natural progesterone cream.

It’s also important to manage stress as it can worsen these symptoms. To do this, try taking a break and putting aside any tasks you’re working on while you stretch or get some fresh air.

4. Menopause

Menopause brings major hormonal changes that can lead to brain fog. Normal aging leads to a decrease in estrogen, which is the female sex hormone, and one of its primary purposes is regulating brain functions like learning and memory.

Estrogen helps to protect the brain from damage when it is at risks, such as during a stroke or traumatic injury. When estrogen levels are too low, the brain is more vulnerable to injury.

A common symptom of menopause that also exacerbates brain fog symptoms is hot flashes or night sweats which can disrupt sleep and cause dehydration when you’re not drinking enough water. This may lead to hormonal imbalance in combination with lack of sleep leading to a feeling of confusion.

5. Thyroid Conditions

According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic, nearly one-third of people with thyroid issues reported feeling that their mental abilities were affected.

While a person’s brain fog may be caused by either an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), hyperactivity leads to anxiety and irritability, while depression and brain fog are more likely in cases of hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism for the brain as well as the body, and when low affect memory and cause difficulty concentrating.

It is estimated that while up to 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, over half are unaware. Thyroid disorders often go undiagnosed because there are no symptoms at first, and they mimic other conditions such as fatigue or depression. When hypothyroidism is left untreated, it can lead to major health complications such as heart disease, infertility, miscarriages, and even death.

6. Diet

A poor diet can be a cause of brain fog due to a lack of nutrients and vitamin deficiencies. This is especially true for those who suffer from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, where they have a severe calorie restriction and don’t eat the proper diet.

Certain foods, like sugar and processed carbohydrates, can affect the microbial environment within our gut, promoting the growth of bad bacteria and yeast and leading to brain inflammation.

Keep your brain clear by including important brain health foods such as salmon, eggs, walnuts, spinach, and kale. Instead of refined carbohydrates, go for whole grains and vegetables high in fiber that feed good gut bacteria.

Take omega-three supplements like fish oil capsules which promote healthy nerve function in the brain’s membrane, as well as keeping your mood elevated! Including B-12 in your diet can help prevent memory loss and cognitive dysfunction associated with getting older.

7. Allergies

Food allergies and sensitivities are also triggers that may worsen brain fog after eating those foods. For example, if you are allergic to wheat or milk or sensitive to MSG or aspartame, it is best to avoid these in your diet.

One method is avoiding major common allergens like corn or soy for a month and sees if your cognitive function improves.

The best thing you can do is to consult with a dietician, naturopath, or other health care practitioner knowledgeable about food sensitivities and brain fog.

8. Dehydration

It’s important to stay hydrated so your body retains essential levels of sodium and electrolytes, which can lessen concentration. And stay away from too many caffeinated beverages (like coffee) and sodas, which can lead to dehydration.

If you’re experiencing brain fog after drinking alcohol, try switching drinks for something non-alcoholic like a fruit smoothie or club soda with lime.

The fact is that water helps flush out toxins in the brain, and a lack of water can lead to feelings of heaviness or confusion. Drinking at least eight glasses per day is recommended.

9. Medications

Certain medications can aggravate brain fog by causing side effects such as sleep deprivation, hormone imbalances, and fatigue.

Antidepressants can help with depression but may make brain fog symptoms worse in other ways. Sedatives and pain medicines can depress your thinking abilities. Anticholinergic medications such as antihistamines and bladder control medicines block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and cause mental fatigue.

If you’re taking medication and experiencing a lack of brainpower, talk to your doctor about whether there’s an alternative that might not cause as many side effects. You may be able to find a combination of over-the-counter supplements or prescription drugs that counter the worst symptoms without causing other problems.

10. Medical conditions

Many conditions that cause fatigue will also cause brain fog; also, medical conditions involving inflammation or blood sugar control could be the culprit.

It may be autoimmune disease-related like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or lupus brain fog. It can be certain blood conditions such as anemia, high blood pressure, or a blood sugar imbalance related to diabetes. It could be associated with an endocrine condition such as hypothyroidism or adrenal fatigue.

11. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

One particular medical condition recognized as a cause of brain fog is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition that we still do not know that much about. Theories on its cause vary all the way from viral infection to psychological stress; it may also be related to an autoimmune disease or a combination of factors. One clear thing about this condition is the fatigue is persistent and lasts over six months.

While there is no specific test to confirm CFS, a diagnosis is often made through physical examination, including the collection of blood work and other diagnostic lab tests to rule out other issues with similar symptoms.

How it’s diagnosed

Brain fog is diagnosed by evaluating the cause of your fatigue. It may indicate an underlying issue, so your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your diet, exercise habits, mental health, and current supplements. Let your doctor know if you have any other symptoms to help them pinpoint the underlying condition.

They may order blood work to detect nutritional deficiencies, abnormal blood sugar levels, poor organ function, or inflammatory conditions. Allergy testing or a food diary may be used to find the cause of brain fog if it develops after eating certain foods. It may be beneficial to participate in a sleep study when there is suspicion of an underlying sleep disorder.

It’s important to note that brain fog is not a mental disease but rather a physical condition, even though it can have an impact on how you feel and behave.

How to get rid of brain fog and improve focus

The best way to get rid of brain fog and improve focus is by treating the underlying cause. Which usually means changing your diet, getting enough uninterrupted sleep, or taking care of any other medical issue that may be causing you stress.

In the event fogginess was caused by a dietary imbalance, adopting healthier eating habits and taking B-vitamins could be an effective treatment. If you suspect stress is the culprit of your brain fog, then you may want to try a new method of stress relief like yoga or meditation. Other potential treatments for brain fog can include sleeping more than usual and avoiding stimulants like caffeine or nicotine.

If brain fog stems from a hormonal imbalance, then you should consult your doctor about the most appropriate treatment option for you. If it comes as a result of an underlying medical condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or thyroid disorders, then medication and other treatments will be necessary.

There are so many causes of brain fog– but most aren’t life-threatening, and they can typically be fixed by making some changes in lifestyle habits like getting more sleep, eating well, reducing stress, etc., while talking with a medical professional if brain fog is coming from a more serious underlying health concern.

What is the outlook for brain fog?

Different causes have different outlooks. Some brain fog treatment will be necessary if brain fog is caused by medication; for example, you might need to talk to your doctor about switching medications or lowering the dosage until cognitive problems clear.

Other causes may be less serious and may go away with simple changes like drinking more water, taking a yoga class to destress, or giving your brain a break every now and then. Think of a balanced, protein-rich diet such as eggs for breakfast or salmon with veggies for dinner!

In most cases, you should be able to see an improvement within 48 hours of taking steps to alleviate the problem with proper diet and nutrition. Then you can look forward to more energy and a better mood overall since there is no longer cloudiness or sluggishness when trying to do tasks; we feel happier because our brains have time for creativity during these periods – this includes being able to come up with new ideas at work or school environments where before we would just sit there blankly staring into space without really improving.

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