Six Common Causes of Brain Fog and How To Combat Them
Do you forget where you parked your car at the store? Do you email the wrong person because you’re thinking of someone else? Do you begin a task and almost immediately forget what you’re doing?
Research suggests that one in seven adults between the ages 18 to 39, and one in four adults older than 39, will experience some short-term memory loss.
If this sounds familiar, then you and millions of others could be suffering from “brain fog,” also referred to as “baby brain” by new mothers, and referred to as mental fatigue by the medical community.
Brain fog is a noticeable sign that your lifestyle and diet need an upgrade.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is not a diagnosis; rather, it’s a general term that describes a series of symptoms. For example, you might have issues with short-term memory, or lack of concentration or mental clarity, or the inability to focus on a task.
We all have days like this, but if you experience brain fog on a regular basis, then it might be the result of a nutritional deficiency or an underlying health issue. Mental fog can make decision-making especially hard, and it can interfere with daily work or home life. Once you can identify the cause of brain fog, you can take steps to minimize its effects. What might cause brain fog? Here are a few theories.
1. Oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is a blanket term that describes the state caused by two things: excessive reactive oxidative species (ROS) production or a reduced antioxidative defense system.
One or both conditions can lead to cellular chaos, cell death, permanent tissue damage, and chronic disease. ROS are created by anything that causes stress: for example, poor diet, smoking, sedentary behavior, environmental factors, psychological stressors, and abnormal sleep patterns.
Oxidative stress affects the brain’s cortex, hippocampus, and striatum, which govern your memory network.1
What to do?
To combat these free radical production pathways, your system can benefit from supplementation of vitamins A, C, E, and omega-3 fatty acids.* Additional antioxidant support can be obtained from glutathione and CoQ10.*
2. Hormone imbalances
Baby brain can be a real thing, especially during the first half of a woman’s pregnancy. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can cause an expectant mother’s forgetfulness. Although the brain is on high-alert throughout a pregnancy, short-term memory changes can be attributed to elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen.
But a person can experience hormonal imbalances whatever their sex or stage of life. During menopause, estrogen decreases can cause memory problems and cloudy-headedness. In men, a lower testosterone level at any age can explain mental fatigue.
Your thyroid gland can also be an important contributor to brain fog.
Thyroid hormones connect directly with the brain to regulate energy, metabolism, and executive function, and both hypo- and hyperthyroid can explanation memory issues.2
What to do?
Check your hormone levels. Thorne’s two at-home tests – Fertility and Thyroid – measure these hormones and the results can help you understand your specific levels and how they are affected by diet and lifestyle.
3. Dietary Inflammation
Inflammatory foods can increase pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood and brain, leaving you with low-grade inflammation that can manifest as a foggy brain. In some cases, being overweight can contribute to inflammation.
Inflammation stresses your body and rapidly uses up nutrients – specifically the B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamins C and E.
What to do?
Pinpoint those foods that might be contributing to inflammation. Common dietary culprits are refined sugars, vegetable oils, processed meats, and alcohol. Genetic analysis, followed by allergy blood tests and an elimination diet, can indicate if you are susceptible, intolerant, or allergic (or not) to common allergens, such as proteins in dairy products, eggs, and gluten.
4. Chronic infections
You could be walking around with a viral, fungal, or bacterial infection with little to no other symptoms other than brain fog. One of the most common lingering infections is an overgrowth of Candida yeast that occurs naturally in your body.
Candida is a fungus that hides in your mouth and gut. It can overgrow from stress, from a high-sugar diet, or from antibiotic use that leads to an imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria in the gut.3
Because your gut communicates directly with your brain, miscommunication can alter your memory capabilities.
What to do?
See your health-care professional for the appropriate diagnosis and treatment options. Take a probiotic supplement with antibiotics, antifungals, or other medications prescribed to support your immune health.* Eat plenty of antifungal spices like cinnamon, cayenne, or garlic, as well as foods high in fiber.
5. Prescription medications
Benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety act directly on the parts of the brain that convert short-term memories into long-term memories. Statin drugs lower cholesterol everywhere in the body, including in the brain, where cholesterol is needed for connections between nerve cells.
Narcotic painkillers change chemical signals associated with cognition. Beta-blockers to treat hypertension also block chemical messages in the brain, such as neurotransmitters. Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics prescribed for sleep can act on many of the same brain pathways and chemical messengers as benzodiazepines.
Sleep aids can cause amnesia and sometimes trigger dangerous or strange behaviors, such as cooking a meal or driving a car with no recollection of doing so on waking up.
What to do?
Discuss using non-prescription alternatives with your health-care professional. Thorne has 14 products that can mitigate stress and twelve products that support restful sleep.* Thorne’s Hemp Oil+ can relieve physical discomfort, and Thorne’s magnesium, omega-3, and Perfusia-SR® products support normal blood pressure levels.*
6. Sleep apnea
Sleep institutes estimate that 9% of women and 24% of men suffer from sleep apnea, a common breathing disorder in which the upper throat muscles relax when sleeping, restricting air to the brain. This lack of oxygen can cause brain arousal in all sleep stages, resulting in your body not receiving the high-quality, highly-oxygenated sleep it requires. You wake up in a fog that will adversely affect your energy and metabolism all day. Sleep apnea can affect people of any age, including infants and children, but it is most frequently seen in men over 40, especially those who are overweight or obese.
What to do?
For proper diagnosis, get a sleep test at a sleep laboratory or an at-home test, although losing weight is a risk factor you can tackle on your own. Modify your diet, portion sizes, and meal timing, and add 150 minutes of low to moderately intense exercise and weight-lifting to your weekly schedule. Set a starting goal of a 10% weight loss to help reduce this risk.