(Image sourced from Parade)
By Kaitlin Vogel / June 17, 2021
During times of high stress, it’s normal to lose a bit of focus and lack some clarity. However, when this feeling—often known as brain fog—becomes a regular occurrence, it could signal an underlying health issue.
Brain fog has come into the mainstream conversation over the past year because it’s known for being one of the long-term side effects of COVID. If you’re not familiar with exactly what brain fog means, it typically includes having trouble with memory, feeling distracted, and experiencing mental fatigue. Many have described it as a “foggy haze” that makes it difficult to think clearly and function.
What Is Brain Fog?
“Brain fog” is not a medical term—it’s a term used by patients, not physicians, to describe various cognitive issues.
“The term is often used by patients with fibromyalgia when it is called ‘fibro fog’ or can be used in patients with non-specific cognitive complaints like after a concussion or in patients with multiple sclerosis,” says Dr. Clifford Segil, MD, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “People use brain fog to describe non-specific cognitive complaints which include feelings of being slow, having word-finding problems, being forgetful or having memory loss.”
What Causes Brain Fog?
If you’re experiencing memory loss or delays in mental processing, it’s typically the result of a metabolic imbalance.
“Cognitive complaints and memory loss may be caused by metabolic abnormalities like hypothyroidism or having a B12 deficiency and may also be a presenting symptom of something more worrisome like a brain tumor,” Dr. Segil explains.
Stress can also play a role. “Brain fog or cognitive complaints can be due to increased life stress, metabolic abnormalities, and infrequently due to structural changes in a patient’s brain,” Dr. Segil states. “Patients with multiple sclerosis lose insulation in the nerves in their brain, if the nerves to the eye become frayed then a patient can have painless vision loss and if the wires connecting different sensory areas or in associative areas become damaged patient can also have memory loss or brain fog.”
To find out what’s causing your cognitive issues, visit your primary care physician.
“If patients are having non-specific cognitive complaints, memory loss or brain fog, they should talk about it with their doctor,” says Dr. Segil. “The first step is to look for reversible metabolic causes like abnormal thyroid function. Diabetes with poorly controlled blood glucose levels can also cause cognitive issues.”
Symptoms of Brain Fog
Dr. K.L. Ong, MD, physician and a fellowship-trained 0rthopedic surgeon, shares the top three symptoms of brain fog to look for:
- Lack of clarity in thinking
- Loss of attention and concentration
- A feeling of fatigue and lethargy
“Typical symptoms include forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, mild fatigue, and sometimes irritability, which can come
from the frustration of not being able to break through the fog, especially when you are used to feeling mentally sharp,” says Dr. Stacie Stephenson, certified nutrition specialist and CEO of VibrantDoc.
How to Get Rid of Brain Fog
“The first step is to find out the basic cause leading to brain fog, Dr. Ong explains. “Next is to specifically address any pertinent issue.”
Here are the general guidelines:
Eat a Balanced Diet
“Follow proper nutrition with a balanced diet and adequate intake of fruits and vegetables, avoiding refined carbohydrates, and taking nuts, berries, and a diet rich in omega fatty acids,” says Dr. Ong.
Dr. Stephenson recommends an anti-inflammatory diet, too. “Sufficient sleep and exercise can both help to reduce brain inflammation, but anti-inflammatory foods can combat inflammation at the cellular level by halting inflammation-causing oxidation,” Dr. Stephenson explains. “The medicine: the polyphenols and other antioxidants in food.”
As far as what to eat, incorporating more fruits and veggies into your diet is key.
“Go for brightly colored vegetables and fruits, especially berries—those colors are made out of anti-inflammatory plant chemicals,” Dr. Stephenson states. “Include five or six servings of non-starchy vegetables (like dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage, and other bright veggies like carrots and beets), and one or two servings of low-sugar fruit (like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries) on most days, and you will be using food as brain-boosting medicine. You can help clear your brain fog even faster by avoiding inflammatory foods—especially processed foods and foods containing added sugar.”
Get Enough Sleep
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should be getting seven or more hours of sleep each night. “This includes adhering to a proper sleep-wake cycle, avoiding sources of blue light while sleeping from mobiles or TV. Excess intake of stimulants like tea and coffee should be curtailed,” Dr. Ong states.
Working out regularly is beneficial for your brain health. Dr. Ong recommends brisk walking, jogging, or other aerobic exercises and also to do yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises like Pranayama.
Limit Screen Time
If you’re looking at a screen from 9 to 5, taking breaks is essential. “Overexertion should be prevented by rescheduling or delegating the work; screen time should be minimized, mindless internet browsing should be avoided, more time should be spent with nature, periodic breaks and vacations should be encouraged, consumption should be encouraged of alcohol and other addictive substances should be avoided,” says Dr. Ong.
Incorporate Relaxation Techniques into Your Daily Routine
“Getting a body massage or spa with essential oils and practicing progressive relaxation techniques can be adopted to calm the body and mind,” Dr. Ong explains.
For chronic cognitive issues, it’s imperative to see a healthcare professional. “Any intercurrent medical problems like anemia, diabetes, thyroid disorder, or autoimmune disorder should also be addressed,” Dr. Ong states. “If the symptoms of brain fog are worrisome, it warrants a thorough clinical and nutritional assessment by a doctor to ascertain the cause and to institute appropriate treatment.”