The various causes of brain fog range from stress and anxiety to medication side effects and nutritional deficiencies. Many other potential causes fall in between.
Depending on what’s causing your brain fog, there could be a simple solution, or a more complex treatment plan.
“Brain fog” is a term used to refer to periods of lapsed concentration, confusion, lost focus, and a lack of mental clarity. Brain fog can present itself in many different ways. You might notice that you feel slow or fuzzy, or find yourself struggling to concentrate on conversations. When experiencing brain fog, you may also be having a hard time accomplishing your tasks at work.
When brain fog strikes, it can leave you feeling unaccomplished and frustrated. Brain fog can also, unfortunately, result in procrastination, dissociative binge-eating, and anxiety. When dealing with brain fog, you struggle to concentrate on anything, but still try to connect with the world around you. With dissociation, you feel like you’re not connected to your own body and surroundings, which often coincides with brain fog.
In this article, we’re going to explore some of the causes of brain fog and discuss the different treatment options available for this well-known issue.
Brain Fog Symptoms: What is Brain Fog?
When you have brain fog, you’re not feeling clear-headed, and you’re often having trouble thinking or making decisions. Brain fog is a popular term used to refer to all kinds of moments of poor focus or concentration. The symptoms often vary, but experiences usually start with mental fuzziness. You might find it hard to fully focus on a thought or idea. Some people are more easily distracted during periods of brain fog, or they may have a hard time making decisions.
Common examples of brain fog at play include:
- Using excessive caffeine or sugar to improve alertness
- Snacking or binge-eating to improve energy levels
- Feeling distracted, or skipping from one task to the next
- Forgetting about tasks on your to-do list
- Struggling to make decisions, or making small choices into a big deal
- Taking longer to complete simple tasks
- Struggling to focus on a specific challenge
Some periods of brain fog are short-lived, lasting only an hour or two. In more severe cases, people can suffer from brain fog almost constantly. The condition can last for days, making it much more difficult to accomplish your goals.
What Causes Brain Fog?
What causes brain fog, and why do you feel so sluggish and foggy? The brain is a complex environment in need of regular stimulation. When you experience brain fog, it’s usually a sign that something is off in your life. You may be dealing with too much stress or anxiety. Alternatively, you could have an issue with your nutrient intake.
Though the causes of brain fog are still being investigated, some of the most common include:
Stress, Anxiety or PTSD
Chronic stress has a significant impact on our mental and physical health. The more stress you have, the weaker your immune system becomes. Your blood pressure can skyrocket, your anxiety levels go up, and you might even struggle from depression. With so much going on in your body, your mental resources begin to deplete, leading to brain fog.
Though feelings of stress and anxiety are common in our daily lives, excessive exposure to these feelings have a direct impact on how well we function. If your brain is constantly being bombarded with cortisol (the stress hormone), it will start to struggle with simple tasks like thinking clearly, or making simple decisions.
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can often cause brain fog as a side effect. PTSD affects brain areas like the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, impacting both your emotional health and your ability to process thoughts and feelings fully. Even during recovery from PTSD, certain factors can trigger brain fog, such as experiences that remind you of past traumatic experiences.
Learning how to reduce your stress through meditation, regular exercise, and even routine changes could reduce your risk of brain fogginess.
We need sleep to function. During periods of rest, your brain recuperates, rejuvenates, and organises your thoughts. Without this crucial period of relaxation, your brain becomes exhausted, and your thoughts become disorganised and confusing.
Adults need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, where they can move through both Rem and non-REM sleeping patterns. During these sleeping schedules, your brain processes the memories from the day and prepares itself to deal with new experiences. If you’re not getting enough sleep, try changing up your routine. Consider creating a nighttime ritual to help you relax, such as listening to music, or taking a hot bath.
Hormone Changes and Thyroid Disorders
Changes in hormone levels create brain fog. If you’ve ever heard of “pregnancy brain”, you’ll know that pregnant women usually get brain fog as a symptom during their pregnancy. Higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone can sometimes cause short-term cognitive impairments and lead to problems with memory preservation.
A thyroid disorder could also be the cause of your brain fog issues. Your thyroid is responsible for producing and releasing the hormones that control everything from your breathing to your heart rate. It also has a direct impact on how you think and feel. A thyroid disorder can lead to various problems, including weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, muscle weakness, and digestive issues. Because your hormonal levels will be out of balance, your focus will suffer too.
Dietary Issues and Nutritional Deficiencies
Knowing your nutritional needs and deficiencies is crucial for good health. A DNA test can show you whether you’re suffering from issues caused by too little of a certain nutrient in your diet. For instance, vitamin B-12 deficiencies are frequently connected to brain fog.
Vitamin B12 contributes to the formulation of red blood cells in the body and the maintenance of the central nervous system. A deficiency in this vitamin can significantly impair energy levels and create feelings of fatigue. Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to brain fog because low levels of vitamin D are usually linked to poor cognitive function.
If you have certain food sensitivities or allergies, you might also suffer from fog after eating certain foods, like dairy, peanuts, or MSG.
Medications and Medical Conditions
The causes of brain fog can also link to your use of certain medications for various medical conditions. Brain fog can be a side effect of many drugs, and it’s particularly common after cancer treatments (often called, “chemo brain”).
Certain medications may not cause brain fog straight away, but instead, have an impact on your concentration levels over time. Similarly, there are various medical conditions that might increase your chances of brain fog. For instance, chronic fatigue syndrome often leads to brain fog, as do problems like:
- Autoimmune diseases
Mental health conditions are particularly likely to impair cognitive function. Research suggests that depression can cause various kinds of fatigue, both physical and mental – prompting a higher risk of brain fog issues. Taking the right medication and getting the correct treatment could be the key to overcoming this issue as quickly as possible.
Figuring Out if You Have Brain Fog
If you’ve noticed issues with lack of concentration or focus lately, the best thing you can do is speak to your doctor. If you already have a basic idea of what kind of nutritional deficiencies you have, or the kind of medications you respond badly to, you may be able to offer insights into why your issues of brain fog are becoming more prominent.
Most doctors will conduct tests such as blood tests to check for symptoms of other conditions, as well as the underlying causes of brain fog in your condition. Your doctor might discover the presence of certain inflammatory diseases, poor thyroid function, abnormal glucose levels, or nutritional deficiencies. Based on your test results, your doctor can decide whether to investigate further.
Your doctor may ask you about your current stress level or past trauma, in case stress or anxiety is causing your brain fog.
Following the diagnosis of your condition, your doctor can begin to offer suggestions on how to tackle brain fog.
Brain Fog Treatment Options
Just as the causes of brain fog are varied, the treatments available can differ as well.
If you know your issue is directly connected to a specific problem, this is a great way to kickstart your treatment. For instance, if you’ve got a nutritional deficiency, increasing the right amount of nutrients in your diet (like B12 and Vitamin D) could help to get your mind back on track.
Some doctors even advise regimens such as intermittent fasting to help with the recovery of the digestive system and the development of cognitive strength. Intermittent fasting may be an effective tool in decreasing the prevalence of the neurodegenerative disease.
Other options for brain fog treatment might include:
- New Exercise plans: Neurodegenerative disorders and cognitive dysfunctions are often more common among sedentary people. Increased activity levels can help to improve mental acuity and rejuvenate the brain. Regular exercise also helps you to build better health and fitness levels overall, so you can tackle challenges more readily.
- Improved sleep routines: Providing your brain with the right amount of regular rest is crucial to avoiding brain fog. Updating your sleep hygiene strategy with things like a regular bedtime schedule and less caffeine could be the key to overcoming brain fog problems.
- Feeding your brain the right foods: providing your brain with plenty of valuable foods, such as protein and omega-3 fatty acids could be a great way to improve brain health. Your doctor will be able to suggest foods to add to your diet for better brain health.
If you’re feeling foggier these days, and you’re not sure why, you could check for possible genetic conditions via a Circle DNA test.