Suffering From Brain Fog? Here’s Why…
Do you forget where you’ve left your keys? Do you message the wrong person because you’re thinking of someone else? Do you go downstairs to get something then completely forget what is it you’ve gone to retrieve?
If this rings a bell, you, like many millions of others around the world, could be suffering from mental fatigue, or as it is more commonly known, ’brain fog’. Research indicates that 15% of adults between the ages of 18 and 39, and 25% of adults aged over 39 will experience some form of short-term memory loss; therefore, if you do find yourself suffering from brain fog, it’s important to know you’re not alone.
In today’s piece, we’re going to delve deeper into brain fog, examine what it is, and, most importantly, identify the six major causes of this all-too-common short-term memory-related condition.
Brain Fog: What Is It?
Contrary to popular belief, brain fog isn’t a diagnosis; instead, it is merely a generic term that describes a specific set of symptoms, examples of which are typically related to problems with short-term memory, lack of concentration or ability to concentrate, or being unable to 100% focus on the task in hand.
While there is no doubt that we all have days like this from time-to-time, if you find yourself experiencing brain fog on a frequent basis, then it may indicate some form of underlying health condition or nutritional deficiency. Mental fatigue can interfere with everyday life, make decision-making more difficult and generally effect you home and work lives, respectively. However, once you identify the reason for your brain fog, you can take action to reduce the impact it has on you and your life.
Brain Fog: Causes And What You Can Do To Combat It
Here are six theories:
Oxidative stress is a blanket term that is typically used to describe the state caused by two occurrences: excessive reactive oxidative species (ROS) or a reduction of the antioxidative defence system. Either or both of these can lead to cellular mayhem, cell death, tissue damage (temporary or permanent), and, chronic (often metabolic) disease.
Reactive oxidative species (ROS) are typically caused by anything that induces stress, i.e. a diet that lacks nutrients, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of physical exercise, a sedentary lifestyle, mental stress, inadequate sleep or prolonged disturbed sleeping pattern etc. Research has shown that oxidative stress has a negatively impact on the cortex of the brain, in addition to the striatum and hippocampus, areas that control and are responsible for your memory network1.
How can you combat oxidative stress?
To fight back against the production and actions of free radicals, try supplementing with vitamins A, C and E, along with omega-3 fatty acids. For further antioxidant support, consider Coenzyme Q10 and glutathione based supplements.
Mental fog or ‘baby brain’ is common during pregnancy, particularly during the first three to four months. The hormonal changes that are induced by pregnancy can cause forgetfulness in an expectant mother. Although the brain is still on high-alert all the way through pregnancy, short-tier alterations in memory are attributed to the increased levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
However, it is not just during pregnancy that hormone changes and imbalances can cause brain fog – they can occur at any stage of life in both men and women. The latter typically suffer brain fog during the menopause due to decreases in the hormone estrogen, which causes short-term memory loss and other typical symptoms of mental fog. Men can also experience this when going through the andropause (the male equivalent of the menopause).
Furthermore, thyroid hormones are also directly connected with the brain and play a role in executive function, metabolism and energy regulation, and both hyper- and hypothyroidism can explain memory problems.2
How can you combat hormone imbalances?
The only way to know whether or not you have a hormone imbalance is to check your hormone levels, which, for most accurate results, are best done via a blood test. A full fertility panel is advisable (for both men and women), as this will cover a wide range of hormones and will give a clear overall picture of your fertility/reproductive hormone. Additionally, a thyroid test is also a wise idea given the profound effect hyper- and hypothyroidism can have on short-term memory and the like. Once you have a full hormone profile, you can ascertain any existing issues and proceed to discuss them with your doctor or a healthcare professional to see what recourse is available (if necessary).
Inflammation places a considerable amount of stress on your body and rapidly depletes stores of a plethora of vitamins, including vitamins A, B, C, and magnesium. Furthermore, certain foods can increase the amount of (pro-inflammatory) cytokines in both the brain and the bloodstream, which can result in low-grade inflammation, which, in turn, might manifest itself as mental fatigue aka brain fog. In some instances, being overweight may also increase levels of inflammation.
How can you combat diet-induced inflammation?
Firstly, you must identify which foods may be the culprits and causing you inflammation. Although it is impossible to say what these will be, in the vast majority of cases, processed meats, dairy products, refined sugars, alcohol, and vegetable oils are to blame. This should be followed by genetic analysis, with allergy blood tests to follow. If at this point you’re still finding it difficult to pinpoint the exact causes(s), an elimination diet will help to ascertain if you are intolerant or allergic to certain common allergies, such as dairy, gluten and eggs.
I know what you’re thinking; ‘Surely I’d have more urgent and serious things to worry about if I had a chronic infection!’. Well, that might be the case, but in some instances, the only symptom of chronic infection is brain fog. One of the most commonly-experienced, long-lasting infections is an overabundance of Candida yeast – a yeast that occurs naturally within the human body.
Candida is a type of fungus that resides in your mouth and gut. An overgrowth of this fungus can occur for a myriad of reasons, including a high-sugar diet, stress and antibiotic use that can result in an imbalance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that resides in the gut3. Because your gut and brain are in direct communication, any disturbances to this can have an adverse effect on your memory, which may result in mental fatigue.
How can you combat chronic infections?
As with all health-related issues, it is always best to seek professional medical advice as your first port of call, as this will allow you to find out what problems exists and how they can be treated. Consuming probiotic supplements with any antibiotic or antifungal medications will help to maintain the balance of bacteria in your gut. Eating antifungal foods such as garlic and cayenne may help also.
Some prescription medications may have an adverse effect on the brain, which can result in brain fog. Here are a handful of examples:
– Benzodiazepines – drugs that are typically prescribed for anxiety and depression – interact with specific areas of the brain that convert short-term memories into long-term ones.
– Cholesterol controlling statins decrease levels of cholesterol in every part of the body, including the brain, where cholesterol is required to maintain and preserve connections between nerve cells.
– Opioid-based painkillers alter the chemical signals associated with cognitive function.
– Beta-blockers that are commonly used to treat hypertension, also inhibit chemical messages, such as neurotransmitters, within the brain.
Prescription medications to assist sleep can sometimes induce amnesia and potentially trigger dangerous behaviour, with no recollection of said behaviour upon waking.
How can you combat the effects of prescription drugs?
Always discuss the side effects of any prescription medications with your doctor or healthcare professional prior to beginning a course. Before opting for pharmaceutical drugs, try natural or herbal supplements first to see if they have any noticeable, positive effects on your symptoms.
According to the latest statistics, almost 10% of women and 25% of men suffer from sleep apnea. Although this breathing disorder can affect anyone, it is most typical in men over the age of 40 – particular those who are overweight or obsessive.
Sleep apnea, if you weren’t aware, is a commonly-occurring breathing condition that relaxes the upper throat muscle when sleeping, which, in turn, restricts air to the brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain during sleep can induce brain arousal throughout all stages of sleep, which results in the body not getting the high-oxygenated – and, therefore, high-quality sleep – it requires.
When suffering from sleep apnea, you will often wake up with mental fog that will have negative implications on both your metabolism and energy during your waking hours.
How to combat sleep apnea?
If you think you’re suffering from sleep apnea, speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional to discuss the possibility of having an in-home or laboratory sleep test. The key to tackling sleep apnea is losing weight, which can be easily done through a calorie-controlled diet and frequent exercise. Consider modifying your current diet plan, portion sizes and meal/eating timing, and add in five 30 minutes bouts of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog; we really do appreciate it a lot! If you’d like to learn more about brain health, cognitive function, nootropics (‘smart drugs’), and everything related to our grey matter, feel free to head over to our homepage and browse our blog posts. Or, alternatively, use the search function if there’s a topic you’re specifically interested in.
If you can’t find information on a specific brain-related topic, get in touch and we’ll try and write a blog post on it!
1. Ferbinteanu, J., 2016. Contributions of Hippocampus and Striatum to Memory-Guided Behaviour Depend on Past Experience. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015782/
2. Samuels, M.H., 2014. Psychiatric and cognitive manifestations of hypothyroidism. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4264616/
3. Severance EG;Gressitt KL;Stallings CR;Katsafanas E;Schweinfurth LA;Savage CL;Adamos MB;Sweeney KM;Origoni AE;Khushalani S;Leweke FM;Dickerson FB;Yolken RH; Candida Albicans Exposures, Sex Specificity and Cognitive Deficits in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. NPJ schizophrenia. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27336058/