Common Causes of Brain Fog and How to Fix It

Common Causes of Brain Fog and How to Fix It

A lack of mental sharpness. A hazy memory. Poor concentration. These are all signs of “brain fog,” a common complaint that can make you feel like you’re underwater or sleepwalking through your days. It makes it challenging to do your best at work, can bring out the worst in you in relationships, and can make simple tasks seem overwhelming. Brain fog isn’t considered a medical or psychiatric condition, rather it’s a symptom of other problems.

Here are 8 of the most common causes of brain fog.

1. Sneaky food allergies

The foods you eat can either enhance mental clarity or leave you feeling dull and drained. High-glycemic foods that cause blood sugar levels to spike and subsequently crash are common culprits that zap mental energy. In some people, food allergies or sensitivities contribute to brain fog. The worst offenders include gluten, soy, dairy, corn, sugar, MSG, and artificial dyes and sweeteners and can lead to many “mental” symptoms, including cognitive fatigue, slowed thinking, lack of focus, irritability, agitation, anxiety, and depression, among others.

Fog Buster: To determine if food allergies are a problem, try an elimination diet. Stop eating the offenders mentioned above for one month then re-introduce them one by one to see if they impact your mental clarity.

2. Rampant stress

When stress becomes overwhelming it can mess with your mind, steal your focus, and leave you with swirling thoughts. With unrelenting stress, the stress hormone cortisol gets stuck on high and leads to detrimental changes that exhaust the brain. This leaves you mentally fatigued.

Fog Buster: Getting stress under control with relaxation techniques can help clear your head.

3. Untreated depression

Having depression is commonly associated with memory problems, trouble concentrating, and mental confusion. Research in the Annals of General Psychiatry shows that some form of cognitive dysfunction is present up to 94% of the time during the course of depressive episodes.

Fog Buster: Finding out which of the 7 types of depression you have and addressing any underlying factors contributing to the condition may promote sharper thinking.

4. The pills you’re popping

A number of over-the-counter drugs (think sleeping pills and antacids) and prescription medications (such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-anxiety pills, or chemotherapy) can have negative cognitive effects. For example, sleep aids can leave you with a “hangover” effect that clouds your thinking, and cancer-fighting drugs are so well-known for causing cognitive fuzziness, it’s earned the name “chemo brain.”

Fog Buster: Speak with your physician about medication alternatives that don’t compromise cognitive function. If you must take certain medications, get serious about enhancing brain health with other lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, avoiding exposure to toxins, eating nutrient-dense foods, and more.

5. Lack of sleep

As you sleep, your brain is busy performing important processes that help consolidate learning and memory. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your brain can’t complete this work, and it lowers your mental horsepower. Losing out on a single night’s sleep can leave you feeling groggy. When sleep deprivation becomes chronic, it is associated with forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, and lack of focus.

Fog Buster: Make sleep a priority and aim for 7-8 hours each night. Develop an evening routine to promote restful sleep.

6. Hormonal imbalances

People with neurohormonal deficiencies tend to struggle with cognitive issues. For example, when thyroid, estrogen, or testosterone levels are low, it is associated with attentional issues, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. Brain SPECT imaging studies show that people with hypothyroidism have decreased activity in the brain, a pattern linked to brain fog and cognitive impairment.

Fog Buster: Have your hormone levels checked and optimize them if necessary.

7. A past head injury (even one you may have forgotten)

Did you know that a blow to the head, a fall off a ladder, or a sports concussion can cause fuzzy thinking months, years, or even decades later? You may not even recall a head injury, but if you’re struggling with persistent brain fog, it’s a good idea to investigate if underlying brain trauma may be causing it. Functional brain imaging with SPECT can detect hidden injuries to the brain that may be connected to cognitive problems.

Fog Buster: Treatments, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy and neurofeedback, have been shown to promote healing of traumatic brain injuries.

8. Untreated adult ADD/ADHD

Having trouble keeping track of things, struggling to stay organized, and having difficulty staying focused are common signs of brain fog, but they are also classic symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD. Finding out if your issues may actually be adult ADD/ADHD can help you determine how to tackle the issue.

Fog Buster: Getting diagnosed is the first step to finding the best solutions for treating ADD/ADHD and the cognitive issues associated with it. Be aware that ADD/ADHD is not just one thing. Brain SPECT imaging studies show there are 7 types of ADD/ADHD and you need to know your type to find the right treatment plan.

Depression, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

25 Comments

  1. Hi

    I am in Houston TX.
    Is there a place you can recomend for me to get a scan here?

    I am 55, I have brain fog pretty severe.

    Also do you recommend bio-identical hormonal replacement?

    Thank you

    Comment by Jennifer hopkins — June 25, 2020 @ 5:42 AM

  2. Seems to me you might consider developing a relationship with a ‘family doctor’… seeing a doctor once a year at your age is very likely ‘good business’… “Brain fog” for many ‘seniors’ is a matter of ‘lifestyle choices’ many of which need to be re-evaluated as we get older… Sounds like you might benefit from someone reviewing your ‘daily nutritional intake’… Until you actually see a professional feel free to take it from me to 1) cut back on daily sugar intake – read labels – sugar AND salt are in a whole lot of things and they add up… 2) Take at least a short walk
    after each “eating event” (meal or snack)… That’s just for ‘starters’, but if you actually do that you will be on track for a good comeback…

    .

    Comment by Bud Donahue — June 26, 2020 @ 4:12 AM

  3. Fantastic article but diet sodas need to be included! Lots of research is available on the harmful effects of aspartame, Splenda, and other artificial sweeteners. I have 2 sisters who live off the stuff and one, who was super smart (MBA from Vanderbilt) literally has trouble putting together sentences now.

    Comment by Janet Presson, RN, MEd — June 26, 2020 @ 4:17 AM

  4. The Tarnow Center in Housto, Tx is about as close to the Amen clinics as you will find. They don’t have SLECT imaging that I know of. They use a functional EEG. It is out of pocket and not covered by insurance. It was around 2k when I looked into it. Good luck!

    Comment by Missy Dafler — June 26, 2020 @ 4:53 AM

  5. It looks like Atlanta is the closest location to you. Chicago is a good flight option for you but I was disappointed with my visit there so I can’t really recommend that particular clinic. I highly recommend a scan. It was a good tool that we used to guide my treatment. I had a follow-up scan and personally found it useless and a disappointment. The initial scans are certainly worth it. Good luck.

    Comment by Jeff — June 26, 2020 @ 5:48 AM

  6. Where are your clinics located and are they covered by insurance? I am 62 and live near Pittsburgh Pa. and have had too many issues including brain fog to even list. I have Aetna insurance.

    Comment by Roberta Failor — June 26, 2020 @ 5:51 AM

  7. Where is the location of your clinic on the Chicago area.

    Comment by Norma Yoder — June 26, 2020 @ 6:10 AM

  8. I had brain fog, and it turned out I had a mold remediation issue. I saw an MD practioner trained by Dr. Richie Shoemaker, who heloed me restore everything to normal. I was surprised this article did not mention that mold issues cause brain fog and lots of other problems. If you have one of the HLADR genes, your bodies abiltiy to clear toxic mold is poor and the mold spores can recirculate in your body and inflame your brain, and affect different brain areas, I had one of those genes and an MRI showed the classic damage caused by toxic mold in someone genetically sensitive. After remediating my house, changing my diet, taking the prescribed supplements, and taking VIP for a while everything went back to normal. Thank God. Houston, given its geographical area and the flooding problems has become one of the areas with the highest incidence of toxic mold.

    Comment by Jenniffer, Houston has had a lot of problems with toxic mold. Have you tested your house or apartment? https://momsaware.org/mold-testing/83-ermi-mold-testing.html — June 26, 2020 @ 6:21 AM

  9. You may want to add Rheumatoid arthritis or an autoimmune disease to that. I was diagnosed with RA in January and the brain fog is real!

    Comment by Polly Kopituk — June 26, 2020 @ 6:28 AM

  10. Hello Jennifer, thank you for reaching out. We currently have 8 clinic locations (https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/). If you are unable to travel to one of our clinics, our Care Coordinators may be able to provide additional resources or referrals closer to you. We do offer a Hormone Evaluation and Replacement Therapy as a part of services at Amen Clinics (https://www.amenclinics.com/services/). We’d be happy to reach out to you directly to provide additional information. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 26, 2020 @ 7:04 AM

  11. Hello Roberta, thank you for reaching out. We currently have 8 clinics: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/. Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider, and our Care Coordinators can provide additional information regarding insurance, reimbursement, as well as financing options. We’d be happy to contact you directly. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 26, 2020 @ 7:05 AM

  12. Hello Norma, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics Chicago Metro Area is located in Bannockburn, IL: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/chicago/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 26, 2020 @ 7:07 AM

  13. Interesting information, in light of the current 40.5 million dollar study being done by an independent, nonprofit medical research organization (National Institute on Ageing – affiliation of Allen Institute for Brain Studies – Their work is attempting to understand of how the human brain works in health and disease…

    While the study is focusing on building resolution maps of Alzheimer’s patients…identifying how their neurons and other brain cells differ from those of health people. Through a long-range study, including ‘brain fog’ the researchers who independently are involved in the study (not attempting to sell or promote anything) are comparing brain cells across patients with differing stages of the disease, the researchers hope to pinpoint how and where the progressive disorder starts – and ultimately to find new targets for therapy.

    The scientific and medical researchers, in my opinion, realize the disease, i.e. brain study. They look at the totality of the disease, and do not focus on one item, i.e., brain fog, because they know it is one component and requires a totality of the entire disease…not a single factor…

    Thank you…this article prompted me to re-read previous research…

    Comment by Dr. Henry Sinopoli — June 26, 2020 @ 7:22 AM

  14. If you look down towards the bottom of this page (at least it is on my page) there is a link to an Amen Clinic patient who suffered from toxic mold and what was done to resolve her symptoms. I’m glad you were able to diagnose and resolve your issues with toxic mold.

    Comment by Diana N — June 26, 2020 @ 12:57 PM

  15. What about drinking plenty of water — being well hydrated? I had brain fog in the mornings and when I woke up, instead of drinking 8 oz. of water, I drank 16 oz. of water and this helped my brain fog a lot! In the afternoons it’s important for me to drink water — it keeps my energy up and helps with brain fog then too.

    Comment by Patricia Stryker — June 26, 2020 @ 1:03 PM

  16. I definitely have adult ADD/ADHD issues and I went to my doc. He prescribed pills that did nothing and they were over $200 a month and my wife hit the ceiling because of the money because I already take a lot of pills due to heart, prostate, neuropathy and back issues.

    I guess I’m stuck with it.

    But, at least I am handsome. Hahaha, that’s sarcasm in case you didn’t get it.

    Comment by handsome brad — June 27, 2020 @ 4:26 AM

  17. Hi Jennifer,

    You can check with a local University in Houston to see if they are conducting any brain studies. I’m in a study here in Pittsburgh that looks at the effects of hypertension and how it affects your brain. There is no medication involved, but you will get an MRI every couple years (at no cost to you) and they administer memory tests and do blood work.

    It might be worth checking into.

    Comment by Colleen Scott — June 27, 2020 @ 6:02 AM

  18. Roberta,

    Please check with the University of Pittsburgh to see if they are conducting any brain studies at this time.

    I participated in a hypertension and it’s effects on the brain research study. You will get an MRI (at no cost to you), blood work and memory function testing done. The nice thing is they re-check your brain functions every two years to see if your brain activity has changed. You don’t pay for anything.

    Comment by Colleen Scott — June 27, 2020 @ 6:10 AM

  19. I have discovered, that although i wake up a little confused , i can change my day by doing two things.
    The first is food, no dairy, gluten nor sugar ever! If you follow this , your organs and your brain will not swell, as a result of the above foods.
    Second is exersize, a run is best, fast walking. It kind of organizes your chemicals of your brain and gets you back where you feel normal and are able to concentrate.

    Comment by Tony — June 27, 2020 @ 1:07 PM

  20. Another thing to consider is WiFi and electromagnetic fields, which are now ubiqitous around us. And wih the imminent release of 5G, things will get worse for people who are electrically sensitive.

    Comment by Joan Ripple — June 27, 2020 @ 2:48 PM

  21. Negatory, I drink a ton of water and it does nothing for my own brain fog.

    Comment by Brad Taylor — June 28, 2020 @ 8:09 AM

  22. My biggest question other than locations of clinics is whether insurance covers a visit.

    Comment by Brad Taylor — June 28, 2020 @ 8:11 AM

  23. Hi

    I am the same age and may I recommend checking out the carnivore diet? It helped me and if you go to the meat rx place on the net with Dr baker you can follow what that community is doing to benefit physical and mental health. I don’t know if this will reach you given possible censoring of the above info.

    GL

    Comment by Khaled — June 28, 2020 @ 8:37 AM

  24. I am on some medications. Ate a bunch of prune which cleared out my system. Once I was thinking more clearly I tried changing my pharmacy. Made a huge difference.

    Comment by Bridget — June 28, 2020 @ 9:46 PM

  25. Try drinking alkaline water……it’s helping my mom and she is 71. I’m also considering taking her to an Amen clinic somewhere when it’s possible and ok to travel.

    Comment by Dora — June 30, 2020 @ 10:02 PM

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