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.
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.