Brain fog is an all-too familiar feeling for many people, so familiar that you might have started to believe it’s a normal way to live. While it might feel discouraging to hear that living with brain fog is not normal, the good news is that it’s also not necessary. There are natural, effective and nourishing tweaks you can make to your nutrition and lifestyle that can profoundly impact your brain and clear the fog.
Before we dive into the strategies, it’s important to start with a quick primer on brain anatomy, and explore this idea of “brain fog” more in depth.
Brain Anatomy 101
The human brain is a soft organ that weight just about three pounds. It’s protected by the skull and tissue membranes called meninges. The brain is a truly incredible organ that provides communication between neurons and cells throughout the body via neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that deliver various commands and messages.
The myelin sheath is what protects the brain, and is responsible for ensuring the effective delivery of these messages that ultimately control bodily functions. Diet has an enormous impact on brain health and function, and we’ll get to that more in a moment. Other factors that can disrupt or impact brain function include a trauma (a fall, concussion, etc), exposure to chemicals in products and the environment, chronic stress and a damaged gut.
Brain Fog Symptoms (and More!)
The term “brain fog” is somewhat vague, and might feel a little different between individuals. The following symptoms are common complaints in people of varying ages, and are often chalked up to aging, being forgetful or another “normal” occurrence.
- Poor memory, such as walking into a room and forgetting what you were looking for.
- Brain fog, feeling like thoughts and sentences just aren’t coming together smoothly, feeling in a cloud or a daze. This feeling often leaves you wanting to reach for caffeine or sugar for a boost.
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
- Anger, increased irritability and overly focusing on negative thoughts.
- Inability to concentrate
- A very short attention span
- Low libido
If some or all of these symptoms hit close to home, you can very likely benefit from adopting some of the following habits to clear brain fog and support optimal cognitive function.
10 Ways to Get Rid of Brain Fog (Quickly!)
1. Avoid Trans Fats
Trans fats are thankfully less common in processed foods than they once were as public awareness builds, but they are still prevalent. On a nutrition label you’ll see them hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, so it’s important to be a label detective. Not only are trans fats solidly linked with obesity and a slew of chronic diseases, but they’ve been directly associated with memory problems and other cognitive decline.
2. Cut Refined Sugars
Even though glucose (sugar) is the brain’s primary fuel source (unless you are on a ketogenic diet, in which case fat works as the brain and body’s main fuel), too much sugar is definitely a bad thing for cognitive health. Research shows that overconsumption of sugar, especially fructose, can lead to cognitive decline and memory loss. The easiest way to avoid refined sugar is to steer clear of processed and packaged foods like candy, cookies, cakes, sodas and fruit juices.
3. Skip the Artificial Sweeteners
Unfortunately, trading refined sugar for artificial sweeteners is not the solution when it comes to brain health or overall health. The brain registers the sensation of sweetness whether the taste comes from sugar or chemicals, and for most people this prompts the body to produce and release insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance. This is likely why even artificial sweeteners are similarly linked with obesity, just like regular sugar. Studies link insulin resistance with cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Instead, go for natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, pure monk fruit or green leaf stevia. Small amounts of sugar alcohols like xylitol are probably not problematic for most people, although they can cause digestive upset for some.
4. Eat Healthy Fats
As much as we’ve grown up in a fat-fearing culture, the myth that low and no-fat foods being good for health has been solidly debunked. Our brain is largely made up of fat and depends on good sources of dietary fat to function properly. Especially important for brain development is DHA, the essential omega 3 fatty acid abundant in the brain.
Excellent sources of healthy fats include wild caught fish such as wild salmon, halibut and sardines. Other important fats to include are those found in coconut oil (this is my favorite brand from Nutiva), olive oil, grass fed butter, ghee, avocados, and raw nuts and seeds. This becomes even more important for pregnant women, as insufficient omega 3 fatty acids can negatively impact growing babies.
5. Load Up On B Vitamins
The brain needs B vitamins to survive and thrive, and cognitive function can greatly improve when levels optimal. Great food sources include nutritional yeast, grass fed meats, organ meats, raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and pasture raised eggs.
6. Get Plenty of Magnesium
Magnesium is a key nutrient that plays hundreds of crucial roles in the body, and one is allowing our cells (including brain cells) to relax. What this means in the brain is that magnesium supports something called brain plasticity, meaning ability for your brain to change over time. This is a crucial function of a good memory, cognition and learning.
Magnesium rich foods include dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard and arugula and pumpkin seeds. Another excellent way to up magnesium stores is via epsom salt baths. If you’ve spoken with your provider about supplementation, this is a high quality product from Pure Encapsulations.
7. Balance Your Blood Sugar
High blood sugar and blood sugar imbalances are linked to problems with thinking and memory. While this has been more heavily studied in diabetics, it’s also been seen with less severe blood sugar problems. Eating to support balanced blood sugar means including plenty of protein, healthy fats and fiber with your meals and snacks. It also means (as mentioned above) avoiding blood sugar-spiking, nutrient-void foods like those high in refined sugar and white flour.
8. Enjoy The Sun
Vitamin D3 is also a critical nutrient for brain health. Depending on where you live, you’ll need differing amounts of direct sunlight per day to meet the body’s requirement, and those that live far from the equator might need supplementation. If you live in an area where sunlight is sparse, work with a practitioner to test your vitamin D levels and consider if supplementing is necessary. For example, it may be beneficial to take a daily multivitamin that contains vitamin D to get your levels back to normal.
9. Get Rid of Toxic Household and Hygiene Products
A phenomenal 2014 Atlantic Article looked at studies showing that many chemicals in our environment and personal home and care products can directly lead to cognitive and behavioral problems. While you don’t have immediate control over eliminating all environmental toxins, you can opt for organic and natural home cleaning products, makeup and personal care products (soaps, shampoo, etc).
You can also be sure to choose organic foods as often as possible, wild fish and seafood, glass tuperware over plastic and BPA-free cans, to name just a few. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) website is a fantastic resource for learning more about toxic exposure.
10. Support Detox Pathways
While the word “detox” has become somewhat of a buzz-word, it is important to support the body’s natural detoxification pathways and processes for clear thinking and cognitive function. All of the strategies we’ve discussed here will naturally and effectively support detox, along with drinking alcohol and caffeine in moderation, eating 5-7 servings of vegetables per day and including some detox superfoods like garlic, ginger, turmeric, beets and broccoli sprouts.
I love recommending this book by Dr. Mark Hyman if you’d like to learn more about detox via whole foods and lifestyle.
If brain fog impacts your life, consider trying out these tips to regain focus, clarity and better overall cognitive function. Remember that natural methods like this aren’t a drug so don’t expect an overnight miracle, but you might just be surprised to find how much better you feel after adopting these habits for a few weeks.