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Although ‘brain fog’ is a fairly vague term, most people have a sense of what it means. Typically it refers to your ability to think and remember. For some, it’s more of a difficulty with focus, whereas for others it’s a difficulty in recalling facts or names. No matter how it is defined or described, it can be incredibly frustrating for people who at one time had normal cognitive function, but now suffer with a deficit in this area.

I have come across many patients from a variety of scenarios where this mental challenge is felt. In this article I will give my naturopathic medical perspective of the most common causes and the most effective treatments for ‘brain fog.’

The Brain Fog Checklist

Do you suffer from any of these descriptive terms for brain fog?

  • Difficulty thinking
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Forgetful
  • Cloudy
  • Hard to find the right words
  • Mental fatigue
  • Slow
  • Mind goes blank
  • Spacey
  • Difficulty processing what others say
  • Exhausted
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty processing what you read
  • Confusion

What Causes Brain Fog?

Nutritional deficiency – top nutrients required for brain function include vitamin B12, iron and magnesium. All three are required for energy production so it only makes sense that these commonly relate to poor focus and cognitive health overall

Head injuries – remember the times that you hit your head, it may have been through sporting activities, slipping on icy steps, falling down the stairs/ladder, or one too many motor vehicle accidents. These cause persistent brain inflammation which will affect your ability to think as well as mood changes.

Hormonal changes – from pregnancy, andro/menopause, to chemotherapy and hormone-blocking drugs in cancer treatment, there are several scenarios that can have a noticeable impact on brain function. Another common problem is the hormonal impacts of stress – this leads to elevated cortisol hormone which can disturb brain health. Thyroid disorders are also a potential cause of brain fog.

Sleep disturbances – this one is fairly obvious, if you’re not sleeping sufficiently, then your daytime cognitive capacity will suffer. It’s quite common that those with sleep apnea have problems functioning mentally through the day. When you don’t sleep well, your stress hormones rise.

Digestion and food intolerances – if you have persistent digestive disturbances such as bloating, constipation, heart burn, then there is a chance you may have a risk for brain fog. Some may even notice cognitive reactions to eating certain foods, this is a type of brain inflammation due to food reactions that impact your inner immune system. This group of problems can be part of what is called ‘leaky gut syndrome’ or even ‘leaky brain syndrome’ where incompletely digested foods, microbial fragments and toxins gain entry into the sensitive parts of your body through the digestive tract and through the blood-brain barrier, to cause cognitive havoc. Several animal studies have demonstrated that the Western style diet (high in saturated fats and added sugars) can lead to such disturbances.

5 tips for how to Deal with Brain Fog

Based on the above causes and associations with brain fog, you can start to develop some reasonable strategies for resolving or improving brain fog. For example, if you suffer with maldigestion then part of your strategy would be to improve your digestion, such as by using digestive enzymes, probiotics and to take time to properly chew your meal.

One: consume omega-3 fish oil. This has been found to be a cognitive enhancer, which can benefit people at various ages. A review study published in 2017 in the journal Current Neuropharmacology discusses how omega-3 oils are fundamental for brain structures and can reduce neuroinflammation leading to improved cognitive functions.

Two: get your sleep. If you sleep 7-9 hours each night, chances are you will have the energy for your brain to work well for the waking hours in your day. When you sleep, melatonin (a neurohormone) is produced which has been found to improve brain functions, attention and focus.

Three: get your core nutrients and hormones tested. Test for sufficient iron, magnesium and vitamin B12 and correct any deficiencies, your brain will work better when such deficiencies are resolved. Several hormones are important for brain function, such as estrogen, testosterone and melatonin. Make sure your levels are in the recommended range for your age.

Four: get your head checked. What I mean is if you have had head injuries, it is worth your while to get more detailed neurological tests and related treatment.

Five: herbs can help. Several herbs can help with your level of focus and can help clear the fog. One group of useful herbs are called ‘adaptogens’ which can help your body (and brain) adapt to stress, these can include ashwagandha, rhodiola, ginseng and holy basil. Bacopa is a herb native to South Asia which has been shown to benefit those with problems with memory and inattention both in the young and elderly. Several other herbs can be helpful here including ginkgo, Lion’s Mane, etc.

Dr. Rahim Habib ND
About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.