Brain fog is an unwanted and certainly inconvenient side effect of our always-connected lifestyle.
Turns out that once you recognize the symptoms and learn a little about the underlying causes of brain fog. You can come up with a strategy for eliminating brain fog from your life. Once and for all.
In this post you’ll learn how to know if you have brain fog, and its causes. Which are a little more sinister than the name suggests.
And you’ll get tips throughout this post to eliminate brain fog.
Table of Contents
Symptoms of brain fog
Your doctor won’t find a clinical definition of “brain fog” in a medical reference manual. And will likely dismiss your concerns or tell you it’s “all in your head”.
Well, at least she got that part right. Brain fog is primarily in your head.
And your symptoms could be lack of focus, mental fatigue, confusion, forgetfulness, cloudy or slow thinking, and difficulty communicating.
Causes of brain fog
But we have plenty of other peer-reviewed clinical studies looking into the underlying causes of brain fog.
When you dig into the research it becomes apparent that brain fog can be filed under two main categories. It’s either due to a physical/neurological issue or it’s life-style related.
In this post we’ll deal primarily with the underlying neurological problems contributing to your brain fog. And which nootropics best address each of these issues.
Once you’ve read this entire post and are still not sure what is causing your brain fog, I suggest putting together a stack of supplements. One from each category mentioned below.
Chances are you’ll get rid of your brain fog even if you never do figure out what is causing it.
Your brain must “breathe” to think. To understand just how critical oxygen is to your brain, studies demonstrate that depriving your brain of oxygen for just a minute during a stroke kills 1.9 million neurons and 14 million synapses.[ii]
Your brain maintains strict control over how oxygen is used. Because it’s needed for critical functions including synaptic plasticity used in memory formation, and redox signaling for normal mitochondrial function.
These unwanted free radicals that are produced are called “oxidative stress”. Oxidative stress happens when the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your brain overwhelm your built-in antioxidant defense system.
And is often the underlying cause of a host of neurodegenerative diseases including brain fog.[iv]
Oxidative stress has also been shown to increase the likelihood of developing a “leaky” blood-brain barrier. When this barrier becomes permeable it allows all kinds of nasty things to enter and damage your brain.[v]
But we can keep oxidative stress under control with nootropics which act as antioxidants.
Vitamin C (ascorbate) – your brain contains more Vitamin C than any other organ in your body. It’s a powerful antioxidant, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenger. And participates in recycling of other brain antioxidants including Vitamin E.[vi]
Vitamin E – four tocopherols and four tocotrienols: α (alpha), β (beta), γ (gamma) and δ (delta). Protects cells from damage associated with oxidative stress caused by free radicals.[vii] Look for a Vitamin E supplement that is food-sourced with all 8 isomers if you can find it.
L-Carnosine – provides a powerful antioxidant effect and can even help to revive mitochondria even if they have stopped functioning because of oxidative stress.
Gotu Kola – protects your brain from toxins and oxidative stress. Studies show it helps protect against heavy metals and food additives which cause brain fog, mood swings and migraines. And it reduces oxidative stress by reducing free radicals in brain cells.[viii]
The simplest way to find out if your brain fog is caused by inflammation in your brain is to learn how to read the lab tests your doctor ordered.
Learn how to recognize and read your own blood work and you’ll know for sure if you are dealing with inflammation.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a very powerful indicator of inflammation both in your body and brain.
CRP is a protein made in your liver and sent into your bloodstream in response to inflammation.
A low risk reading for a standard CRP test is less than 1.0 mg per liter (mg/L) for women, and less than 0.55 mg/L for men.
A test result showing a CRP level greater than 1.0- 3.0 mg/L is a sign of average risk for inflammation. And CRP readings greater than 3.0 mg/L are high risk.
Elevated levels of C-reactive protein are implicated in developing type II diabetes[ix] and stroke.[x] And elevated CRP levels also manifest as problems with information processing, recall, memory and brain fog.[xi]
And Vitamin E reduces C-reactive protein levels.
Pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1b), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and interleukin-8 (IL-8) all contribute to regulating C-reactive protein.
And being able to recognize these cytokines on your lab tests can help you identify the cause of inflammation happening in brain. The same inflammation that may be causing your brain fog.
These cytokines are cellular growth factors synthesized in nearly every cell in your body. Generally, only in response to stress. There is growing evidence that depression is associated with elevated levels of proinflammatory interleukin-6 (IL-6).[xviii]
Excess proinflammatory cytokines can cause severe inflammation leading to brain fog. And worst case, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
They can deplete neurotransmitters which lead to brain fog. And excess cytokines can even result in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and overall poor mental performance.
Adding Artichoke Extract (Luteolin), Cat’s Claw, Ginseng, L-Glutamine, Oat Straw, SAM-e, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Vitamin B6 (P-5-P), Vitamin B8 (Inositol), and N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC) to your nootropic stack can keep proinflammatory cytokines under control.
But make sure you review each nootropic review linked to above because certain nootropics may only control one or two of these inflammatory cytokines.
Then find out which ones work for what’s indicated in your lab tests.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is secreted by your pituitary gland which controls thyroid hormone secretion by your thyroid. Your thyroid then releases thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3, free).
Thyroxine (T4) contains four iodine atoms, and triiodothyronine (T3) contains three iodine atoms.
A malfunctioning thyroid caused by iodine deficiency results in brain fog. And one of the easiest ways to eliminate brain fog is by simply adding iodine to your daily nootropic stack.
Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at UCLA analyzed more than 160 studies about the effects of food on the brain. And concluded, “Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain”.[xix]
To help put what Professor Gómez said in perspective it helps to understand the composition of your brain.
If you eliminated all the water from your brain, you’d be left with mostly fats in the form of lipids. The rest is comprised of various amino acids, proteins, micronutrients and glucose.
These amino acids, proteins and micronutrients are provided by the food you eat. In a perfect world you would be getting everything you needed from food.
But we know this is not a perfect world. And no matter how diligent you are in eating the perfect diet, you’re still not getting the nutrients your brain needs.[xx]
The result can be anxiety, depression, poor memory and certainly can include brain fog.
For an in-depth study of nootropic foods and their effect on brain function, please see my post: “Nootropic Foods – the Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function”.
With some effort and a little discipline, you can make some simple changes to your diet based on the revelations in that post. And you should feel the difference in how you feel, and how your brain works.
But if you find you’re still not as alert as you should be. Concentration is difficult. And you’re still struggling with brain fog. Consider using a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement.
The Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi is by far the best multivitamin/mineral supplement I’ve ever tried. I can actually feel the difference when using it and continue to use every single day.
Lack of quality sleep
There’s nothing quite like a full deep sleep. And waking refreshed the next day.
In fact, we humans covet sleep so much we’ll try just about anything to help us sleep. Because if we don’t, we’ll be dealing with brain fog the next day.
OTC sleep aids containing the antihistamine diphenhydramine work by preventing acetylcholine (ACh) action.
Low ACh can lead to brain fog, mental confusion, delirium, blurred vision, memory loss and hallucinations.[xxii]
And if you try to go ‘natural’, you’ll find most ‘natural’ sleep aids on the market contain synthetic melatonin.
But not only is this form of melatonin not natural, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine showed something very alarming.
Researchers found that synthetic melatonin content ranged from -83% to + 478%. Contrary to what was claimed on sleep supplement labels.[xxiii]
If you are as sensitive to melatonin as a supplement as I am, taking a chance on nearly 500% more than what you thought you were getting is a big problem.
A much safer and more effective choice in getting a good night’s sleep is 3 supplements that are easy and relatively inexpensive to get.
Tart Cherry is the richest natural source of melatonin. Identical to the hormone secreted by the pineal gland in your brain.
And calms nerve cell signaling, boosts nitric oxide (NO) which helps relax smooth muscle cells, lowers blood pressure, and helps with memory consolidation while you sleep.
And L-Tryptophan is one of the best natural sleep aids available without the unwanted side effects of prescription sleep meds.
It helps in the synthesis of serotonin, and melatonin for a good night’s sleep. And no brain fog the next day.
For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep, please see my post “Best Sleep Supplements to Buy in 2019”.
Lack of BDNF
Higher levels of BDNF can increase cognition, mood, productivity and memory. And decrease the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
But a lack of adequate Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is going to cause a host of problems. Including brain fog.
I have identified at least 13 ways to boost levels of BDNF in your brain with nootropic supplements.
And L-Theanine, which naturally occurs in green and oolong tea, provides antianxiety and antidepressant effects “through induction of BDNF in the hippocampus and the agonistic action of L-Theanine on the NMDA receptor”.[xxvii]
For more ways to increase BDNF in your brain and reduce brain fog, see my post, “13 Nootropics to Boost BDNF”.
Now that you know what brain fog is and the underlying causes of this debilitating condition, it’s time to put together a plan to eliminate it from your life.
The thing is, most of us are not walking around thinking about oxidative stress. But now that you know what it is you can assume it’s something you need to deal with.
Take a look at your latest lab work and find out if you have issues with elevated proinflammatory cytokines (see section above) or C-Reactive Protein (CRP).
If it’s elevated cytokines, choose 2 or 3 nootropic supplements from the list above and use them daily. And tame the inflammation in your brain.
You’ll know you’re successful when you check with yourself in a week and realize there is no more brain fog.
And only you can know if lack of sleep is contributing to your brain fog. If it is, see my post linked above on finally getting some quality sleep.
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) has been called Miracle Gro® for the brain. There is no doubt we need adequate levels of BDNF to function well.
And we have 13 ways to boost BDNF levels in our brain. Add one or two to your nootropic stack.
If you can’t decide which nootropics to try, get a high quality pre-formulated nootropic stack like Mind Lab Pro® which includes Vitamins B6, B9, B12, Citicoline, Bacopa Monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Phosphatidylserine (PS), N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT), L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Pine Bark Extract.
And Performance Lab® Energy can help you keep C-Reactive Protein (CRP) under control. Because it includes Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Coenzyme Q10, R-Lipoic Acid, and PQQ.
Finally, let’s agree that the experts are likely right. We’re not getting the nutrients our brain and body need from the food we eat. Which could be contributing to your brain fog issues.
So using a high-quality multi like the Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi will provide the nutrients you’re not getting from the food you eat every day.
You no longer need to live with brain fog. Using the information in this post and the right nootropic supplements, and you’ll be free of brain fog forever.
[v] Lochhead J.J., McCaffrey G., Quigley C.E., Finch J., DeMarco K.M., Nametz N., Davis T.P. “Oxidative stress increases blood-brain barrier permeability and induces alterations in occludin during hypoxia-reoxygenation.” Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. 2010 Sep;30(9):1625-36 (source)
[viii] Kumar A., Prakash A., Dogra S. “Centella asiatica Attenuates D-Galactose-Induced Cognitive Impairment, Oxidative and Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Mice” International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2011; 2011: 347569. (source)
[x] Ballantyne C.M., Hoogeveen .RC., Bang H., et al. “Lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, and risk for incident ischemic stroke in middle-aged men and women in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study”. Archives in Internal Medicine. 2005 Nov 28;165(21):2479-84. (source)
[xii] Maeba R., Hara H., Ishikawa H., Hayashi S., Yoshimura N., Kusano J., Takeoka Y., Yasuda D., Okazaki T., Kinoshita M., Teramoto T. “Myo-inositol treatment increases serum plasmalogens and decreases small dense LDL, particularly in hyperlipidemic subjects with metabolic syndrome.” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo). 2008 Jun;54(3):196-202. (source)
[xiii] Abidov M., Grachev S., Seifulla R.D., Ziegenfuss T.N. “Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood.” Bulletin of Experimental Biology & Medicine. 2004 Jul;138(1):63-4. (source)
[xiv] Madsen T., Skou H.A., Hansen V.E., Fog L., Christensen J.H., Toft E., Schmidt E.B. “C-reactive protein, dietary n-3 fatty acids, and the extent of coronary artery disease.” American Journal of Cardiology. 2001 Nov 15;88(10):1139-42. (source)
[xv] Sahebkar A. “Effect of L-carnitine Supplementation on Circulating C-reactive Protein Levels: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” Journal of Medical Biochemistry 2015 Apr; 34(2): 151–159. (source)
[xvi] Sanchez-Moreno C., Cano M.P., de A.B., et al. “High-pressurized orange juice consumption affects plasma vitamin C, antioxidative status and inflammatory markers in healthy humans.” Journal of Nutrition. 2003 Jul;133(7):2204-9. (source)
[xvii] Wang X.L., Rainwater D.L., Mahaney M.C., Stocker R. “Co-supplementation with vitamin E and coenzyme Q10 reduces circulating markers of inflammation in baboons.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004 Sep;80(3):649-55. (source)
[xviii] Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Preacher KJ, MacCallum RC, Atkinson C, Malarkey WB, Glaser R. “Chronic stress and age-related increases in the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2003 Jul 22;100(15):9090-5. (source)
[xxi] Morgan P.T., Kehne J.H., Sprenger K.J., Malison R.T. “Retrograde effects of triazolam and zolpidem on sleep-dependent motor learning in humans.” Journal of Sleep Research. 2010 Mar;19(1 Pt 2):157-64. (source)
[xxii] Fox C., Smith T., Maidment I., Chan W.Y., Bua N., Myint P.K., Boustani M., Kwok C.S., Glover M., Koopmans I., Campbell N. "Effect of medications with anti-cholinergic properties on cognitive function, delirium, physical function and mortality: a systematic review." Age and ageing. 43 (5): 604–15 (source)
[xxiii] Erland L.A.E., Saxena P.K. “Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2017 Feb 15; 13(2): 275–281. (source)
[xxv] Konar A., Shah N., Singh R., Saxena N., Kaul S.C., Wadhwa R., Thakur M.K. “Protective Role of Ashwagandha Leaf Extract and Its Component Withanone on Scopolamine-Induced Changes in the Brain and Brain-Derived Cells” PLoS One. 2011; 6(11): e27265. (source)
[xxvii] Wakabayashi C., Numakawa T., Ninomiya M., Chiba S., Kunugi H. “Behavioral and molecular evidence for psychotropic effects in L-theanine.” Psychopharmacology (Berlin). 2012 Feb;219(4):1099-109. (source)