Brain Fog Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
“I feel I’m just getting by on autopilot. I feel delayed with my actions and reactions to questions and situations.”
“It’s almost identical to what I go through when I’m awakened from a dream–just total bewilderment and almost complete inability to process anything that’s going on.”
“Sometimes I am very far off. I’ll pause and get confused in the middle of doing things. I’m drowsy all the time and just don’t know what’s going on.”
“I feel heavy on the front of my head, unrefreshed, similar to a hangover or jet lag.”
“I feel like Dory in Finding Nemo.”
If any of these sound familiar, then you know what “brain fog” feels like. Brain fog is a symptom—not a diagnosis or disease. It leaves a person temporarily unable to concentrate or think clearly.
Not all brain fog is created equally: anything from stress to dehydration to a urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause mild, temporary brain fog. COVID-19 itself may be increasing rates of a particular kind of brain fog seen in “long-haul” COVID cases.
Regardless of the cause, the forecast for the brain remains the same: foggy, forgetful, and fuzzy around the edges.
Fortunately, new treatments, such as the innovative hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) medical protocol at Aviv Clinics, may offer relief from brain fog. Understanding brain fog causes, symptoms, and tips to manage brain fog can help you take charge of this difficult cognitive condition.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog describes a feeling of confusion and forgetfulness, as well as a lack of mental focus. The effects of brain fog can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating.
The term “brain fog” can refer to isolated or minor cognitive effects that last hours or days. Still, it can also refer to significant, constant, and debilitating cognitive struggles.
What Causes Brain Fog?
Brain fog isn’t a specific medical diagnosis, but a side effect of an emotional or medical condition.
Your mental muddiness may be for more common reasons:
- Stress—Stress impacts the entire body—the brain included. When stress becomes chronic, it can negatively affect the brain, inhibiting it from functioning at an optimal level.
- Lack of sleep—Another obvious, but often overlooked, cause of brain fog is lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation interrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with one another, resulting in a lack of focus or clarity. More severe sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, can also cause brain fog and cognitive decline.
- Hormones—Menopause is known for wreaking havoc on the brain. The drop in estrogen levels can trigger memory and concentration issues. Hormonal changes are also known to exacerbate sleep deprivation, which may contribute to brain fog. Learn more about menopause and brain health.
- Diet—Some food allergies have been shown to contribute to brain fog. In addition, a vitamin B12 deficiency (which supports healthy brain function) can drive brain fog. Depression and fatigue are noted as common symptoms in research studies.
Medications—Medications, especially psychiatric and antibiotics, can have side effects that impact brain performance. This is especially common in older adults whose metabolic process is slower, making them more sensitive to medications.
When Should You Be Worried about Brain Fog?
A sign that your brain fog may be cause for concern is when memory problems and other cognitive issues interfere with normal functioning. People with mild cognitive decline and/or early stages of dementia may find they have difficulty completing simple, everyday tasks like paying bills.
This infographic from the National Institute on Aging details some common differences between normal aging and signs of serious memory loss.
Brain Fog and COVID-19
Experiencing brain fog long after recovering from COVID-19 is common. As Aviv physician Dr. Mohammed Elamir, MD, FACP, explains, there is a link between where the COVID-19 virus attacks the brain and how that impacted location affects long COVID symptoms.
If you’ve had COVID-19 and haven’t felt the same since, reach out to a trusted physician.
Your physician may ask about:
- Your current physical activity levels
- Medications or supplements you’re taking
- Possible nutritional deficiencies
- Possible infections and inflammatory diseases/conditions
- A timeline of symptoms
- How symptoms have changed over time
Your doctor may also request a blood test, CT scan, or advanced MRI.
What Can You Do to Fight Brain Fog?
Brain fog may be a sign that your body isn’t operating at peak performance, much like when you get sick with a cold or flu. The brain needs constant oxygen, the right supply of nutrients, and rest in order to function well.
When we fall short in one area of health, it’s easy to spiral out of control. Looking at the list of causes for brain fog, the cycle becomes clear: lack of sleep can lead to stress, which can lead to poor diet, and so on.
Often, the key to managing brain fog lies in good self-care. To ensure general health and wellness, try to:
- Manage stress—Many people find meditation helpful in dealing with stress.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods—Maintain a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients.
- Get enough sleep—What qualifies as a “good night’s rest” varies from person to person, so figure out what is right for you and stick to it.
- Maintain physical activity—Exercise has proven benefits for the brain. Start with 30 minutes per session, three days per week.
- Drink enough water every day—Some cases of brain fog are due to simple dehydration.
- Challenge the brain with games, puzzles, or novel experiences—Here’s a free brain training game to get you started.
- Try intermittent fasting. Many report that intermittent fasting helps clear brain fog and sharpen the mind.
Unique Medical Protocol at Aviv Clinics
An effective cognitive treatment plan may involve hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in combination with cognitive, nutritional, and physiological protocol. Aviv Clinics’ science-based treatment protocol helps to enhance brain performance and reduce brain fog for many conditions like traumatic brain injuries, fibromyalgia, Lyme, and dementia.
Based on over a decade of research and development, the intensive treatment protocol is customized to your needs. Aviv Clinics in central Florida is the only center in the United States to offer this program.
Get Back to Optimal Cognitive Health with Aviv
For more guidance on managing your self-care and staying healthy, contact Aviv Clinics. Our diverse medical team will be happy to provide the personalized care you need to get back to optimal health.
From Diet to Disease: How Food Drives Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation affects the entire body–including the brain. If you have brain fog, memory issues, trouble concentrating, or any kind of cognitive impairment, don’t overlook the effects of diet and inflammation.
Researchers and scientists have understood for a while now that certain aspects of our diet are leading to an epidemic of chronic diseases–from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. Our modern diets are certainly a factor, but why?
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a wide variety of whatever they could find, pick, or hunt, whenever it was available. We’ve evolved to harness nutrients from many foods, and even periods of starvation. As a result, our bodies have a fairly large buffer when it comes to nutritional stress–in other words, we’re biologically designed for diet ups and downs.
Instead of the varied diet of our ancestors, which naturally covered all of the nutritional bases, modern diets rely heavily on fried and processed foods and less on fruits and vegetables. This literally tips the scale by pushing the body beyond its capacity to adapt and igniting the long, slow burn of chronic inflammation.
The good news is that chronic diseases are largely preventable, and changing your diet can go a long way towards cooling down the inflammation.
But what exactly is inflammation, how does it relate to diet, and how can we control it?
Inflammation is good — until it isn’t
Inflammation is not inherently harmful. It’s a natural part of the immune system that the body uses to protect you against foreign dangers.
When the body detects something that shouldn’t be there, acute inflammation often occurs as part of the immune response. You’re probably familiar with this kind of inflammation, clearly visible after an injury in the form of redness, swelling, and pain. In a healthy person, the response is robust enough to meet the threat: it puts the body under stress in order to do what it needs to do. When the threat is gone, the body quickly returns to baseline.
But sometimes the body’s immune system doesn’t operate as intended. It’s as if a minor alarm is going off all the time, subjecting the entire body to constant, low-level stress and inflammation. That in turn leads to chronic disease. Comprehensive protocols, like in the Aviv Medical Program, take diet into consideration when personalizing hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment protocols for brain and physical performance.
Runaway or chronic inflammation
Stress is actually a normal situation for the body; at least, on the cellular level. That even applies to oxidative stress, the kind created by free radicals and ultimately leading to chronic inflammation.
Our body naturally produces free radicals as a result of normal cellular metabolism and they have important jobs in the cell. After they perform their functions, antioxidant molecules help neutralize these reactive free radicals.
It’s about balance: as long as the body has enough antioxidants to neutralize the potentially damaging free radicals, the system runs well. But if something tips the balance, free radicals can build up and cause oxidative stress, which begins a vicious cycle.
Oxidative stress, when out of control, wreaks havoc on your cells. Free radicals are very reactive biochemically because they’re missing an electron, making them unstable. They will essentially rip an electron off any nearby molecule indiscriminately–even your DNA is susceptible. The cellular damage that results is then recognized by the immune system, which kicks off the inflammatory response, similar to that of acute inflammation. While they’re helping clean up the mess, however, immune cells like macrophages actually produce free radicals themselves, making the problem even worse.
Because the chronic immune response is comparatively weak compared to an acute response, it can easily go unnoticed and thus untreated, for a long time.
Health effects of chronic inflammation
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 6 in 10 adults in the US have at least one chronic condition. The CDC defines a chronic disease as “conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” Here are some other facts about chronic disease and nutrition:
- One billion people in the world are overweight
- “Persistent conditions” are the number one cause of death and disability
- 15 million people die prematurely (between the ages of 30 and 69) every year due to chronic disease.
- The US spends $3.8 trillion on healthcare annually; 90% of those costs cover people with chronic mental and physical health conditions
- Fewer than 1 in 10 adults and adolescents get enough fruits and veggies
The World Health Organization (WHO) named chronic diseases as the number one threat to human health, citing just three critical risk factors: tobacco smoke, physical inactivity, and poor diet.
It’s probably no surprise that all of those factors can fuel the cycle of inflammation and lead to disease.
Beware of dietary shortcuts
So can’t we just take antioxidants to balance the free radicals?
Antioxidants became popular in the 1990s, when research first began to reveal that oxidative stress and inflammation were the culprit behind heart disease. Taking antioxidants seemed to be the perfect solution to counterbalance the free radicals produced by our modern diet.
In reality, a supplement pill cannot close the nutritional gaps our diets leave behind. From antioxidants to vitamin C, there are a few reasons why supplements aren’t the answer.
- Most people don’t need them. They were primarily developed for people with conditions that prevent them from consuming or absorbing nutrients properly. In the United States, you’re more likely to be susceptible to over-nutrition or getting too much food for the body to handle. You don’t need 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins and nutrients every single day. The body has adapted to tolerate huge fluctuations in nutrients; some nutrients can be stored for a month or more in your body.
- They can’t improve on nature. When creating a supplement for, say, fish oil, manufacturers would want to be careful to provide purified fish oil with no contaminants, fillers, or unknown variables. It’s the best way to ensure that someone who wants to add fish oil to their diet is getting just that, nothing else. However, this is exactly the opposite of the way that nature works. Most foods are combinations of hundreds of nutrients and many work better together than separately.
- They just don’t work. So far, studies have failed to show that supplements have any benefit for mortality. Moreover, there were some indications that supplements could be harmful in higher doses. Getting the same nutrients from food, however, did lower risk factors for disease and mortality.
Scientists can’t yet explain the exact reasons that supplementation falls inferior to food, but the studies show it nonetheless.
The MIND Diet
There are lots of anti-inflammatory diets out there, but if you want to focus on your cognitive health, check out the MIND diet.
The MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, combines two popular and scientifically proven diets (the Mediterranean and DASH diets, as the name implies) and was specifically developed to optimize the anti-inflammatory effects on the brain.
This diet has a lot of science behind it; modified from two plant-based diets that already have strong research behind them, it’s designed around foods that have proven to have cognitive benefits. Research on the MIND diet itself showed that it works, including 53% decrease in Alzheimer’s risk in older adults when they adhered to the diet.
It’s important to remember that sticking to a particular diet 100% isn’t the goal, and it’s not necessary to get benefits. Studies show it need not be all or nothing–those who followed the diet “moderately well” saw a 35% decrease in Alzheimer’s risk.
The MIND diet has numerous advantages, including its simplicity: it prescribes just 10 foods to eat, including dark leafy greens and other veggies, berries, nuts, olive oil, poultry and fish, and 5 foods to eat less of–including cheese, butter, fried food, red meat, and sweets.
The bottom line
It’s important to remember that any change in the right direction can impact your health. If all you did was find a way to eat a single, big handful of leafy green vegetables every day, you’d be getting a wealth of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and working to slow down the inflammation process that can lead to chronic disease.