As I sit here typing this, it's Friday morning, the effects of my large iced coffee have already worn off, and, as the week has declined, so too has my mental capacity. I'm dubbing this state "Friday fog," which, as it turns out, isn't too far off. We toss around the phrase "brain fog" with the same nonchalance as "absent-mindedness" or my personal favorite, "brain fart," but what seems like an otherwise passing idiom is actually a real medical condition.
"Brain fog is an extremely common term used to describe changes that have occurred in brain function over a period of time," says Christopher L. Calapai, DO, an osteopathic physician board-certified in family and anti-aging medicine. "A decrease in focus, concentration, memory, alertness, and word retrieval are all part of the description of 'brain fog.' In my experience, over 30% of the patients that I see have some significant problems with focus concentration and memory." Symptoms include headache, forgetfulness, anxiety, confusion, trouble sleeping, and low energy.
What's interesting, though, is that this doesn't apply solely to older patients—in fact, brain fog can occur as early as your late teens. To learn more, keep scrolling.
Worst case scenario, the condition could be the result of a larger issue. "In the younger population, brain fog could be caused by infection, including virus and bacteria," Calapai explains. However, something as simple as your diet could be causing cloudiness. "Food allergy [ed note: gluten intolerance is a big trigger] and inhalant allergy also contribute to the symptoms. Sugar, alcohol, refined carbs, and even caffeine overdose can mess with our brains, too. Calapai adds, "As we age, increased exposure to heavy metals in water, food and household products as well as chemicals in food can affect brain function."
There's also a direct connection between our hormones and our mind. Think about it—when our cycles kick, we often experience mood swings, and when women are pregnant, it's common to feel the effects of "pregnancy brain." But on any given day, fluctuating hormones can mess with your mental clarity.
"In the 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond, hormone decline can play a major role," says Calapai. "Decrease in the production of thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, testosterone, and female hormones can alter focus and concentration." Also, if we have high levels of cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone, thinking clearly and making informed decisions becomes a struggle.
Lastly, inflammation (which is the basis for many mental disorders like Alzheimer's and depression) is a leading cause of brain fog. This is due to overactivity of the immune system, but thankfully, eating an anti-inflammatory diet will help combat this.
Calapai credits vitamin deficiency as a common cause of change in brain function, so taking supplements like B vitamins could help, but he recommends testing for all of the above underlying causes and contributors. A fix could be as simple as shifting from a diet high in processed foods, carbs, and sugars to whole, earth-made foods like salmon and spinach, or drinking less alcohol and caffeine. Foods rich in antioxidants also help with brain function, like blueberries, dark chocolate, and artichoke. However, if the cause is something more serious, like an infection or hormonal imbalance, your doctor may then treat accordingly with medication.
It's also important to get plenty of sleep if your concentration levels are down and irritability is up. Snoozing for at least seven to eight hours each night helps boost brain performance.
Lastly, to keep cortisol levels down, take part in stress-reducing activities like yoga and meditation. Just 15-minutes of breathing exercises each day will help reduce anxiety and boost relaxation and centeredness.
Have you fallen victim to brain fog? What have you found helps it? Please tell us in the comments!