Ever have those moments where it feels like you just can’t think straight? When it comes at the end of a very long day or after an intense mental activity, you feel tired, unfocused, and can’t seem to get your head in the game. That haze of mental obscurity is what many refer to as brain fog.
The most common symptoms associated with brain fog are:
- Inability to focus
- Poor memory
- Trouble learning new things
- Feeling “groggy” or confused
- Difficulty finding the right word
- Saying one word but meaning another
Preventing Brain Fog
The causes of brain fog generally fall into one of two main categories — either it’s lifestyle-related or a side effect of a medical condition or medication. The most common causes, by far, are related to nutritional and biochemical imbalances that affect the brain and central nervous system of the body, which can be easily corrected with four very simple lifestyle changes.
1. Proper Nutrition
Refined carbohydrates like sugar and high fructose corn syrup allow your blood sugar levels to quickly skyrocket followed by the dreaded and severe crash. Your brain uses blood glucose as its main source of fuel. This puts your brain on a roller coaster ride — first too much, then too little glucose. Low brain glucose leads to brain fog, mood swings, irritability, tiredness, mental confusion, and impaired judgment.
Another mentally devastating diet fad is one that is too low in fat. Your brain is largely comprised of fat — about 60% by dry weight — and research shows low-fat diets have been disastrous for our brains. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a leading expert in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses and author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working, the brain starts to literally “digest itself” for the raw materials it needs to create essential brain chemicals when you don’t eat enough dietary fat.
In order to stave off brain fog, eat foods that are rich in good fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Foods rich in vitamin E and antioxidants such as blueberries work wonders in sustaining good mental health both long and short term.
2. Drink Water
Over 70 percent of your body is composed of water and every function in the body is dependent on water, including the activities of the brain and nervous system. Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all mental and processing functions. According to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, brain cells need twice as much energy as other cells in the body. Water is the most effective and efficient way to provide this energy.
Water is also needed for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Nerve transmission requires half of all the brain’s energy. When your brain’s water reserves are full, you can process information quicker, are more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.
3. Move More
Physical exercise is not only important for your body’s health, it also helps your brain stay sharp. Your brain is no different than the rest of the muscles in your body―you have to train it to ensure its elasticity and strength. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.
Exercise stimulates brain plasticity by triggering growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
Another important benefit of exercise and physical movement is, it increases the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. The brain uses about three times as much oxygen as muscles. Oxygen is vital to brain function and brain healing. Optimal brain function is dependent upon healthy blood flow.
4. Destress and rest
Sleep is essential to proper brain functioning and for mental clarity. The brain needs sleep in order to recuperate. When sleep is regularly interrupted or you only get a few hours of shut-eye, you are more likely to experience brain fog in the morning and throughout the day. While you sleep, cerebral fluid rushes in, “power washing” your brain, clearing it of debris. It’s during sleep that you consolidate memories so you can recall what you learned the previous day.
Stress is very powerful and it can negatively affect the body in a number of ways, including causing brain fatigue which gives way to the fog. Being stressed is often equated with being productive, popular, and successful, however, that is far from true. In fact, prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia, and memory loss. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol leads to a surplus free radicals ‒ unattached oxygen molecules ‒ that damage brain cell membranes, causing them to lose normal function and die.
A healthy brain begins and ends with a healthy lifestyle. Eating right, staying hydrated, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress are the keys to not only avoiding brain fog but ensuring your brain’s overall health long term.
Featured image by Jessica Cross on Flickr