Do you find yourself unable to concentrate? Is this combined with problems with your memory and overall cognitive function? If so, you might be suffering from what is known as “brain fog.”
Although tough to describe, the generally accepted symptoms of brain fog include forgetfulness, trouble thinking, hard time focusing, difficulty communicating, and clouded thoughts. Several conditions are associated with brain fog, including celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, postural tachycardia syndrome, mastocytosis, and other neuropsychiatric disorders. Many patients who have undergone chemotherapy also report experiencing brain fog, something often referred to as chemo brain or chemo fog.
What do these conditions have in common? And why do they lead to mild to moderate cognitive impairment? There are many potential underlying reasons behind brain fog, although inflammation in the brain might be a main contributing factor. This dysfunction might also arise due to deficits in how the brain processes information or reduced blood flow in the brain.
So, what can you do to improve brain fog? Well, removing certain foods that lead to systemic and neuroinflammation, such as gluten, foods to which you are allergic, highly processed carbohydrates, and certain additives is an important step to take.
You also want to be sure to nourish your brain by providing it with the main nutrients it needs to efficiently function: antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin D, and the B-vitamins. Incorporate some or all of the following foods to fight your brain fog and improve your cognitive health.
Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. There are two omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is the one that is found in the brain, and it participates in several key functions in the brain: neuroplasticity, neuron differentiation, neurogenesis, and membrane integrity. When any of these functions breaks down, it can lead to impairment in brain processes and function. Therefore, you don’t just want omega-3 fatty acids; you want DHA. To further help improve brain fog, omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation in the brain.
Salmon is famous for its rich supply of the beneficial fatty acids, especially DHA (2.208 grams for half a fillet). As an added bonus, salmon is also a rich source of the B-vitamins and vitamin D. Just be sure to choose wild salmon.
Avocados are rich in many brain-healthy nutrients, including healthy fats and vitamin E. Avocados are a source of oleic acid, the good fat associated with the healthy benefits of olive oil. In one study, intake of avocado oil reduced oxidative stress, including lipid peroxidation, and prevented mitochondrial dysfunction in the brains of diabetic rats. Oxidative stress is associated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, so it is possible that it also plays a role in the development of brain fog associated with other disorders. By consuming foods that mitigate oxidative stress like avocados, you prevent some of the damage that could lead to brain fog and other cognitive dysfunction.
As mentioned above, antioxidants are necessary for brain health. The high level of activity in the neurons means increased requirements for mitochondria, the cell’s energy source. As such, there is a constant supply of both energy in the form of ATP and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Although ROS do have a physiological purpose, they also contribute to oxidative stress. Once the oxidative stress becomes more than what the body’s antioxidant capacity can handle, issues arise. Antioxidants counter oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, which contributes to several neuropsychiatric disorders, and potentially brain fog.
Blueberries are one of the fruits with the highest levels of antioxidants, but there are plenty of other foods from which to choose for copious amounts of brain-healthy antioxidants, including pomegranates, plums, grapes, cherries, kale, beets, blackberries, strawberries, green tea, and cocoa.
Nuts and seeds also play a role in fighting brain fog. In epidemiology studies, those who consume more fruits, vegetables and nuts had better cognitive health than those who did not. This is most likely due to the many phytochemicals found in plant-based foods.
Walnuts in particular deserve to be in your arsenal for fighting brain fog, as long as you are not allergic, thanks to the high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Studies have found that eating walnuts led to reduced neuroinflammation and oxidative stress, as well as improved interneuronal signaling and neurogenesis.
Although not technically a food, water is an essential nutrient for your brain. In one study, one of the main triggers of brain fog in patients with postural tachycardia syndrome was dehydration. This makes sense, since dehydration leads to brain shrinkage and increases in the ventricular volume.
In a study that looked at the effects of dehydration on cognitive performance in healthy adolescents, the researchers found that although cognitive function was not immediately affected, the brain required more effort to perform the same task. Although the brain might adapt in the short-term, chronic dehydration might lead to deficit in brain function and contribute to the feelings associated with brain fog.
Therefore, before you even start to decide what foods to add or remove from your diet, make sure you are adequately hydrated. Ideally, you want to drink filtered water. You can infuse it with lemon, other fresh fruit, and herbs if you do not like the taste of water. Avoid drinking too much juice, coffee, and tea, and do not turn to soda when you need a drink.
When deciding what foods to eat to fight your brain fog, turn to those rich in antioxidants, the B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and vitamin D. Focus on consuming lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while minimizing the foods that contribute to inflammation, such as sugar and gluten.