Ever found yourself reading the same sentence in a book five or six times? Or have you picked up your phone to complete a task and forgotten what it was you were attempting to do as soon as the screen went live? We all experience occasional brain fog from time to time due to various reasons like insufficient sleep, dehydration, and stress.
Brain fog can be frustrating and annoying. It can cause us to lose productivity and not give our best to tasks we want to excel in. Often we blame ourselves for brain fog, rather than looking at the physiological causes and potential solutions that may exist to help clear some of that fog from our thought processes.
Brain fog isn’t just one thing. It is a variety of sensations or symptoms that get in the way of our concentration, learning, and focus. Brain fog isn’t an official medical condition, so the term can vary in meaning from one person to another. Generally, brain fog can describe any number of mental blocks that occasionally get in the way of our progress throughout the day. Some symptoms include:
It’s helpful to get to know the brain to better understand how we think and process information. The brain is made up of white matter and gray matter. White matter helps us with tasks like communication and requires nutrients and proper blood flow to function properly. Gray matter needs significant oxygen and is the area associated with learning, memory, and reasoning.
Because brain fog isn’t an official medical disorder, it’s not an experience that can be pinpointed as having one cause. However, temporary memory problems or the occasional sensation of brain fog can be caused by multiple events or lifestyle choices, including:
Hormone changes have been shown to cause temporary cognitive changes. One study noted changes in the gray matter of the brain during the third trimester of pregnancy. Menopause can also cause cognitive disturbances. One study suggested that estrogen may provide protection for cognitive function. Finally, if you suspect that a medication you are taking is contributing to your brain fog, or if you have chronic relentless brain fog, it is important to discuss these experiences with your doctor.
Vitamins and minerals play a major role in helping the brain and the rest of the nervous system function properly. There are a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can result in brain fog. These include inadequate levels of B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin D. In addition to vitamins and minerals, the brain also needs adequate intake of healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
There are many brain health supplements on the market, so it’s important to understand which vitamins have been shown to support improved cognition through studies. Whether you’re looking to improve memory or enhance cognitive function, these are ten of the best vitamins and supplements for addressing brain fog. As with any supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, consult your physician before trying any new vitamin or supplement.
Adequate vitamin D levels have been linked to improved cognitive function, memory, and attention. One study found vitamin D to play a part in neurodevelopment. The brain contains vitamin D receptors, so although more research needs to be done, there’s evidence to support its benefits for the brain. Additionally, one of the major roles of vitamin D is the regulation of calcium levels, which is essential for the proper functioning of neurons and neurotransmitter action. For this reason, getting enough vitamin D may help with supporting optimal brain health.
Magnesium is a powerful mineral needed in so many functions in the body, including brain health. It plays a critical role in brain function and mood since it is essential for nerve function and structure. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to poor mood and nervous system issues. On the other hand, adequate levels of magnesium in the brain have been shown to enhance the ability to make new neural connections in the brain and improve mental balance. Magnesium is required for production of the neurotransmitters, including GABA, which promotes calm, and serotonin, which supports mood. Melatonin is produced from serotonin, which is one reason why magnesium can support sleep by promoting relaxation.
With so many roles in issues related to brain fog, it is important to get enough magnesium through diet and possibly supplementation. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, and beans. Processed foods, on the other hand, generally lack magnesium.
Research conducted on animal models has shown that antioxidants can provide protection to the brain. Antioxidant compounds reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals that can cause oxidative damage to cells. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, making it an easy vitamin to consume on a daily basis
B-complex refers to the eight B vitamins. Vitamin B12 supports brain health by providing the body with the ingredients it needs to make myelin, the protective coating around nerve cells in the brain. One study found that elderly people with healthy levels of B-12 had better cognitive function than those studied who did not. When choosing a vitamin B12 supplement, it’s important to choose one with active forms of B12 which like methylcobalamin. This active form is the easiest for the body to absorb and utilize regardless of genetic status.
Choline, found in eggs, is very similar to B vitamins, and is essential for the body to produce the chemical acetylcholine, which is crucial for brain function. Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement that helps increase the body’s choline uptake and promote acetylcholine levels, which could make it beneficial in the battle against occasional brain fog due to lack of sleep, stress, dehydration, or other temporary situations.
While many foods contain B vitamins, some things we consume can deplete B vitamin levels in the body. Alcohol has been shown to deplete B vitamins, which is why it may be helpful to supplement with vitamin B-complex if you consume alcohol regularly.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is naturally found in green and black tea and the mushroom variety Boletus badius. Since L-theanine may help support healthy stress levels, it can be beneficial in curbing this common culprit of brain fog. One study found that L-theanine can positively influence attention and reaction time response and promote neurogenic health.
Ginseng as an herbal supplement is made from the root of the ginseng plant. In one randomized control trial, American ginseng was found to improve working memory, memory speed, and cognitive performance. In the same study, participants who were given the ginseng supplements reported feeling calmer. This is consistent with ginseng’s role as an adaptogen, which means that it’s a substance that aids the body in adapting to stressors.
Care/of’s Focus blend is formulated using clinically-backed ingredients such as vitamin B12, American ginseng, and ginkgo biloba. It can be taken an hour before you need a concentration boost, in order to support healthy cognitive function and assist with focus and mental energy.
Another herbal supplement that is known for its adaptogenic properties is ashwagandha. This extract from a nightshade shrub is used as a stress-relieving tonic, but has also been studied for its cognitive support. In one randomized study, ashwagandha root extract provided both immediate and longer-term improvements in memory, attention span, and information processing speed. Another study found full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract to be effective in promoting mental balance in adults. This group also experienced a nearly 30% drop in their cortisol levels over a 60-day period.
One of iron’s major roles in the body is to help hemoglobin in the blood to transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can reduce oxygen delivery to cells. This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, headache, and possibly brain fog. While iron supplementation may be helpful in certain cases, you should not take iron supplements without measuring a full iron panel, because excess iron can be toxic and cause oxidative stress.
Not all iron deficiency is actually due to inadequate iron intake but rather sometimes due to inadequate capacity to use iron properly in the body. Supporting proper usage of iron in the body, or iron homeostasis, is key.
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that must be obtained from the diet since they cannot be made in the body. These fats help to maintain nerve function in the brain and rest of the body. DHA type omega-3 is present in concentrated amounts in the brain. Early research suggests that DHA may improve the risk for numerous brain issues and may offer neuroprotective benefits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting at least 500 mg of combined EPA + DHA omega-3s daily. You can also get this from eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week. If you don’t meet this recommendation, taking advantage of omega-3 supplementation can be helpful.
Vitamin E plays a crucial role in promoting brain health and function. As a potent antioxidant, it helps protect the brain from oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals. Because of this neuroprotection, vitamin E supplementation has been shown to help slow down cognitive decline associated with aging and improve learning and memory.
Vitamin E can also promote blood flow by both thinning the blood as well as working with vitamin C to support the health of blood vessels. Improved blood flow can enhance overall cognition, as blood flow allows for the proper nutrients and oxygen to get to the brain.
If you’re experiencing brain fog from time to time, the first step to take is to look at your lifestyle and make changes that contribute to overall wellness. That can include the following steps:
Brain fog is the occasional inability to concentrate, the feeling of forgetfulness or distraction. It can be caused by multiple factors, from aging to diet to lack of sleep and hydration. To address brain fog and reduce its occurrence, it’s best to take a holistic approach that takes into account overall body wellness. Getting a good night’s sleep, drinking enough water, and maintaining proper nutrition and physical fitness all can help fight off this mental fog. Supplements can help ensure you get enough of the essential nutrients that support brain health. While occasional bouts of brain fog can come and go, seek professional guidance from a qualified healthcare practitioner if symptoms persist.