What is Brain Fog and How Do I Beat It?

Maurice Beer M.D.
April 21st, 2021 · 7 min read
Medically Verified
It’s no wonder that brain fog can seem so hard to deal with - the symptoms might be similar for most people, but the list of causes is just about endless. If you’re interested in finding out what could be causing your brain fog (and more importantly, how to get rid of it), just keep going.

Key takeaways

  • Brain fog symptoms vary from person to person; by the time you notice that something’s up, you’ll probably already be experiencing an array of symptoms like severe fatigue, constant irritability, or forgetting the simplest details
  • The toughest thing to figure out is what’s causing the brain fog, but it can usually be linked to a handful of causes like stress, hormonal imbalance, nutritional deficiency, or exposure to toxins, among other things
  • Everyone’s experience with brain fog will be different - it could happen at almost any age, interfere with your weight loss efforts, or even dampen your libido
  • Whatever turns out to be causing the brain fog, you’d definitely benefit from things like getting more consistent sleep, exercising, and intermittent fasting

A 30-second summary of brain fog

The medical community may not recognize brain fog as a diagnosable condition, but if you’ve had it, you know exactly what you’re talking about. One day you wake up…and just can’t seem to wake up. You can’t remember where you put anything, the right words are impossible to remember, and everything is ten times more irritating than usual.
On the surface, this might look like a simple case of a bad night’s sleep. If it keeps happening, though, it could be part of a bigger problem. The brain relies on all kinds of factors to work smoothly - balanced hormones, low toxin levels, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and all that good stuff. If one of these factors isn’t keeping up with the brain’s needs, things start lagging - resulting in brain fog. It’s not all bad news, though. Once the cause of the brain fog is discovered, it’s usually fairly straightforward to manage or even eliminate.

What does brain fog feel like?

It’s basically the mental version of driving a car without using the steering wheel. The engine may be running, but who knows where that car’s going to end up. Your mileage may vary when it comes to the exact symptoms you experience, but it’ll probably look something like this:
  • Sudden irritability towards people or things that hadn’t previously been a problem
  • Difficulty concentrating on basic tasks, or feelings of confusion
  • Headaches that seem to come out of nowhere
  • Forgetting words, names, or scheduled events
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Trouble getting a decent night’s sleep
Looking at this list, the symptoms might seem alarmingly close to dementia, but fear not - brain fog and dementia are definitely not related.

What causes brain fog?

It’s time to bring out the detective hats - before brain fog can be fixed, it has to be linked to the root cause. While brain fog can be a symptom of all kinds of different conditions, it isn’t usually too hard to narrow it down; here’s a list of the most likely causes to get you started.
  • Stress - when the body is constantly producing stress hormones, the brain eventually adjusts to categorize certain things as an emergency, and other things as dispensable. It’s a biological coping mechanism that’s meant to conserve energy for the important stuff, like perceived “threats”, but it results in a lot of details falling by the wayside. When was that meeting again? No idea, but that dog is barking so loudly. And voila - brain fog.
  • Infections - there’s the obvious kind of “stress”, but there are also viral or bacterial infections that freak out the immune system. It’s thought that infections can cause brain fog through oxidative stress - and yes, this means that brain fog can be a symptom of COVID-19. If it’s any consolation, though, brain fog has a seemingly limitless list of potential causes; there’s no need to run out and get tested just because the car keys keep getting lost.
  • Imbalanced hormones - most people could probably use a little help to optimize their hormones, but your levels get too far off-center, it could be pretty much impossible to think clearly. Menopause is actually a big culprit for hormone-related brain fog, but this can happen to anyone who experiences a dip in certain hormones like estrogen. What can cause hormones to fall? In many cases, it’s cortisol - the stress hormone. Cortisol competes with several key hormones, so chronically high cortisol = not enough of the other hormones. What happens when your brain has to function without the right hormones getting to their usual receptors? Enter brain fog, stage left.
  • Thyroid disorder - it seems like certain hormones get all the attention these days (looking at you, estrogen and testosterone), but the thyroid makes some pretty important hormones too. The two main players are called T3 and T4, and they help regulate things like your metabolism, body temperature, digestion - and cognitive function, which is where the brain fog comes in. These hormones are so influential that if the levels are too high or too low, it’ll be impossible for your brain to fire on all cylinders until the imbalance is fixed.
  • Nutritional deficiency - low levels of just about any nutrient will eventually mess with your mental clarity, but the main vitamin to pay attention to is B12. It’s an essential part of the process of delivering oxygen to the brain, which is obviously important.
Other nutritional deficiencies that can result in brain fog are low iron, vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium. Vitamin D is technically a hormone, but it’s often treated as a vitamin and is easy to supplement.
  • Food allergy or sensitivity - the classic “allergic reaction” symptoms are caused by elevated histamines - chemicals that your body produces when it senses too many allergens. Not only can histamines give you symptoms like rapid swelling, itching, or rashes, but they can also cause brain fog. Everyone reacts differently, and not every food-related reaction will include really obvious signs like itching or rashes - it could just result in overall grogginess. If you start feeling fatigue, dizziness, or a general lack of mental clarity after a meal, that could point to an allergy or sensitivity.
  • Toxicity due to heavy metals or mold - there are plenty of environmental toxins that can cause brain fog, but heavy metals and mold are a couple of the heavy hitters. They both cause high levels of oxidative stress, which is known to cause brain cell death (among other things). Once they’ve made their way into your system, the brain fog will be there to stay until the toxins are taken care of.

Does brain fog affect certain people more than others?

Yes and no.
There’s no clear answer like, “anyone over 65 is more likely to experience brain fog”. This might seem obvious, but essentially anyone who’s experiencing one of the causes of brain fog…will probably experience the brain fog itself at some point. With that in mind, it is true that certain groups - like new parents, menopausal women, etc. - are more likely to run into issues with brain fog than, say, teenagers or toddlers.

How long does brain fog last?

That all depends on what’s causing it. If it’s a result of a food sensitivity, it could just last a few hours. Just wait for your body’s natural healing responses to kick in, and the brain fog will hit the road. Something like heavy metal toxicity or a rough menopause, on the other hand, could last for months or even years, especially if you aren’t proactively trying to fix the imbalance or toxicity.

How does brain fog affect someone’s diet and their ability to lose weight?

Again, this is pretty subjective - but there’s definitely a pattern too. If you struggle with brain fog, you’ll probably also struggle with the daily grind - and exercise will be one of the first things to go. If you have brain fog, you won’t just have issues with concentration and energy levels; you’ll also have a hard time keeping up your motivation to eat well.
To get more specific, any of the potential hormonal or immunological factors that are causing the brain fog can actually cause weight gain too. Take thyroid issues, for example - hypothyroidism is known for making it difficult to shed weight.

How does brain fog affect sex drive?

It’s all about the hormones. Biologically speaking, a person’s sex drive exists for procreation. If you’re sick, stressed, or have limited nutritional resources, your body will start dialing down certain non-essential functions - like producing enough hormones to maintain a healthy libido.
Brain fog won’t cause a low sex drive, but it will certainly accompany it - all day long, and all night too. Most of the issues that cause brain fog are also notorious for causing a low libido, especially stress.

How can brain fog be treated?

The specifics of each individual’s treatment will depend on what’s causing the brain fog, but there are a few things that should help pretty much anyone suffering from chronic mental cobwebs.
  • Getting enough sleep is important - even more than usual. You can’t recover from feeling groggy and worn-out if you’re only getting 60% of the sleep you actually need.
  • Meditation can be a double-edged sword against brain fog. Not only will it reduce your overall stress levels, but it can also help your brain practice calmer patterns of thought.
  • Intermittent fasting can improve brain function. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Studies have shown that fasting encourages neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, which are necessary for brain health. Still sounds complicated? Here’s an easier version - just skip breakfast.
  • An appropriate level of exercise can be helpful as well. Physical activity is a way of telling your body that it needs to get up and go. If this is happening at around the same time every day, it helps to fix your sleep-wake cycle. 

What are the options for a more specific treatment plan?

Getting rid of brain fog will be a different process for everyone, but the first step is always to figure out what’s causing it. Taking brain-health supplements like Focus Factor is a good strategy, but if you want to bring out the heavy artillery, you won’t have to do it on your own.
Even if you have a general idea of what’s causing your brain fog, a service like Base could provide all the answers you need. Base’s at-home test kits focus on key biomarkers - in this case, hormone and vitamin levels that are tied to brain function and energy levels.
After the initial test gets sent off to the lab, the results will be available in the Base app in about a week. Base gives more than test results, though; they also give personalized recommendations for a science-backed treatment plan. Monthly or quarterly tests will show the progress that’s been made, and Base will continue to fine-tune the personalized plan until the issues are finally conquered.
Brain fog and lack of energy can be a big hill to get over, but fixing them doesn’t have to be! No matter what the root cause is, Base can help anyone get their life back to normal.

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