Brain fog is a term used to describe a condition in which a person experiences cognitive difficulties such as memory problems, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, confusion, and a general feeling of mental sluggishness. It is often described as feeling like one's thoughts are "foggy" or "clouded." Brain fog can be caused by various factors, including stress, lack of sleep, medication side effects, hormonal imbalances, or underlying health conditions.
You may have brain fog if you notice any of the following symptoms:
An inability to focus
A lack of mental clarity
This complex condition can be caused by a variety of factors and may manifest differently in different people.
Chronic stress is a primary cause of brain fog. Research shows that chronic stress may lead to multiple health issues such as increased blood pressure, a weakened immune system and depression, all of which can contribute to mental fatigue.[i].
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep is another factor for brain fog. Getting adequate sleep, usually around 8 to 9 hours per night, is essential for proper cognitive functioning. Sleeping too little can lead to poor concentration, ‘fogginess’ and forgetfulness[ii]
Hormonal changes can also trigger brain fog. Women may experience brain fog during pregnancy or menopause due to changes in hormone levels. During pregnancy, increased levels of hormones like progesterone and oestrogen can affect memory and temporarily affect cognitive impairment. Similarly, a drop in oestrogen levels during menopause can cause forgetfulness and poor concentration[iii] [iv].
Adequate consumption of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, are essential for healthy brain function. Deficiencies in nutrients can contribute to the development of brain fog[v].
Additionally, some people may experience brain fog after eating certain foods due to food allergies or sensitivities. Removing trigger foods from one's diet may improve symptoms [vi]. Nutritional therapists can help to pinpoint which foods and food groups may be an issue for you. Read more on how nutritional therapy can help below.
Certain medications can also cause brain fog as a side effect. If you notice brain fog while taking medication, it is important to talk to your doctor.[vii]
Finally, certain medical conditions can cause brain fog as a symptom. Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anaemia, depression, diabetes, Sjögren syndrome, migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, and viral strains of flu are all associated with mental fatigue and cloudy thinking. Identifying the underlying cause of brain fog is crucial to finding effective treatment[viii] [ix]
Bacopa monnieri is a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to positively impact memory and focus. Research suggests that the plant's bacoside compounds can cross over from the blood into the brain tissue, known as the blood-brain barrier. Certain substances can prevent the breakdown of chemicals in our brain that are responsible for important brain functions like memory and learning. When these chemicals are not broken down, they can continue to work in our brain and help us think better. Additionally, these substances can also assist in creating new pathways in our brain which can further improve our cognitive abilities.[x].
Studies suggest that Bacopa monnieri has the potential to enhance brain function. One study found that it increased the length and branching of brain cells, called dendritic cells, which are closely linked to learning and memory[xi].
Another 12-week study conducted on 46 healthy adults showed that taking 300 mg of Bacopa monnieri daily, significantly improved their visual information processing speed, learning rate, and memory. Similarly, a 12-week study conducted on 60 older adults found that taking either 300 mg or 600 mg of Bacopa monnieri extract daily significantly improved memory, attention, and information processing ability, in comparison to the placebo treatment[xii][xiii]. Bacopa Monnieri (60 Caps)
Ginkgo biloba has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for its neuroprotective properties. Its root bark and leaves contain ginkgolide compounds that stimulate higher concentrations of the brain power neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, in specific brain regions associated with short-term memory and decision-making[xiv]. Additionally, these compounds promote cerebral blood circulation, which is beneficial for brain health[xv]. Ginkgo Biloba Drops
Rosemary contains compounds known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help protect the brain from damage. One study found that the aroma of rosemary essential oil was associated with improved cognitive performance, including improved memory.
Rosemary has also been found to have anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects, which may benefit cognitive health. Studies have found that rosemary extract may help reduce anxiety in adults, and may also improve mood and reduce stress levels. [xvi](for aromatherapy): Rosemary - Organic (10ml)
L-Theanine and Lemon Balm:
Lemon balm has been seen to increase alertness: A study investigating 300mg of lemon balm extract supplementation on stress and cognitive function found that 300mg significantly improved maths performance and immediate recall [xvii]
Likewise, research on L-theanine suggests that L-Theanine can have a positive impact on cognitive function and help protect brain cells. Anxiety and stress can negatively affect cognitive function, and L-Theanine may have a potential role in supporting cognitive function and preventing cognitive decline. [xviii] Viridian L-Theanine And Lemon Balm.
Lion's Mane has been found to increase nerve growth factor levels, which may have a protective effect against cognitive impairment disorders. Nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers or smart drugs, are a category of supplements, drugs, or other substances that are believed to enhance cognitive function. As a nootropic, Lion's Mane contains compounds that have the potential to improve brain health and function. [xix] Hifas da Terra Mico Leo.
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to enhance cognitive function, improve memory, boost overall mental well-being, and promote increased blood flow in the brain.[xx] Bare Biology Mindful Fish Oil
Our Favourite Multi’s and Complexes for Brain Power: Mind Focus by Pukka: Contains a blend of herbs, including turmeric, brahmi and rosemary, Mind Focus assists in supporting cognitive ability. Cognitive Complex Veg Caps by Viridian: contain the mind power boosting ingredients L-Carnitine , L-Theanine, Alpha Lipoic Acid. Organic Fermented Wisdom by Living Nutrition : contains the powerful action of turmeric and curcumin[xxii]
Getting a sufficient amount of sleep for 8 to 9 hours every night.
Effectively managing stress by recognising your limits and refraining from excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
Engaging in physical exercise regularly.
Enhancing cognitive abilities by participating in activities like volunteering or solving puzzles.
Seeking out enjoyable activities to promote overall wellbeing.
Nutritional therapists can help to pinpoint which foods and food groups may be an issue for you as well as using your personal medical history and family medical history to map out possible causes of brain fog for you as an individual. As part of a naturopathic plan, nutritional therapists can react to the information gathered from your health history and holistic analysis of symptoms to give advice tailored to you regarding dietary and lifestyle changes as well as recommending nutritional and herbal supplements.
Due to the huge variety of possible causes which could be leading to brain fog, there are also many types of functional tests which could be used for help with diagnosis, including but not limited to:
Intestinal Permeability Profile: ‘leaky gut’ which is referred to as intestinal permeability occurs when gut health is suboptimal, and particles which should not pass the gut barrier can mistakenly filter through to our bloodstream, impacting mental health and cognition[xxiii]
Complete Gastrointestinal and Microbiome Test: The microbiome, meaning ecosystem of bacteria in our guts can often negatively impact our cognitive functioning if certain species grow out of balance with our beneficial gut bacteria. This is often very unique to each individual, being defined, not only by food intake but from lifestyle choices and also genetic makeup[xxix].
[i] Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017 Jul 21;16:1057-1072.
[ii] Hanson JA, Huecker MR. Sleep Deprivation. [Updated 2022 Sep 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan
[iii] Ali SA, Begum T, Reza F. Hormonal Influences on Cognitive Function. Malays J Med Sci. 2018 Jul;25(4):31-41. doi: 10.21315/mjms2018.25.4.3. Epub 2018 Aug 30.
[iv] Gava G, Orsili I, Alvisi S, Mancini I, Seracchioli R, Meriggiola MC. Cognition, Mood and Sleep in Menopausal Transition: The Role of Menopause Hormone Therapy. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019 Oct 1;55(10):668.
[v] Markun S, Gravestock I, Jäger L, Rosemann T, Pichierri G, Burgstaller JM. Effects of Vitamin B12 Supplementation on Cognitive Function, Depressive Symptoms, and Fatigue: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Regression. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 12;13(3):923.
[vi] Zhou L, Chen L, Li X, Li T, Dong Z, Wang YT. Food allergy induces alteration in brain inflammatory status and cognitive impairments. Behav Brain Res. 2019 May 17;364:374-382.
[vii] Kverno K. Brain Fog: A Bit of Clarity Regarding Etiology, Prognosis, and Treatment. J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. 2021 Nov;59(11):9-13.
[viii] Sandler CX, Lloyd AR. Chronic fatigue syndrome: progress and possibilities. Med J Aust. 2020 May;212(9):428-433.
[ix] Kravitz HM, Katz RS. Fibrofog and fibromyalgia: a narrative review and implications for clinical practice. Rheumatol Int. 2015 Jul;35(7):1115-25.
[x] Aguiar S, Borowski T. Neuropharmacological review of the nootropic herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug;16(4):313-26.
[xi] Vollala VR, Upadhya S, Nayak S. Enhancement of basolateral amygdaloid neuronal dendritic arborization following Bacopa monniera extract treatment in adult rats. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2011;66(4):663-71.
[xii] Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, Downey LA, Hutchison CW, Rodgers T, Nathan PJ. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001 Aug;156(4):481-4.
[xiii] Peth-Nui T, Wattanathorn J, Muchimapura S, Tong-Un T, Piyavhatkul N, Rangseekajee P, Ingkaninan K, Vittaya-Areekul S. Effects of 12-Week Bacopa monnieri Consumption on Attention, Cognitive Processing, Working Memory, and Functions of Both Cholinergic and Monoaminergic Systems in Healthy Elderly Volunteers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:606424
[xiv] Silberstein RB, Pipingas A, Song J, Camfield DA, Nathan PJ, Stough C. Examining brain-cognition effects of ginkgo biloba extract: brain activation in the left temporal and left prefrontal cortex in an object working memory task. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:164139.
[xv] Singh SK, Srivastav S, Castellani RJ, Plascencia-Villa G, Perry G. Neuroprotective and Antioxidant Effect of Ginkgo biloba Extract Against AD and Other Neurological Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2019 Jul;16(3):666-674.
[xvi] Habtemariam S. The Therapeutic Potential of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Diterpenes for Alzheimer's Disease. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:2680409.
[xvii] Scholey, A., Gibbs, A., Neale, C., Perry, N., Ossoukhova, A., Bilog, V., Kras, M., Scholz, C., Sass, M., & Buchwald-Werner, S. (2014). Anti-stress effects of lemon balm-containing foods. Nutrients, 6(11), 4805–4821.
[xviii] Baba Y, Inagaki S, Nakagawa S, Kaneko T, Kobayashi M, Takihara T. Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study. J Med Food. 2021 Apr;24(4):333-341.
[xix] Lai PL, Naidu M, Sabaratnam V, Wong KH, David RP, Kuppusamy UR, Abdullah N, Malek SN. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54.
[xx] Dighriri IM, Alsubaie AM, Hakami FM, Hamithi DM, Alshekh MM, Khobrani FA, Dalak FE, Hakami AA, Alsueaadi EH, Alsaawi LS, Alshammari SF, Alqahtani AS, Alawi IA, Aljuaid AA, Tawhari MQ. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. Cureus. 2022 Oct 9;14(10):e30091.
[xxi] Health Quality Ontario. Vitamin B12 and cognitive function: an evidence-based analysis. Ont Health Technol Assess Ser. 2013 Nov 1;13(23):1-45.
[xxii] Seddon N, D’Cunha NM, Mellor DD, McKune AJ, Georgousopoulou EN, Panagiotakos DB, et al. Effects of Curcumin on Cognitive Function—A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Explor Res Hypothesis Med. 2019;4(1):1-11.
[xxiii] Obrenovich MEM. Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain? Microorganisms. 2018 Oct 18;6(4):107.
[xxiv] Yelland GW. Gluten-induced cognitive impairment ("brain fog") in coeliac disease. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:90-93.
[xxv] Zhou L, Chen L, Li X, Li T, Dong Z, Wang YT. Food allergy induces alteration in brain inflammatory status and cognitive impairments. Behav Brain Res. 2019 May 17;364:374-382.
[xxvi] Ali SA, Begum T, Reza F. Hormonal Influences on Cognitive Function. Malays J Med Sci. 2018 Jul;25(4):31-41. doi: 10.21315/mjms2018.25.4.3. Epub 2018 Aug 30.
[xxvii] Gava G, Orsili I, Alvisi S, Mancini I, Seracchioli R, Meriggiola MC. Cognition, Mood and Sleep in Menopausal Transition: The Role of Menopause Hormone Therapy. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019 Oct 1;55(10):668.
[xxviii] Ettleson MD, Raine A, Batistuzzo A, Batista SP, McAninch E, Teixeira MCTV, Jonklaas J, Laiteerapong N, Ribeiro MO, Bianco AC. Brain Fog in Hypothyroidism: Understanding the Patient's Perspective. Endocr Pract. 2022 Mar;28(3):257-264.
[xxix] Rogers GB, Keating DJ, Young RL, Wong ML, Licinio J, Wesselingh S. From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways. Mol Psychiatry. 2016 Jun;21(6):738-48.
Please note that the information contained within this website does not and should not replace medical advice, and is not intended to treat or diagnose. We always recommend you consult with your doctor. Our Nutritional Therapy team is highly trained and we offer one to one Nutritional Therapy Consultations, which are designed to be complementary to any medical treatment from a functional medicine approach, as well as offering a preventative & optimal health focus.