What is Brain Fog?

Have you heard of, or maybe even experienced, brain fog? There’s no widely-accepted definition of brain fog, though the term is widely used to describe cognitive difficulties. It could be a response to poor sleep, poor nutrition, medications, or chronic neuroinflammation.

Brain fog is a non-clinical term used by patients and the healthcare community to describe a range of cognitive complaints. It could refer to any combination of difficulty focusing, short-term memory loss, having a hard time switching tasks, slower processing time, slower working memory, or challenges with sound decision-making.  

Can COVID lead to brain fog?

Cognitive impairment is one of the most common complaints of post-COVID syndrome affecting about a third of patients by some estimates, and shows up after both severe and mild cases. This kind of brain fog often affects attention, executive function, and memory. The causes are not yet well understood, though researchers hypothesize it could be from a lack of oxygen, damage to blood vessels, or chronic inflammation. (References 1, 2, 3, 4)

Does menopause lead to brain fog?

Brain fog is a reliably documented symptom of menopause and is described as the cognitive symptoms women experience around menopause including memory and attention problems. It may present as difficulty remembering words or names, having a hard time maintaining a train of thought, being easily distracted, or forgetting why you came into a specific room. The decline in estrogen, poor sleep quality, and low mood common around menopause may be behind memory and cognition changes though cause-and-effect is not yet proven.

What foods make brain fog worse?

Eating patterns high in added sugars and saturated fats and low in polyphenols and dietary fiber are associated with greater rates of anxiety, depression, and cognition issues, which are hallmarks of brain fog. Therefore, foods to limit include sugary foods and drinks, fried foods, some cuts of red meat, hard cheeses, and solid cooking fats like butter and coconut oil. Keep in mind that limit doesn’t mean eliminate, and that it’s all about balancing a smaller amount of these foods with an overall eating pattern dominated by wholesome choices such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, seafood, nuts, beans, and mostly unsaturated oils.

What nutrients are linked to brain fog?

Several frank nutrient deficiencies can lead to brain fog, including not getting enough protein and calories, hydration, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. 

Are there foods and nutrients that could help?

Studies show high-polyphenol foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, wild blueberries, walnuts, and olive oil, improve cognitive function, which could help with brain fog by supporting overall brain health. 

Rich sources of dietary fiber, such as beans, nuts and some dried fruit, support a robust microbiome that in turn supports brain health. Poor microbiome health leads to systemic inflammation that can weaken the blood-brain barrier.

Anti-inflammatory omega-3s in foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts also support optimal brain function by maintaining the integrity of neuronal cell membranes. The brain is one of the body’s most metabolically active organs, so it has a high need for antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules.

Remember that heart health is brain health, so any foods that will help the heart will help the brain.

To learn more about brain fog, check out my interview with Sports Illustrated here. Please note that I did not weigh in on the supplements this article is recommending. My interview is meant to be purely educational and does not mean I endorse any of the products that the editorial team independently chose.

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