Three experts offer tips for beating "brain fog," symptoms of which include forgetfulness, trouble concentrating and even depression. Here's how to eat, sleep and exercise your way to better brain health.
Dietitian: Marion Hauser, MS, RD, Caring Medical Rehabilitation Services, Oak Park, Illinois; co-author of The Hauser Diet (Beulah Land, 2007)
Brain fog is not really a medical diagnosis, but people are talking about it more and more. You may have unclear thinking or trouble concentrating, and you may appear somewhat confused or forgetful and even feel detached. You may feel depressed.
Your brain consumes about 20 percent of the body's energy, and you get energy from food. If you put the wrong fuel in your body, your body's not going to work properly.
In general, people with brain fog should avoid sugar and sugar-containing products, particularly sodas and sweets, but also white bread, pasta, and white rice, which are the most common culprits related to brain fog. These ultraprocessed foods are metabolized very quickly and cause blood sugar to spike then drop, which naturally makes you tired [and results in brain fog].
Most people also need some sort of protein with every meal. [Because the body absorbs it more slowly than sugar, eating protein can balance glucose response and prevent you from crashing.] Keep some food at your desk, like nuts, sunflower seeds, hard-boiled eggs, or natural beef jerky. Then add some carrots, celery or green peppers, and cottage cheese. When you have good things around, you won't be tempted to head to the vending machine when you're hungry.
Neurologist: Larry McCleary, MD, Incline Village, Nevada; author of The Brain Trust Program (Perigee Trade, 2007)
Among young, healthy people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, brain fog is rarely due to just one thing—it's usually a conspiracy of several things, with stress at the top of the list. Why? Because we're asking the brain to do more than it has ever needed to do before.
De-stress by structuring your life in a more controlled fashion. Don't take on too much responsibility, have better organizational skills, and try to delegate effectively. How foggy you feel also depends on how you react to stress. At your desk, close your eyes, and take some slow deep breaths for five minutes. Do it a couple of times a day. Yoga, meditation, and relaxation can help, as well.
Also, most people need eight or more hours of quality sleep. If you are sleep deprived for a day, your brain functions about as well as that of a person who is legally drunk.
Exercise also contributes to a sharp brain. There's now some evidence that walking at a moderate pace for 20 minutes two to three times a week can improve your memory. Other types of exercise—like aerobic, weight-training, and balance exercises—are also great de-stressers that can improve brain fog in a week.
Integrative cardiologist: Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, Manchester, Conn.; author of The Sinatra Solution (Basic Health, 2008)
As a clinician, I'm seeing earlier-onset brain fog, and I suspect it's due to our toxic environment—heavy metals, phthalates, insecticides, and pesticides are everywhere. These environmental toxins are mitochondrial toxins. The mitochondria in your cells produce adenosine triphosphate, which is the main energy source of the body, giving you cognition, thought, and energy. When you destroy mitochondria, you destroy the integrity of the cell, and eventually the cell dies.
So a healthy diet is important, as is awareness that your brain is very sensitive to toxins. That's why you want to try to eat more organics. I also recommend a supplement like acetyl-L-carnitine (1-3 grams daily), which nourishes the brain, and coenzyme Q10 (100 mg daily), which helps increase energy.
B vitamins are an old standby for the brain, and you can take them with new supplements like phosphatidylserine (PS, 1-2 grams daily) to beat brain fog. Another one to try is melatonin. A recent study in which participants took 10 mg of melatonin showed very significant improvement in Alzheimer's-type symptoms and relief from depression, as well as better sleep. I recommend 1-10 mg of melatonin taken at bedtime. You should see enormous improvements.