Cutting Through Brain Fog: How to Gain Clarity

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Brain fog is one of the more common symptoms we see in practice, as well as being one of the most elusive and hard to pin down. A sudden onset of poor concentration, mental fatigue, inability to focus, confusion, and memory issues make even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming and can negatively affect all aspects of life. Let’s take a look at the various causes of brain fog, and what you can do to clear things up.


What Causes Brain Fog?

It may surprise you to read that brain fog is a well-documented symptom of a number of chronic conditions. It is particularly prevalent in diseases involving inflammation, fatigue, and blood sugar imbalance such as diabetes, depression, fungal overgrowth in the intestines, and autoimmune diseases, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) and Fibromyalgia.


Here are some factors that contribute to brain fog:

Hormone Imbalance

Brain fog is reported somewhat frequently by women going through hormonal changes, such as in pregnancy and perimenopause, and actual menopause. The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) has observed over 3,300 women throughout the menopausal transition, measuring cognitive abilities before, during, and after menopause.

Why is that? The brain is sensitive to the fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone that occur during both of these life events, contributing to ‘mommy brain’ and the memory issues that often occur after menopause begins.


Stress and Anxiety

When faced with chronic stress and anxiety, our fight or flight response gets stuck in overdrive. This means our adrenal glands, designed to pump out stress hormones in short bursts, end up releasing continued high levels of cortisol and adrenaline which can contribute to cloudy thinking.

During the stress response, the part of your brain that thinks deeply and stores memories is put on the back burner while the part that allows you to respond immediately to protect you from danger is prioritized. This works well in a real emergency, but not so well when you are feeling stressed out and you need to dig into that work report or solve a complex problem.


Intestinal Yeast Infections

Although “candida” is a general term for fungal overgrowth, there are actually more species that live in our intestines, including rhodotorula and geotrichum.  These are yeasts naturally present in our bodies, which can overgrow, displacing good microbes and colonizing the gut, urinary tract, genitals, mouth, and skin.

Antibiotics, high sugar diet, and other intestinal irritants are common reasons fungal infections overgrow in either the small or large intestines.

Brain fog is a classic sign of fungal overgrowth. Yeasts can produce formaldehyde and other excretory products which can enter the systemic body and go to the brain, interfering with clear, lucid thought.

Identifying intestinal fungal overgrowth and eradicating it will return you to clear, incisive thoughts.


Food Sensitivities

If you can’t think clearly after eating certain foods, you may have a food sensitivity. Brain fog is a hallmark symptom. Food sensitivities are very individual, but common offenders include dairy, wheat, nuts, and food additives like red food coloring, MSG, and aspartame.


Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease sufferers commonly report attention difficulties and unclear thinking. In a 2014 study, 11 Celiac Disease patients were given a gluten-free diet for a year. As their intestinal lining healed, their cognitive measurements improved.


Nutrient Deficiencies

Research has linked low levels of numerous nutrients with brain fog. Iron, Vitamin D3, folate, or B12 are the best-known deficiencies associated with foggy thinking and memory issues.

B12 and Folate deficiency are also associated with significantly increasing the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.   Seeing a physician who will analyze you for nutrient deficiencies is really important.


Chronic Infections

Chronic infections such as Hepatitis C, Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), and Cytomegaly Virus (CMV) have all been connected to the symptom of brain fog. If your immune system isn’t functioning optimally, these infections can infiltrate your cells. Chronic Hepatitis C sufferers report that frequent problems with focus and memory recall significantly interfere with their ability to perform daily activities, although there are now medications that can eradicate many Hep C infections. Not so with EBV and CMV; these can linger and need to be treated by naturopathic physicians.


Hypoglycemia/Low Blood Sugar

People not eating a diet balanced for their metabolism and energy output can suffer from low blood sugar episodes.  Reduction in clear thinking is a key aspect of hypoglycemia.  A good naturopathic physician will do a diet diary to analyze dietary habits with each patient.



Many patients receiving chemotherapy for breast or prostate cancer experience a degree of cognitive dysfunction affecting their working memory, concentration, information processing speed, reaction time, visuospatial ability, and executive function. Often Labelled as “chemo brain”, these symptoms typically persist for approximately 6 months after the end of treatment.


How to Banish Brain Fog

1 – Drink Plenty of Water

Even mild dehydration can make it hard to concentrate. Space out the recommended 8 glasses per day and sip slowly. This will allow your body to properly absorb and use the water.


2 – Keep a Food Journal

Try keeping a food journal for a week, noting what you eat and when you feel cloudy thinking coming on.


3 – Eat Good Protein, Fat and Sugar

Your brain needs high-quality protein, fat, and sugar to function at its best.

Eat less sugar and processed foods to avoid feeding fungal overgrowth. Did you hear that Ireland recently declared that Subway bread could not legally be called ‘bread’ because of its high sugar content? Sugar lurks where you least suspect it – read food labels or ask for ingredient lists.

Fresh fruit is your best sugar source. Include antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries, strawberries, goji berries, and raspberries and your brain will thank you!

Get both with fat and protein with cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Healthy fat sources include virgin olive oil, walnuts, avocado, and coconut oil.

Last, it may be important to be tested for food sensitivities and Celiac disease.


4 – Improve Sleep Quality and Quantity

Weekend sleep catch-up doesn’t work. Implement a predictable night-time routine so your body knows when to get into sleep mode. Engage in good sleep hygiene, turning off lights in your home around 8 pm to allow melatonin to come out, getting off all screens an hour before bed-time, not watching violent or upsetting news or TV dramas at night.

Make sure your bedroom is completely dark and quiet.


5 – Reduce Stress by Focussing on the Now

Anxiety and stress often involve constant worry. Listen to your thoughts – what are you worrying about? Are you caught in a thought loop about a past conversation or a worry about the future?

As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says: “The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.” Next time you catch yourself ruminating, do something physical that will bring your focus back to the present moment. Go for a walk, do some deep breathing- anything that connects you with the here and now.


With so many potential causes of brain fog, where do you start? Let’s get to the root of what’s really going on. We can do testing for food sensitivities, intestinal microbiota, and nutritional deficiencies. We can check your hormone status. Let’s work together on a solid treatment plan involving brain-nourishing nutrients, foods, and lifestyle changes. Isn’t it time to clear the fog and get back to a life lived with clarity, vision, and joy?





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