By Carrie Havranek
It’s that feeling you get when you just can’t focus. Maybe you walk into a room and forget why you walked into that room. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a project, and you just can’t seem to finish it. Your head feels as though it’s literally in a fog. Guess what? That’s a thing. You have brain fog.
Brain fog is likely a symptom of something else going on in your body. And not even a triple espresso is going to snap you out of it. Here’s what to do instead:
First, rule out serious health conditions. “Brain fog is a symptom that can be related to several (sometimes serious) health conditions,” says Anne Dannahy, a Scottsdale-based registered dietitian and integrative nutritionist. “Much of the time, it’s reported by those with autoimmune diseases, such as celiac, Hashimoto’s hypothyroid, fibromyalgia, etc.”
Other potential causes include anxiety or depression, hypothyroidism, and sleep apnea, according to Dr. Shreya Raj, a neuropsychiatrist with the Center for Brain/Mind Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. If you’ve tested positive for coronavirus, there’s also the chance that you’re dealing with COVID brain.
It’s also quite possible your diet is to blame.
“Chances are, your body is getting too much of something — alcohol, sugar, dairy, gluten and/or processed foods are common culprits — and not enough of something else,” says Dr. Anya Szigeti, founder of Back to Health Functional Medicine. “Brain fog may indicate your body is deficient in nutrients, dehydrated, and/or has an imbalance of gastrointestinal bacteria,” she says.
What to Eat & Drink When You Have Brain Fog
It’s amazing what more sleep, more exercise, and a healthier diet can do for your brain, but there are a few foods and nutrients in particular that can help you battle brain fog.
Drinking a tall glass of water (or 8) will put you back on track for a more productive day. “Even in a mildly dehydrated state, the brain has to work harder to perform the same cognitive activities than in a fully hydrated state,” says Szigeti. “Aim for half your body weight in ounces each day.” In other words, if you weigh 150 lbs., drink 75 ounces.
Eggs contain vitamin B12, which is essential for nerve function and has been shown to improve memory and reduce brain fog. You can also get this crucial vitamin from grass-fed red meat, wild-caught tuna, salmon, and sardines, and nutritional yeast.
“There’s quite a bit of research linking mushrooms to brain health and better brain function,” says Dannahy. Her advice? Skip the white button mushrooms and try reishi, maitake, or Lion’s Mane instead. Buy them fresh or dried and use them in soups or stir-fry recipes.
4. Leafy Greens
Time and time again, research shows that the more deeply-hued a plant is, the better it seems to be—especially the green ones. “They’re especially rich in polyphenol antioxidants that can protect the brain,” says Dannahy. She adds that they’re part of the MIND diet which has been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s risk.
“Cocoa—or very dark chocolate—can improve blood and oxygen flow in the brain and boost endorphins which really can make you feel better mentally. Add unsweetened cocoa powder or cacao powder to a smoothie, or sprinkle cacao nibs on your oatmeal.
“Fresh is best,” says Dannahy of this well-documented anti-inflammatory shrub. “Grate or chop it and add it to soups or curries. I love to add it to a pickling brine to make pickled veggies,” she adds. But remember to consume it with some fat and pepper—it’s absorbed better that way.
7. Green Tea
Sipping some of this beverage means you’re getting l-theanine, an amino acid that “improves alertness and also relaxes the mind at the same time,” according to Dannahy. If you’re not into tea, you can try l-theanine supplements.