What Causes Brain Fog?

Symptoms of brain fog are said to include fatigue, irritability, and memory loss. Various diets and supplements are said to help treat it. But is brain fog even a real thing? What causes brain fog?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #395

Another commonly cited symptom of brain fog is difficulty concentrating. The inability to keep your mind focused on a task could be due to low blood sugar. Or it might be that you have twelve tabs open on your browser and your phone buzzes or beeps every 30 seconds. Similarly, your headaches could be due to sinus pressure or muscle tension or a food sensitivity. Your forgetfulness could be stress or it could be caused by your cholesterol medication. Your low mood could be due to a neurotransmitter imbalance or it could be due to the fact that your dog just died.

I’m sure you see my point. Each of the symptoms of brain fog could be nutritional, neurological, hormonal, behavioral, environmental, or even cardiovascular in nature. You might feel you have several of these symptoms, and each might be due to completely different factors.

Is Brain Fog a Real Thing?

That’s why I don’t think that brain fog is a very useful term—or a valid diagnosis. And it’s also why I feel suspicious of any diet or supplement that promises to help with brain fog.

I’m not saying that these symptoms aren’t real. I’m just saying that it’s silly to suggest that everyone that every feels unmotivated or anxious needs to stop eating wheat or start taking a certain supplement and that this will solve the problem.

A Healthy Diet Never Hurts

If you’re feeling poorly, following the basics of good nutrition (such as minimizing sugar and junk food and eating plenty of vegetables and other whole foods) might help and certainly can’t hurt.

Some people with diffuse and persistent symptoms feel better when they cut back on grains or try other approaches such as the low-FODMAP diet or the low-histamine diet. As long as the diet is reasonably balanced, it’s worth experimenting.

But I don’t think that there’s any single dietary approach that’s going to be the solution for everyone who feels fatigued or unfocused. And I’m even less optimistic about supplements.

A Low Mood Is Not a Medical Condition

We all have blah days. If you occasionally feel lethargic or irritable or unmotivated, it may be well within the realm of normal human experience—and not a condition that necessarily needs to be treated.

If your symptoms are frequent and intense enough to be interfering with your ability to live your life, it might be time to get checked out by a doctor or make an appointment with a mental health professional to see if there are issues that can be identified and resolved. I’d hate to see you spending $100 a month on a probiotic when it turns out that you have sleep apnea. 

Your comments and questions are always welcome! Post them below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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