We’ve probably all had moments when we walk into a room and forget what we went in for.
Symptoms of so-called ‘brain fog’ include forgetfulness, poor concentration, inability to focus and lack of mental clarity which can all strike without warning.
And while this can be attributed to age-related decline and a host of illnesses, a doctor has revealed it can happen to anyone at any age – even as early as your late teens.
And, according to New York osteopathic physician Christopher Calapai, your diet or a vitamin deficiency may be to blame, along with alcohol and caffeine intake.
Stress, lack of sleep and hormone levels can also affect your mental performance, he told The Thirty.
New York physician Christopher Calapai has outlined the causes of brain fog (stock photo)
Dr Calapai, whose high-profile patients include former champion boxer Mike Tyson, and actors Mickey Rourke and Steven Seagal, said: ‘In my experience, over 30 percent of the patients that I see have some significant problems with focus concentration and memory.’
He outlined the following key causes and solutions.
Your brain works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep. This means it requires a constant supply of fuel, which comes from the foods you eat.
Dr Calapai says something as simple as your diet could be causing your mental cloudiness.
Eating high-quality foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress – the ‘free radicals’ produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.
In particular sugar and refined carbs have a negative effect, said Dr Calapai. ‘Food allergy and inhalant allergy also contribute to the symptoms,’ he explained.
Antioxidant rich foods such as dark chocolate and blueberries can boost mental alertness (stock photo)
The solution: Thankfully, eating an anti-inflammatory diet will help combat this. Dr Calapai says a fix could be as simple as shifting from a diet high in processed foods, carbs, and sugars to whole,fresh foods like salmon and spinach.
Foods rich in antioxidants also help boost mental function, like blueberries, dark chocolate, and artichoke.
Dr Calapai says vitamin deficiency as a common cause of change in mental clarity.
A lack of thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B-6, or folic acid is known to cause confusion or memory problems, so you need all four in your diet to avoid brain fog.
Because chronic inflammation is linked to brain fog, and diet significantly influences this, vitamin C can help combat this. According to Linus Pauling Institute, high levels of this vitamin are found in your brain, where its antioxidant ability has an anti-inflammatory effect.
The B vitamins and vitamin C have another role in the brain – they help make the chemicals used by nerves to communicate, which is important for mental clarity. Vitamin B-12 and folate are also essential for normal nerve functioning.
The solution: Vegetarians and vegans may suffer a lack of these and may need supplementation. Dr Calapai says taking supplements could help, but he recommends considering or testing for all of the underlying causes too.
Alcohol and caffeine intake
Coffee can temporarily boost alertness but contribute to brain fog in the long term
Dr Calapai says that alcohol and caffeine overdose can mess with our brains, too.
Indeed in 2015, scientists from Duke University warned that binge drinking as a teenager, before the brain is fully developed, causes long-lasting changes to the regions of the brain that control learning and memory.
And numerous studies have suggested for adults, even moderate drinkers risk significant shrinkage in a key part of the brain.
In July, the University of Oxford and University College found that people who have a drink or two every night from middle age are more likely to experience a steep decline in brain power by their 70s.
Caffeine is a stimulant known to improve mental alertness. But the problem with caffeine is that the energy it gives us is short-lived.
Too much can lead to insomnia, headaches and dehydration and as a result can impair your mental function.
The solution: The Royal College of Psychiatrists says the best way to give up caffeine is to gradually stop having all caffeine drinks (this includes coffee, tea and cola drinks) over a three-week period. Try to stay off caffeine completely for a month to see if you feel less mentally fatigued without it.
You may find that giving up caffeine gives you headaches. If this happens, cut down more slowly on the amount that you drink.
Men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week – the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine – in order to keep their health risks low, guidelines recommend.
Dr Calapai says there is a direct connection between our hormones and our mind.
For example, when women’s menstrual cycles kick in, they often experience mood swings, and when pregnant, it’s common to feel the effects of ‘pregnancy brain’.
But on any given day, fluctuating hormones can mess with your mental clarity.
‘In the 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, hormone decline can play a major role,’ said Dr Calapai.
‘Decrease in the production of thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, testosterone and female hormones can alter focus and concentration.’
The solution: If you have any concerns that the cause of your brain fog is something more serious, like a hormonal imbalance, visit your doctor who may then treat accordingly with medication.
If we have high levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, thinking clearly and making informed decisions becomes a struggle, said Dr Calapai.
Depression is also a leading cause of brain fog and can also be a side-effect of antidepressants.
Dr Calapai recommends breathing exercises to boost your mental clarity (stock photo)
The solution: To keep cortisol levels down, take part in stress-reducing activities like yoga and meditation, recommends Dr Calapai. He said just 15-minutes of breathing exercises each day will help reduce anxiety and boost relaxation.
ELECTRONIC DEVICES REDUCE SLEEP HORMONE LEVELS
The screens from our digital devices disrupts sleep dysfunction by lowering melatonin levels, a recent study found.
The blue light they emit interferes with the hormone made naturally by our bodies which helps us control our sleep-wake cycles.
Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours.
But watching screens from phones and tablets late in the evening plays havoc with this process, by boosting alertness and altering our circadian rhythm – or our internal body clock.
Lead author Dr Lisa Ostrin from the University of Houston College of Optometry said: ‘The most important takeaway is that blue light at night time really does decrease sleep quality.
‘Sleep is very important for the regeneration of many functions in our body.’
Lack of sleep
Not sleeping enough has been linked to a host of health conditions.
Getting quality shut eye is beneficial for us in myriad ways, nurturing our memory and learning and boosting our immune defences and mental health.
Most experts say eight hours of total sleep is the proper healthy amount for an average adult. Research frequently reports around the globe we are routinely not getting this.
The solution: Sleeping for at least seven to eight hours hours each night helps to boost your brain performance.
Experts say to get a better night’s sleep you should avoid sleeping in, even on weekends, limit caffeine and nicotine, avoid big meals at night and avoid alcohol before bed.
Conditions with inflammation at their core conditions such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis can cause mental fatigue.
‘In the younger population, brain fog could be caused by infection, including virus and bacteria,’ Dr Calapai explained.
The solution: Before you self-diagnose yourself with an imagined illness, remember that in the majority of cases, brain fog is brought on by nutritional, metabolic, hormonal, and biochemical imbalances that stem from a variety of factors.
But if you have tried out lifestyle changes and you are still concerned, speak to your GP.
household products as well as chemicals in food can affect brain function.’