We’ve all had those ‘where on earth have I put the keys?’ moments, but for some of us continually struggling to process information and constant forgetfulness can be signs of brain fog... And after how stressful the past year has been, it’s no wonder that more of us than ever may be experiencing these symptoms.But can anything be done to help us think clearer in 2021?
Imagine going about your day with a mist swirling around in front of you. You’d probably struggle to concentrate or think clearly. Well, that’s what living with brain fog is like. There might not be an actual fog around you, but it certainly feels like there is. You might find yourself desperately searching your brain to locate information you’re sure you knew yesterday. Or perhaps at work, you find yourself struggling to take in a presentation, or grasp lengthy instructions.
There are many reasons for brain fog (which is a collection of symptoms rather than a medical condition), so it’s important to speak to your GP, who may do some tests to see if it could be caused by other issues, such as thyroid problems, anaemia, or autoimmune disease.
However, once those are ruled out, it could certainly be worth looking at your diet, too.
While brain fog can’t be cured just by the foods we eat, nutritional deficiencies can cause similar symptoms, so addressing them can really make a difference. In turn, certain foods and supplements may help with things such as memory, clarity of thoughts, and dealing with stress – which can exacerbate your symptoms.
The sunshine vitamin
In the winter months, with fewer daylight hours and chances to soak up the sun outside, the NHS recommends that everyone take a vitamin D supplement to compensate for the lack of sunlight.
“The current government advice is to take 400mg vitamin D between October and March to keep bones and muscles healthy, but some individuals may need higher doses,” explains registered nutritional therapist Valentina Cartago (theitaliannutritionist.com). “Low vitamin D levels are common in those who spend a lot of time inside, which could certainly apply to many of us at the moment! The sun is our best source of vitamin D, but potential food sources include oily fish and egg yolks. Those on a plant-based diet may want to consult a practitioner to find a suitable supplement.”
A 2019 study from Rutgers University, New Jersey, found that those who supplemented vitamin D noted an improvement in their memory, so it is well worth considering. If you suspect you’re low in vitamin D, your GP may be able to test your levels or, alternatively, try BetterYou’s postal vitamin D testing service (£32.95, betteryou.com) which matches your levels to the right supplement.
Tuck into oily fish
Oily fish are packed with omega 3s and fatty acids, yet many of us – an estimated two thirds in fact – fall short of eating the recommended two portions a week. But if you’re not tucking in, you’re missing out! Studies have shown that the omegas found in oily fish are crucial in helping with things such as mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.
“Our cells’ membranes (including in our brain) are made of fat, and omega 3 can help to keep them healthy, optimising cognitive function as a result,” explains Valentina.
To get the most benefit, it’s best to opt for wild oily fish (such as trout and salmon) but there are vegan sources, too. Valentina suggests trying seaweed, algae, walnuts, linseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds, among others.
Could you be B12 deficient?
B vitamins are really important for our nervous system, so low vitamin B12 can leave you struggling with extreme fatigue (which can contribute to symptoms such as poor concentration), along with problems with your memory and understanding. It’s relatively rare to be B12 deficient, but it does get more common as you grow older. B12-rich foods include red meat, poultry, and eggs, or nutritional yeast, and fortified cereals for vegans.
Up your hydration
One of the simplest things you can do for brain fog is to make sure you’re well hydrated. When you’re dehydrated, it can even impact your attention span and cognitive ability.
“Your brain is around 75% water, and dehydration has been linked to issues such as fatigue and brain fog to name a few, therefore ensuring that you are keeping hydrated throughout the day is key,” Valentina explains. “As a general rule though, it can be useful to monitor your urine colour throughout the day, ensuring that it is pale yellow.”
It might surprise you to know your morning cup of coffee doesn’t have to go out the window; some studies have found that caffeine can actually have a positive effect on energy levels, concentration, and cognitive ability – but drinking more than a few cups a day could be detrimental.
“Caffeine can have some benefits if used responsibly, such as increased alertness and cognitive ability. However, for sensitive people, and those constantly relying on it throughout the day to keep going and stay focused, this could lead to issues including sleep disruption and anxiety,” advises Valentina, who suggests avoiding coffee after 4pm.
Herbal teas can be a great alternative, and they have their benefits, too. A study at Northumbria University found peppermint tea actually enhanced cognition by helping to improve both memory and alertness. Perhaps you could try THEENK TEA – a 21-day herbal tea programme specifically designed to support brain health (£39.00, theenk-tea.com).
Try a mediterranean diet
Most people will have heard that a Mediterranean diet – which includes a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and fish – can be good for your body. But did you know that it can be good for your brain, too?
“I’m Italian, so when I was young we would snack on olives and raw vegetables dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar; not knowing we were fuelling our bodies with the healthy fats and anti-inflammatory compounds that support brain health!” says Valentina.
There’s plenty of science behind this, too: sticking firmly to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with a slower cognitive decline, as revealed by a study published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care.
Diets that focus on vegetables and wholegrains, could help support your blood sugar balance as well. “Following an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet could also help support blood sugar balance due to its fibre, protein, and healthy fat-rich meals, which help keep blood sugar balanced as the body takes longer to break them down. As a result, focus, mood, and energy can also be balanced for longer!” adds Valentina.
Whether you opt to cut out the caffeine, stock up on fish, or ditch the sugar, the important thing is to find a solution that works for your body and your mind. Since we’re all so different, working with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian can be really helpful to figure out what triggers your brain fog, and hopefully help it become a thing of the past.
You can find a qualified nutrition professional on Nutritionist Resource.