Mind

How to banish brain fog

Reboot your grey matter and feel 100 percent switched on again

Left your wallet in the fridge? Forgetful when it comes to names? It’s easy to put blips in focus down to occasional “senior” moments, but there’s no need to live with a lack of clarity.

While brain fog can be associated with menopause, side effects of some medications and health conditions such as thyroid disorders, you can take simple steps to improve day-to-day brain function by adjusting your lifestyle.

“Give your brain what it needs and it will thrive,” says psychotherapist Dr Mike Dow. “A healthy diet, regular exercise and sleep regimens, as well as eliminating toxins, can all help boost your

brain’s function.”

What is brain fog?

It may not be a formal medical term but it’s a description most of us recognise. It can cover feelings of confusion and forgetfulness or a lack of focus and clarity, but it’s not a part of the ageing process you have to accept. Nor is it an imagined condition.

“Almost all brain fog can be associated with nutritional, hormonal, metabolic and/or biochemical factors,” says Dr Dow. “Get those factors back in sync – especially the brain chemicals most associated with thinking and feeling, including serotonin, dopamine and cortisol – and you’ll improve function.”

Menopause matters

Brain fog in women is often felt firstly or most acutely around menopause and as early as 45. Researchers have found that up to 60 percent of women report experiencing memory issues during menopause, something that a Harvard Medical School study confirmed by revealing performance in memory tasks suffers as oestrogen levels drop.

It may come down to the role hormones offer to brain function support and the specific activity related to oestrogen in the hippocampus (a key region for memory processing).

One simple way to bolster your grey matter is by consuming more omega-3 fatty acids.

“They’re vital for brain function,” Dr Dow explains. “One type called DHAs are associated with cognition, while EPAs are linked to mood – and we all need both for optimum health. Women whose oestrogen levels have dropped can get more omega-3s most efficiently through eating oily fish.”

How’s your diet?

A good supply of omega-3s is not the only way better nutrition can clear fog.

“Mid-morning or afternoon slumps in concentration or memory are probably related to eating too little or not eating the right things,” says nutritionist and naturopath Gemma Clark. “Too much sugar and processed carbs will leave you feeling sluggish, as will a lack of protein and good fats.”

Gemma says the ideal brain-stimulating meal includes a palm-sized serving of protein (red meat is rich in brain-friendly B vitamins) a fist-sized amount of dark green leafy veges (high in magnesium) and a thumb-sized portion of healthy fats (avocado, nuts plus flaxseed or olive oil). “Don’t forget to add a vitamin C-rich food, such as kiwifruit or tomato, to boost iron absorption, which helps with blood flow and getting oxygen to the brain,” she explains.

Sleep & exercise

If you’re not regularly getting a decent night’s sleep, chances are you’re feeling a bit foggy upstairs. It happens to all of us. “Supporting the body’s natural circadian rhythms can really help improve brain function,” Gemma explains.

“Put devices away 30 minutes before bedtime and even switch off the TV and read a book instead to prepare for sleep. In the morning, get up and do 10 minutes of exercise to elevate your heart rate. And, if possible, try to get some natural sunlight.”

If you’re feeling foggy during the day, head outside for some fresh air. Don’t leave it until you’re yawning – this can be a sign that your body requires more oxygen.

Covid & brain fog

Are you living with brain fog? Have you had Covid? There could be a link. Researchers have found that trouble with memory is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of long Covid. And while Covid-related brain fog typically peaks in the months after contracting the virus before it gradually improves, it may still linger for months or even years.

Knowing the difference

Early symptoms of dementia – and Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia – can include forgetfulness and brain fog, but even long-term or repeated episodes of brain fog aren’t necessarily linked to the onset of dementia.

“Ultimately, if you can access forgotten information – even some time after you’ve tried to access it – it’s most likely a brain fog moment rather than anything serious,” says Dr Dow. “Of course, if you’re concerned about your memory issues, see your GP.”

SOME KEY DIFFERENCES INCLUDE:

Alzheimer’s

  • Forgets memories entirely and can’t be prompted to recall.

  • Forgets with absolutely no awareness of forgetting.

  • Uses notes as reminders until unable to do so.

Brain fog

  • Forgets part of an experience or memory but can be reminded.

  • Can follow clear written or spoken directions for some time after initial delivery.

  • May use notes as reminders, rather than the sole source of the information.

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