Brain fog, mental fatigue or cognitive clouding refers to mental confusion, diminished focus and reduced cognitive function. It can manifest as difficulty concentrating, losing our train of thought, memory lapses, sluggish thinking and a general sense of mental exhaustion.
According to recent studies, it is estimated that approximately 39% of the population experiences brain fog to some degree, and following the Covid pandemic, brain fog is seemingly on the rise; in a study of 181 long Covid patients by Cambridge University, 69% reported brain fog as a prolonged symptom.
Market-leading supplement brand and pioneer of a brain health community programme, Cytoplan explores the topic of brain fog below with expert advice on the top foods, nutrients and the one thing to avoid to impact brain health positively.
Nutritional therapist & CEO at Cytoplan, Amanda Williams, who pioneered a successful Brain Health Community Programme, shares her expert opinion on the positive impact nutrition can have on brain health: “While brain fog is not a medical condition itself, it often stems from underlying causes such as stress, lack of sleep, poor nutritional status, hormonal imbalances, certain medications, and medical conditions.
“Furthermore, external factors such as environmental pollutants, a diet high in processed foods and excessive carbohydrate intake have contributed to the rise in more people experiencing brain fog.
“Good nutrition is crucial in supporting brain health and reducing brain fog. Consuming a wholefood nutrient-dense diet, rich in essential fatty acids, can provide the necessary fuel for optimal cognitive function, helping people regain mental clarity and focus.
“Besides implementing lifestyle changes and seeking professional help when necessary, incorporating brain–boosting foods into your diet can significantly contribute to cognitive function.
“Foods such as antioxidant-rich blueberries, mineral-dense broccoli and quality sources of oily fish and walnuts are excellent to include.
“It is essential to reduce your sugar intake. Sugary and high carbohydrate diets can also lead to many symptoms such as poor memory and concentration, mood swings, depression, frequent headaches, feelings of anxiety, irritability, tiredness in the afternoon and feeling stressed.
“Our evolutionary diet of 10,000 years ago was very low in sugar and refined carbohydrates – estimates suggest people ate around 2kg per year and from sources such as wild honey and low bush blueberries. In the UK today, sugar consumption is closer to 1kg per person per week.
“It’s not the easiest thing to track, and a lot of the sugar we eat is in processed foods and drinks where it’s sometimes hidden. For example, there are nine teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke, and even foods that are considered healthy may have high quantities of added sugar, such as yoghurts, breakfast cereals (including mueslis), fruit juices, smoothies, and cereal bars.
“When checking food labels, be aware that sugar comes under many names and food may contain many different types. For example, sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, malt, malt extract, syrup and honey are all different names for different sugars.”
Top brain–boosting foods known to help reduce brain fog
Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain development, function and neuroprotection. These essential fatty acids are vital for brain health and modulate inflammation, improving cognitive health.
Oily fish such as salmon may contain CoQ10, an antioxidant that supports mitochondrial function and energy production in all cells, including brain cells, contributing to improved cognitive performance.
The types of polyphenols found in blueberries have been shown to improve cognitive function, memory and mental agility.
Curcuminoids found in turmeric have been shown in studies to improve BDNF levels (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which affects cognitive function, learning and memory.
Broccoli is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C and flavonoids. Also, it contains compounds called glucosinolates, which the body breaks down into compounds called isothiocyanates and can lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Are rich in magnesium and selenium, essential for healthy brain and nervous system function, and other important minerals for brain health such as zinc which is involved in neurogenesis; the growth of new neurons in the brain and adequate levels are essential for optimal brain health.
Dark chocolate (a source of cocoa flavanols – the antioxidants in cocoa) has improved cognitive performance and memory.
Green tea is gaining popularity worldwide and is frequently referred to as a mood-and-brain food. Previous research has demonstrated that three constituents in green tea, l-theanine, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and caffeine, can positively affect mood and cognitive performance.
High in Vitamin E, folate, and the protective phytochemical ellagic acid contribute to their neuroprotective properties.
Eggs are a great source of brain-healthy nutrients, including B vitamins such as B6 and B12 and Choline, an important micronutrient linked to regulating mood and memory. The yolk is a known source of vitamin D, crucial for brain health, with low levels linked to cognitive decline and brain fog.
Vitamin B12 is essential for methylation, the production of red blood cells, and it supports cognitive function. Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a role in memory and cognitive function.
Nutrient-rich leafy greens such as kale, rocket and spinach have been associated with reducing brain ageing.
Avocados are a tasty source of B vitamins, and vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect brain cells from oxidative stress. Avocados also contain omega-3 fatty acids, a key component of brain tissue and essential for optimum function. The brain contains 60% fat, up to 20% of which is the omega-3 chain fatty acid DHA.
In addition to food sources, looking at individual supplemental nutrients can be helpful, too, to make up for shortfalls. Using trusted supplements to incorporate high-quality vitamins and minerals into a balanced diet can improve brain health and mental clarity.