*Updated 5/8/2023 to include the most recent research
We have all experienced brain fog at one time or another, and many have considered natural remedies or supplements for brain fog. Perhaps you’ve had “fuzzy” thinking, felt “out of it,” or couldn’t maintain focus. Sound familiar?
Brain fog is a group of symptoms that can stem from a variety of behaviors, habits, or conditions. Here we explore several natural remedies for brain fog and how you can use them to improve your mental clarity.
So let’s get started!
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog can make you feel like your brain isn’t functioning quite like it used to. Perhaps you forget names or words more easily, or lose your train of thought more often. Or maybe you just don’t feel like yourself. Sometimes these changes sneak up on you so slowly that you don’t notice them until they become impossible to ignore.
Though brain fog and memory changes are often attributed to the natural aging process, lifestyle or nutritional factors are very often to blame.
And while not all experts agree, many believe that brain fog is the result of imbalances or inflammation in the body which cause the brain to “slow down”. The good news is most causes are reversible!
Brain Fog Symptoms
Before we jump into the potential causes and solutions, let’s review the common symptoms of brain fog.
What Does Brain Fog Feel Like?
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, read on!
What Causes Brain Fog?
There is no single cause of brain fog. Fortunately, most causes can be addressed by lifestyle changes. Many, and possibly all, of the common causes of brain fog are rooted in inflammation (1, 2, 3, 4).
Thus, many of the causes and solutions to brain fog revolve around reducing inflammation. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet or medication to reduce this harmful chronic inflammation, but there are many natural remedies that can have a big impact.
Inflammation and Brain Fog
Most people are familiar with the type of inflammation that you can see and feel- redness, swelling, skin that’s hot to the touch.
This type of inflammation is part of the natural healing process and protects you when you get a cut or wound, or helps fight a virus or bacterial infection.
There is another, more harmful, type of inflammation that you cannot see. When the immune system continues to send out inflammatory chemicals, even when it is not fighting an illness or healing a wound, then chronic inflammation can set in.
This invisible, persistent inflammation is often the root cause of chronic diseases. It can cause everything from heart disease to obesity to- you guessed it!- brain fog and cognitive decline.
Natural Remedies for Brain Fog
The brain is 85% water and requires adequate hydration to perform well. Since the brain cannot store water it is important to continuously rehydrate.
One study found that women experienced significantly lower scores in memory, attention span, and motor skills when they were dehydrated (5).
Interestingly, over-hydration also impairs cognitive function, so it’s important to hydrate in small increments throughout the day rather than to drink several glasses of water in one sitting (6).
Healthy Hacks for Hydration
Make Quality Sleep a Priority
Perhaps you’ve noticed that you don’t think as clearly or quickly the day after a poor night’s sleep?
When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain tends to take mini “breaks” or naps throughout the day. This means your brain is not working nearly as fast or efficiently as it should (7).
Getting enough sleep is necessary for your brain to function well. During sleep we clear toxic waste out of our brains (8). Some researchers believe that a buildup of this toxic waste contributes to inflammation, brain fog, and cognitive decline.
Hormonal changes, such as during menopause, can make sleep even more elusive.
Deep, detoxifying sleep tends to occur earlier in the night, so make it a priority to get to sleep by 11 pm (that means you’re fully asleep at 11, not just getting into bed) and get at least 7-9 hours a night.
Just as lack of sleep can lead to cognitive decline, so can too much sleep. One study showed that more than 10 hours of sleep was just as harmful as fewer than 4 hours of sleep when it comes to cognition (9).
Believe it or not, what you do in the morning sets the tone for how easy it will be to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
Getting natural daylight into your eyes as early in the day as possible slows down the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) during the day and ramps it up at night. If you are not able to get outside early in the day, consider getting a light therapy lamp.
Eating within three hours of bedtime can have a negative impact on sleep quality and duration. (10) Likewise, evening screen time (TV, computer, or phone), especially within an hour of bedtime, leads to poor sleep quality (11).
Healthy Hacks for Quality Sleep
Eat an Anti-inflammatory Diet
What you eat can have a huge impact on your inflammation levels, both good and bad.
By focusing on anti-inflammatory foods, and minimizing foods that cause inflammation, you can reduce your brain fog as well your risk for most chronic diseases like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.
Anti-inflammatory foods help your body fight free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress, a contributing factor to inflammation. Inflammation can cause you to experience brain fog and difficulty concentrating.
Foods rich in antioxidants like vitamin C help reduce chronic inflammation.
There is no anti-inflammatory diet that works for everyone, but the Mediterranean diet tends to be the easiest for most people to maintain.
Generally speaking, a whole-food diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats will help reduce inflammation. Even small changes can have a huge impact.
Healthy Hacks to Eat More Anti-inflammatory Foods
Rein in Stress
Stress, especially chronic stress, is highly inflammatory and is linked to cognitive decline. Stress is nearly impossible to avoid, and in some cases it is beneficial.
When stress is short and sporadic it can help you finish that big project at work or escape imminent danger. It’s when stress is chronic that it can cause chronic inflammation and brain fog.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is necessary in appropriate amounts. But when you have chronically high stress levels cortisol levels can go haywire, creating an imbalance in the nervous system.
It’s how we manage stress that dictates how inflammatory it becomes. Quality sleep, daily movement, and mindfulness techniques can all help reduce the impact of stress.
Healthy Hacks to Reduce Stress
Pro tip: Put one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Your belly should rise and fall more than your chest. Practice exhaling for longer than you inhale to trigger the brain to slow the release of stress-inducing chemicals, lower blood pressure, and induce feelings of calm. For example, breathe in to the count of four and out to the count of 6 or 8 (12, 13, 14).
Any kind of movement, but especially movement that really gets the blood pumping, helps deliver important nutrients and oxygen to the brain. When the brain receives the necessary nutrients and adequate oxygen it functions better. Make daily movement a priority.
Healthy Hacks to Increase Physical Activity
Take Good Care of Your Teeth and Gums
Healthy Hacks for Oral Health
The first and most important way to approach brain fog is to address lifestyle behaviors that may be working against you.
Once you have implemented some of the above strategies, consider supplementation to further enhance cognitive health and reduce the risk of brain fog and cognitive decline.
And of course, always check in with a health care provider before making any changes and to rule out any medical disorders.
Best Supplements for Brain Fog
Nutrient deficiencies may contribute to both brain fog and cognitive decline. Vitamins and supplements can help reduce mental fatigue, improve memory, and prevent or slow cognitive decline.
Vitamins for Brain Fog
A B-complex vitamin contains a group of B vitamins, including vitamins B12, B6, and folate. Supplementing with B vitamins supports brain health and slows cognitive decline, especially with early and prolonged intervention (18).
Pro-tip: When supplementing with a B-complex, look for one with methylcobalamin and methylfolate because these are the most active forms of B12 and folate.
Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to cognitive impairment, memory loss, and dementia (19). As we age, vitamin B12 deficiency becomes more common.
Low stomach acid or use of proton pump inhibitors (a medication for acid reflux) can impair B12 production, as can other medications.
The best sources of B12 are meat, fish, milk, cheese, and eggs. vegans and vegetarians may find it especially difficult to maintain healthy B12 levels because the primary B12 sources are derived from animals.
Folate and vitamin B12 work hand-in-hand to produce nerve cells and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that allow brain and nerve cells to communicate with one another), both necessary for optimal brain function and memory.
Folate is plentiful in dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, beans, peas, and nuts.
Iron is essential to deliver oxygen to cells. Your brain cells require lots of oxygen to function properly. Iron is also essential for the brain cells to produce myelin, the protective coating around nerve cells in your brain that allows signals to transmit quickly and efficiently.
Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, beans/legumes, dark leafy greens, and iron-fortified cereals.
If you suspect you are deficient in iron it is important to be tested by your healthcare provider before choosing to take a supplement.
Nearly half of Americans are have low magnesium levels. Magnesium is important for blood sugar control and diabetes prevention (a critical factor in brain fog and cognitive decline) as well as learning and memory. (23, 24)
Magnesium is plentiful in almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pecans, brown rice, avocado, beans, and tofu.
The recommendation is 300-400 mg per day. Magnesium supplements in the form of Magnesium L-threonate or Glycinate are well-tolerated and well absorbed. For maximum benefit, take it in the evening or before bed.
People with severe heart disease or kidney disease should speak with their health care provider before supplementing with magnesium.
Occasionally, magnesium supplementation can cause diarrhea or stomach upset, though this is much less likely to happen with the magnesium supplements listed above.
Supplements for Brain Fog
Aside from some vitamins and minerals, there are several supplements that have been shown to lift brain fog and enhance cognitive performance.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients which you must get from your diet because your body cannot produce them. Omega-3s are necessary for brain growth, reducing inflammation, and promoting heart health.
A review of 14 studies found that omega-3 supplementation may improve memory, attention, and decision-making (25)
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). To be useful, ALA must be converted to EPA and DHA.
Unfortunately, the conversion happens slowly and inefficiently, so for the purposes of this discussion we will focus on EPA and DHA since they have the most evidence supporting their benefits.
DHA and EPA are healthy fats found mostly in fatty fish and seaweed. Two servings of fatty fish a week is adequate to cover basic needs.
If you do not consume two servings of fatty fish a week, or believe you could benefit from an omega-3 supplement for added brain and heart support, look for a supplement that contains 450-500 mg of omega-3s.
Pro-tip: To get omega-3s in their most natural form, consider a fish oil supplement from either krill oil or wild Alaskan salmon.
People who consume L-theanine, either in pill form or by drinking green or black tea, may see an increase in the ability to maintain attention and make fewer mistakes when performing lengthy tasks (9).
Both green and black tea naturally contain L-theanine and caffeine, so why not sip on these natural sources to boost cognitive performance? If you prefer L-theanine alone, the dose used in the studies was typically around 100 mg.
Phosphatidylserine is produced by the body and found in large amounts in the brain. It protects the cells of the brain and helps maintain sharp, youthful minds and memory. As we age, production of phosphatidylserine declines (29, 30).
Taking 100 mg Phosphatidylserine three times per day for 12 weeks improved both learning ability and memory in adults with mild to severe cognitive impairment (31, 32, 33) and the supplement was generally very well tolerated.
Phosphatidylserine can be found in soy, egg yolks, organ meats like liver, tuna, and white beans.
Panax Ginseng is an herbal remedy known as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that help the body deal with stress and promote a feeling of well-being. A root that grows in the mountains of east Asia, Panax Ginseng is not found in common foods.
The typical dose of Panax Ginseng in most studies was 200 mg/day.
Natural Remedies and Supplements for Brain Fog
Brain fog can make even simple tasks feel difficult. And it can have a significant impact on your quality of life.
Fortunately, lifestyle changes and carefully selected supplementation make it possible to reduce and even eliminate brain fog symptoms so you can live life to the fullest.
You do not have to live with brain fog! Try some of these natural remedies today to find relief.
* Before choosing to supplement it is always best to check with your healthcare provider. It is also recommended that you try just one supplement at a time so you can determine whether it is helping. And of course, even the best supplementation plan will not be successful if the root causes are not being addressed.
Pam is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s of Public Health and a Certificate in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Passionate about the science of health and nutrition, she loves to share her knowledge to help others live healthy, vibrant lives. When not working, Pam can be found hiking, traveling, and enjoying great-tasting, nutritious food.