Eat to Beat Brain Fog: Foods to Try (and Avoid) to Support Cognitive Health

by
Parsley Health
Author
Medically Reviewed
April 1, 2024

If you’ve been feeling fuzzy lately, it may not just be your imagination.

While experts are uncertain if brain fog—the diminished ability to focus or multitask—has been on the rise, Google searches this common symptom of long COVID have been skyrocketing.

While brain fog can be caused by long COVID , that's not the only condition it can be symptomatic of.

What is brain fog?

The first thing to get straight is that brain fog is a symptom (like fatigue), not a condition (like diabetes ).

“Brain fog is not a disease,” says Parsley Health's Dr. Nisha Chellam . “It is a symptom of an underlying condition.”

Brain fog can feel like:

  • Finding it difficult to finish a task
  • Having difficulty finding or remembering words
  • Memory loss
  • A fuzzy feeling in the head, like a cloud over your thoughts

What causes brain fog?

“Brain fog is multifactorial,” says Parsley Health's Dr. Ruvini Wijetilaka , which means it could be caused or exacerbated by a variety of factors. “It could happen because your gut health isn’t optimal or your nutrition isn’t up to par. Lack of movement can also contribute to brain fog. We’ve also been seeing post-viral brain fog, AKA long COVID.”

"Changes in the brain or its function are related to inflammation, poor blood flow, and lack of energy," says Dr. Chellam.

Some other conditions associated with brain fog:

  • Sleep disorders like sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and insomnia
  • Chronic stress
  • Gut inflammation
  • Nutrient deficiencies (e.g., lack of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and steady glucose control)
  • Infections like mold toxicity , Lyme disease, or viral syndromes like long COVID
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Fibromyalgia and chronic pain syndromes
  • Medications
  • Hormonal issues like thyroid or ovarian disease
  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression

What can I do to reduce brain fog?

You should uncover the underlying cause of brain fog before you and your healthcare provider choose a medical course of action, says Dr. Chellam. "Given the varying causes of brain fog, it is good to get testing done.”

In the meantime, there are lots of things you can do to support your cognitive health—including change how you eat.

What can I eat to reduce brain fog?

  • Get colorful with more whole veggies and fruits
  • Leaner meats like white fish and skinless poultry meat
  • Foods high in soluble fiber like carrots, broccoli, berries and apples reduce inflammation and stabilize blood sugar
  • Foods high in omega-3s like anchovies and sardines
  • Foods high in B12 like clams, fortified cereals, and beef
  • More minerals! If you drink alcohol daily or exercise a lot, replace your electrolytes with leafy greens, seaweed, and bone broth

Are there foods that cause brain fog?

Inflammation, one of the multifactorial causes of brain fog, can be caused by certain foods. To reduce inflammation, limit or avoid inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, ultra-processed foods, and foods with a lot of sugar.

While eliminating all inflammatory foods may not be an option, taking steps can have a big impact—and it's never a bad thing to become more in tune with how your body responds to what you eat.

"Be intuitive about your body," says Dr. Chellam. “For example—toast with orange juice can make brain fog worse. You may feel better initially, but then crash."

If you suspect certain foods are causing a reaction, a food diary is a great way to keep track. Pay close attention to patterns that arise over time. "Sometimes a food reaction can take up to 72 hours to show up as a problem," says Dr. Chellam.

Caffeine, alcohol, and brain fog

Alcohol is never a good option for the brain,” says Dr. Chellam. “Studies have shown that even one glass of alcohol can be detrimental. It is worse in people who have genetic traits to not detox alcohol well.”

As for your morning cup of coffee, Dr. Wijetilaka suggests swapping to a lower-caffeine option or trying out alternatives, like mushroom coffee. “Responses to caffeine are based on genetics," she says. "If you are a poor metabolizer of caffeine, you can have associated brain fog with increased anxiety."

Can supplements help brain fog?

Dr. Chellam reiterates that many different things can cause brain fog, so knowing the root cause is important.

“Some people just need nutrients to, like B complex or vitamin D or omega 3, to resolve their brain fog" says Dr. Chellam. "Others will need to have their gut evaluated and treated. Still others will need infections treated or hormones replaced."

"I like to use nootropics to help with brain health,” adds Dr. Wijetilaka.

As always talk, to your doctor before trying a new supplement—taking the wrong supplement can won't help your brain fog, and can even be a health risk.

How can Parsley Health help with brain fog?

“Addressing brain fog is both a science and an art,” says Dr. Chellam. Getting an accurate cause of the brain fog through talking with their clinician and testing will determine the supplements an individual needs.

While there are things you can do on your own—like eating the right foods—you won’t know the root cause of your brain fog without medical support.

Ready to free your mind from brain fog? Schedule a free call  to learn more about Parsley’s root-cause approach to healing, using insurance  with Parsley, and how we can personalize your health journey.

by
Parsley Health
Author

Parsley Health is the doctor that helps you live healthier, longer, by treating the root cause of symptoms and conditions. Our medical teams—staffed by leading clinicians and health coaches—spend more time with you, order the right tests, and prescribe food, sleep and movement alongside medications so you can get better—and feel better.

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