Reasons you may have ‘brain fog’

Poor decision-making, lack of concentration, forgetfulness and a general feeling of absent-mindedness or “fogginess” can plague all of us from time to time.

Often referred to as “brain fog”, feeling like we can’t make sense of what’s going in our heads or that we are lacking focus can be frustrating and at times, worrying.

Is brain fog really a thing?

While brain fog isn’t technically a medical condition, it’s a type of cognitive dysfunction, which results in a lack of mental clarity for those who grapple with it.

Brain fog can affect men and women of all ages, but Monash University Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Caroline Gurvich looks at how brain fog can affect women, particularly those going through hormonal changes such as menopause and pregnancy.

What causes brain fog?

“Lots of different people experience ‘brain fog’ for a whole host of different reasons caused by many different things,” Dr Gurvich says.

“(In women) hormones can at times make them more susceptible to brain fog, especially during periods of hormonal fluctuations.

“Many women going through the menopause transition describe brain fog or difficulties concentrating, remembering information, planning and organising.

“Our research is exploring how this brain fog is related to fluctuations in sex hormone levels.”

Dr Gurvich says pregnancy is a time when women can be most susceptible to brain fog.

Often referred to as pregnancy or baby brain, this can also go beyond the birth of a child.

Dr Gurvich says the triggers for brain fog are not just hormones but feelings of stress or anxiety, fatigue or issues with diet.

“The reasons people experience symptoms of brain fog are varied. Sometimes they might be more stressed or anxious or tired – there’s a whole range of reasons,” she says.

A 2010 study by the University of Kentucky says chemotherapy patients are also at an increased risk of suffering from brain fog.

What to do about brain fog

Just as the causes of brain fog are varied, Dr Gurvich says the treatments are, too.

“Sometimes a person might also need more sleep or a change of diet. More exercise can also help some people,” she says.

Dr Gurvich says women going through menopause may worry that brain fog is something more serious.

“Sometimes women going through menopause might feel worried their brain fog is the onset of dementia but often chatting with a medical professional can alleviate those worries and settle the anxiety.

“Reducing stress and anxiety can also help make thinking clearer.

“Ultimately if someone feels as if they are not functioning as they should, they should speak to a professional.”

Things to try if you have brain fog:

  • Increase exercise
  • Get more sleep
  • Change up your diet – boost foods high in antioxidants, zinc, magnesium, vitamins B and C, Omega 3s, and iron including cocoa, turmeric, broccoli, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, nuts, oranges, spinach, avocado, eggs and salmon.

Written by Sally Heppleston.