Brain fog is a frustrating problem. It stops you from accomplishing your personal and professional goals. It can even make ordinary tasks like paying the household bills or balancing your household budget a whole lot more difficult.
So how to get rid of brain fog? It might surprise you that the best way to improve attention and focus may be to keep your gut healthy. Scientists are discovering more and more each day about what they call the gut-brain axis. Your gut sends the equivalent of text messages to your brain, letting it know how to work and feel its best. At the same time, your brain can send signals to your gut. When the gut’s messages to the brain are wrong or blocked altogether, your thought processes might become foggy. In this blog post, we’ll talk about the gut-related causes of brain fog and how to get rid of a foggy head.
What Causes Brain Fog?
Here are some ways your gut might be to blame for those cobwebs in your head.
Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. In this disorder, exposure to the gluten protein causes inflammation and injures the small intestines. In response to gluten exposure, the body makes antibodies that also damage the brain.1 People with celiac disease who aren’t on a gluten-free diet often complain of cognitive symptoms including brain fog.1 They can have problems paying attention or concentrating, remembering words, or problems with memory.1
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is also known as gluten sensitivity. It’s thought that 10% of people have this disorder.1 If you have this disorder the symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, or diarrhea are similar to celiac disease. However, people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity don’t experience an actual immune response when exposed to gluten. They also don’t have the intestinal damage seen in people with celiac disease. About half of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity suffer from brain fog.2 Researchers have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brains of subjects with non-celiac gluten sensitivity after eating gluten. 2They’ve found that gluten can trigger some changes in the brain.
Not Absorbing Enough Nutrients
If your body isn’t able to absorb the nutrients you’re eating, your brain might not work its best. B vitamins are especially important for focus and concentration. Vitamin B12 in particular is involved in healthy cognitive function.3,4 The bacteria in your gut make vitamin B12.5 So if your gastrointestinal tract isn’t healthy you might not be making enough B12. A good digestive enzyme supplement can support the health of the gut and enhance nutrient absorption (more on this later).
Can Stress Cause Brain Fog?
The answer to that question is: you bet. Ongoing stress affects memory, especially particular aspects of memory. For example, in a group of stressed people, episodic memory—the recollection of specific events and experiences—suffered.6 In particular, the stressed subjects had a hard time with tasks requiring divided attention. The stressed participants also had problems with their working memory, a type of memory that allows us to use or store new information.
Stress changes your gut microbiota, the population of bacteria and other organisms—both good and bad—that live in your intestines.7 Since the gut microbiota are involved in mood and memory, any stress-related change to the intestinal microbes can potentially lead to brain fog.7,8 What’s more, when you’re stressed out you’re also probably not eating right. That in turn affects your gut, which can wreak havoc on your gut-brain axis.
Eating Foods That Cause Brain Fog
Eating a diet filled with processed foods, unhealthy fats, and sugar is linked to poor cognitive function.9 Research has shown that eating sucrose (table sugar) can cause memory problems.10 The sugar substitute sucralose also caused problems with memory and other aspects of cognitive function.10 Interestingly, stevia didn’t cause any of these memory problems.10
It’s virtually impossible to avoid sugar all the time. So taking a digestive enzyme supplement with enzymes that help digest carbs and sugars can go a long way in supporting cognitive function.
Eating what’s known as a low-glycemic load diet may also keep your brain sharper.11 Foods with a low glycemic index don’t raise your blood sugar as much as white bread. Glycemic load is a similar concept. It’s more of a measure of how high your blood sugar will shoot up when you eat the food. This can depend upon the carb content of the food as well as other factors. Scientists have found that eating a low-glycemic load diet can support healthy cognitive function in some people.11 You can find lists of low glycemic load foods online.
Food Intolerances may also cause brain fog. Food allergies happen soon after eating an offending food. However, food intolerances or sensitivities can cause a flare up hours or even days after you eat a food that you react to. It’s best to work with a functional medicine provider to order a test that can pinpoint which foods are causing you problems.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
A good night’s rest goes a long way in boosting brain health. On the other hand, memory suffers when you’re deprived of your shut-eye.12 Digestive problems are known to keep people from getting their rest.13,14 Even something like constipation has been linked to poor sleep.14
How To Get Rid of Brain Fog
One good way to address many of the above reasons for brain fog is to take a digestive enzyme supplement. Digestive enzymes can support nutrient absorption. What’s more, they can help your body cope better with many of the foods that cause brain fog. Enzymes like DPPIV can help digest gluten while amylase, lactase, invertase, xylanase, and maltase breaks down sugar and carbs.
Although it’s best to avoid added sugar and foods that don’t agree with you, we know this isn’t always possible. A digestive enzyme formula can give your body an upper hand for those times when you indulge. In addition, digestive enzyme supplements can also support overall digestive health for a more restful night’s sleep. Digestive enzymes are definitely a key player in the battle against brain fog. Combine them with a healthy diet (most of the time, anyway) and keep your stress under control. By doing so, you’ll say goodbye to your foggy head and hello to clear thinking.
Ready to ditch the brain fog? Try out our Starter Pack - it’s a doctor-formulated, gut training pack of digestive enzymes that help you transform your gut health.
- Lanza G, Bella R, Cantone M, Pennisi G, Ferri R, Pennisi M. Cognitive Impairment and Celiac Disease: Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation a Trait d'Union between Gut and Brain? Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(8).
- Croall ID, Hoggard N, Aziz I, Hadjivassiliou M, Sanders DS. Brain fog and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: Proof of concept brain MRI pilot study. PLoS One. 2020;15(8):e0238283.
- Soh Y, Lee DH, Won CW. Association between Vitamin B12 levels and cognitive function in the elderly Korean population. Medicine (Baltimore). 2020;99(30):e21371.
- Nalder L, Zheng B, Chiandet G, Middleton LT, de Jager CA. Vitamin B12 and Folate Status in Cognitively Healthy Older Adults and Associations with Cognitive Performance. J Nutr Health Aging. 2021;25(3):287-294.
- Stevens CE, Hume ID. Contributions of microbes in vertebrate gastrointestinal tract to production and conservation of nutrients. Physiol Rev. 1998;78(2):393-427.
- Ohman L, Nordin S, Bergdahl J, Slunga Birgander L, Stigsdotter Neely A. Cognitive function in outpatients with perceived chronic stress. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2007;33(3):223-232.
- Bear T, Dalziel J, Coad J, Roy N, Butts C, Gopal P. The Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis and Resilience to Developing Anxiety or Depression under Stress. Microorganisms. 2021;9(4).
- Arnoriaga-Rodríguez M, Mayneris-Perxachs J, Burokas A, et al. Obesity Impairs Short-Term and Working Memory through Gut Microbial Metabolism of Aromatic Amino Acids. Cell Metab. 2020;32(4):548-560.e547.
- Tsan L, Décarie-Spain L, Noble EE, Kanoski SE. Western Diet Consumption During Development: Setting the Stage for Neurocognitive Dysfunction. Front Neurosci. 2021;15:632312.
- López-Meza MS, Otero-Ojeda G, Estrada JA, Esquivel-Hernández FJ, Contreras I. The impact of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners on the central nervous system: preliminary study. Nutr Neurosci. 2021:1-10.
- Garber A, Csizmadi I, Friedenreich CM, et al. Association between glycemic load and cognitive function in community-dwelling older adults: Results from the Brain in Motion study. Clin Nutr. 2018;37(5):1690-1699.
- Veal BM, Mu CX, Small BJ, Lee S. Subjective cognitive abilities correlate with poor sleep among day-shift and night-shift nurses. J Sleep Res. 2021:e13359.
- Indah Kusumawati Noor L, Bakri A, Soejadhi R, Kesuma Y. Association Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Sleep Disturbance in Adolescents. Adolesc Health Med Ther. 2020;11:73-77.
- Ono S, Komada Y, Kamiya T, Shirakawa S. A pilot study of the relationship between bowel habits and sleep health by actigraphy measurement and fecal flora analysis. J Physiol Anthropol. 2008;27(3):145-151.