WHAT IS BRAIN FOG?
With the surge of COVID-19 and winter fast approaching, many individuals have complained “brain fog” is slowing down their cognitive function, rendering them sluggish or fuzzy. This week, we’re sharing some of our favorite farm to pharmacy remedies to restore the mind and the memory, to calm the nerves, and to improve sleep (all of which, among other factors, may be responsible for causing your brain challenges).
According to Harvard Medical School neurology lecturer Dr. Andrew E. Budson, “Brain fog is not a medical or scientific term,” and “we all experience this feeling [of not being our sharpest] from time to time.” Rather than a rigid diagnosis, brain fog can be the result of overworking, too much screen time or stress, or an added side effect of other illnesses.
In Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care, Maria Noël Groves writes:
“Your brain is the original portable computer […] an electric neural forest rich with memories, emotions, dreams, and desires. So much of your identity stems from your brain function. It’s never too early or too late to start tending your neural forest and taking simple steps to improve your brain function.”
Common symptoms of brain fog include:
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating for extended periods of time;
- Problems with short-term memory;
- Low mental energy or diminished physical vitality;
- Trouble multitasking or being productive;
- Reduced capacity for learning or absorbing information;
- Confusion or other signs that cognition is impaired;
- Light-headed, “cloudy”, or dizzy feelings;
- Issues with mood (e.g., feeling depressed, anxious, irritable, etc.); and
- Decline in general cognitive abilities.
The good news is that brain fog, unlike persistent or recurring mental health conditions such as depression, ADD or ADHD, is a temporary condition of diminished brain power or consciousness clouding, and there’s a whole regiment of natural remedies, activities, and foods you can rely on to get you out of the mental stagnation in little time.
First, let’s take a look at one of our favorite nootropics to discuss, a.k.a. “smart drugs” or intelligent herbs. This category of plant remedies helps improve memory, brain function, and even intelligence, so it’s the perfect starting point for getting our minds right.
HOW CAN “SMART DRUGS” HELP?
Brain tonics to the rescue! Nootropics help maintain and improve cognitive function and memory, while also boosting the way our neurotransmitters work. While typically reserved for alleviating concerns related to the brain itself, nootropics can also strengthen mental health and other conditions that have neural components. In Ayurveda, for instance, several herbs work as nootropics. Some examples include: bacopa, gotu kola, holy basil, rosemary, lavender, ginkgo, and rhodiola.
Additional benefits of nootropics range from enhancing attention, focus and concentration to bolstering memory and targeting the root causes of brain fog. A lack of sufficient energy the brain cells need to properly function is one such cause, as are inflammation in the brain, nutrition deficits, and hormonal imbalances.
Research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defined nootropics as “a compound that increases mental functions including memory, motivation, concentration, and attention.” Natural nootropics, the scientists concluded, “are proven in boosting the brain function while at the same time making the brain healthier.” How do they do it? By acting “as a vasodilator against the small arteries and veins in the brain [...] increasing the blood circulation to the brain and at the same time providing the important nutrient and increasing energy and oxygen flow to the brain,” further confirming that the positive effects of nootropics have long-term benefits.
HOW FOODS FOR MAXIMUM BRAINPOWER
Maria Noël Groves teaches that the three foundations of thriving brain health are diet, lifestyle, and mind-body balance. While it is said we “eat with our eyes” first, many health concerns can be addressed through the belly or gut. So here are five foods that will help your brain fog dissipate, while giving your immune system the reboot it needs to heal you.
Abundant in diets throughout the Asian diaspora, turmeric has been proven to contribute to the low incidence of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in those regions. Its potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and circulation enhancing properties support brain health. This bright yellow spice also helps keep beta-amyloid plaques from forming in the cerebral cortex, according to Groves. Other benefits of the super root include liver protection, improved digestion, pain relief, and antidepressant effects.
Revered for its ability to promote better sleep, cacao is also a nutritive powerhouse that helps combat depression. It has been scientifically proven to contain four key “bliss chemicals”: serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylethylamine, which are the neurotransmitters associated with our wellbeing and happiness. With over 80 percent of Americans suffering from a chronic magnesium deficiency, cacao is a known source of the highest magnesium content of all foods on the planet, and is a natural relaxant.
Looking to improve your mood, increase your energy, reduce inflammation, and boost metabolism (all potential causes of brain fog, by the way)? Allow us to (re)introduce matcha, well known for its antioxidant content and also proven to reduce the risk of dementia and other cognitive impairment in the elderly. Japanese researchers found that elderly patients with mild to severe dementia who supplemented their diets with two to four cups of the tea daily for three months were able to improve their short-term memory and scored higher in dementia assessments. Even for healthy adults, green tea can improve brain function and activity, including sharper memory and other increased cognitive abilities. Further, it can help with weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels.
For centuries, The Velvet Bean a.k.a. “The Dopamine Bean” has proven to be a superfood with dense nutrients to boost energy and mood. The adaptogenic legume has long been prescribed by indigenous peoples to help people recovering from depression, and ancient Ayurvedic uses have included treating Parkinson’s disease. The seeds and leaves are extracted to treat various nervous disorders and male infertility, and it’s also considered a powerful aphrodisiac (mood and libido are often connected) by many.
In a nutshell, adaptogens are nontoxic plants that work intelligently and uniquely to help the body adapt to multiple stressors. They protect the mind and body from the damaging effects of stress, helping the body achieve homeostasis. Medicinal mushrooms have been used in folks and traditional medicines even before recorded history. Reishi can improve mental sharpness, Lion’s Mane supports memory and cognition, and Cordyceps energizes when those lulls in mind-body performance hit.
To learn more, check out our guide to these eight adaptogenic mushrooms.
7 HERBS TO HELP CLEAR BRAIN FOG
Its Latin name, Salvia officinalis, means “to heal”. In the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) system, it is known as a powerful antioxidant that assists with joint pain and other inflammation, which causes swelling, circulatory disorders, and other ailments. Its benefits for cognitive and neurological function have been backed by science, including its ability to fight oxidative stress and to promote antidepressant behaviors.
With its origins in ancient Persian traditional medicine as a treatment for memory problems, recent studies have confirmed its power to slow and prevent cognitive decline. Its red pigment comes from crocin, which can combat plaque buildup in the body. In numerous studies, saffron has proven that not only can it fight mild-to-moderate depression even better than prescription drugs, it also eases PMS symptoms, neutralizes harmful free radicals, and could be just the aphrodisiac you need.
As we’ve mentioned, one of the most common causes of brain fog is lack of proper sleep (not long enough, not profound enough, etc.). Blue Lotus, with its reputation as a gateway to the divine, is a respected ancestral flower known to induce deep meditative energy, enhance third eye function, and motivate lucid dreaming. It’s also a great ally for decompressing the nervous system for total mind-body relaxation. Sip on our Third Eye Latte before bedtime for a euphoric transition into deep sleep!
By any other name, it would still smell as sweet, Shakespeare’s Juliet once said of the rose. Though famous for opening and winning hearts, did you know its healing powers are abundant far beyond its beauty and aroma? With neuroprotective properties known to help with neuralgia and tons of nutrients (magnesium and key energy-enhancing vitamins) to boost the mind and body overall, brain fog is no match for a rose-rich diet.
This stimulating rainforest plant has been revered for its medicinal uses by indigenous peoples even before the discovery of Brazil. South American Indian tribes (especially the Guaranis, from which the plant derives its name) make a chocolatey energy drink by drying and roasting the seeds, and then mixing them into a paste. In addition to its known use as a memory enhancing remedy, guaraná can soothe nerves, benefit brain function, prevent premature aging, and boost alertness and cognitive performance.
Desperately fighting to regain your concentration? Rhodiola rosea may be the centuries old plant medicine you need to shake that mental fatigue and dips in mood. All over the world, traditional medicinal systems have relied on this natural supplement to treat burnout, exhaustion, and other symptoms of brain fog … before we had a name for it.
The first uses of this plant are believed to have popped up around 2,000 years ago in China, where the herbal remedy was used to boost immunity and as a general stimulant. Native to Japan, northern China, South and North Korea, and southeastern Russia, eleuthero may also be referred to as Siberian ginseng. Adaptogenic in nature, eleuthero can also reduce fatigue, boost energy levels, improve cognitive function, and increase the flow of blood to the brain (which helps with memory and concentration, too). Further studies have affirmed that its compounds—eleutherosides—have great potential to prevent and repair nerve damage, which may help to prevent and manage Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive neurological conditions.
BONUS TOOLS + TIPS BOOST MENTAL CLARITY
Now that we’ve addressed herbs and foods that can benefit your mental health and your overall cognitive function (a.k.a. the Diet part of Maria Noël Groves’ brain health trinity: Diet, Lifestyle, and Mind-Body Balance), let’s dive into some non-comestible shifts you can make. Starting today, bolstering your mental clarity could mean just a few small tweaks integrated with mindfulness into your lifestyle. Bye bye, brain fog!
Here are a few more tools to help keep your mind healthy and sharp:
LISTEN TO MUSIC.
Science says music is good for the brain, but what parts of brain health are specifically aided by these magical melodies? According to AARP and Harvard University, anxiety and depression levels are lower in music listeners, those who are exposed to music as a child are more likely to more easily learn new things, and “active musical engagement” is linked to higher rates of cognitive function. To really shake things up (in body and mind), add some reggaeton to your playlist—mitú reports scientists from the Canary Islands and Finland found that “listening to reggaeton evokes more brain activity than other forms of music.”
“We are social animals,” writes Dr. Andrew E. Budson. Budson encourages participating in mood lifting social activities, not just to put a smile on our faces, but also to help with thinking and memory. While the “new normal” of working from home and away from others can be isolating, think about how you can safely engage in group outings that don’t involve substances (alcohol, drugs, etc.). Many public libraries and community centers offer free activities for mind and body.