You don’t have to take supplements to increase your mental clarity and reduce brain fog.
Strategies like finding your therapeutic diet, practicing good sleep habits, reducing stress, and moving your body are all foundational steps for mental clarity.
Even if you’re already doing these things, it’s worth taking another look at them if you feel like your mental clarity is lacking. You might find that something you thought was the healthiest option is actually contributing to your symptoms. (Surprise: This could be a low-carb diet!)
Though brain fog may crop up without a specific illness attached to it, more publicity on viral infections like COVID-19 and Epstein-Barr virus has shed light on brain fog and other cognitive impairments that often manifest with these illnesses. I say “mild” as opposed to something like a traumatic brain injury, but consistent brain fog feels like a serious impediment to a fulfilling, purposeful life, no matter what the cause may be.
We’ve written extensively about brain fog before, so this article will take a different angle: How can you achieve greater mental clarity every day, and how can you make it easy? (Or at least, not a chore where you have to follow a highly restrictive diet and take 15 supplements.)
Finding mental clarity in your life doesn’t have to be difficult, and it might be the simplest changes that make the biggest difference in your cognition. To illustrate this point, we’ll weave in two recent patient stories from our clinic:
How Jeff reduced brain fog without restrictive diets.
How Danielle used limbic retraining to improve her mental and physical health.
These patients were able to make significant shifts in their cognitive function and overall well-being with simple changes and practices — and so can you. Let’s dive in.
Obstacles to Mental Clarity
First, here’s a brief overview of reasons you might be experiencing brain fog, mental fatigue, or issues with cognition and memory.
Histamine intolerance, when the body becomes overly sensitive to certain triggers and releases histamine to stimulate an immune response, can also lead to brain fog [8 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Certainly any trigger foods, such as gluten and dairy products, may also be causing brain fog or cognitive symptoms [18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
But sometimes, as with Jeff’s case, the issue is actually not getting enough food — specifically not enough carbs. Surprising, right? Isn’t everyone supposed to eat a low-carb diet? Aren’t healthy fats the best energy source for the brain? Not always.
Jeff had been on a keto diet for a while, and consequently, his carb intake was quite low. Once he increased his carbs, he found his brain fog improved significantly.
This goes to show that even if you think you’re eating the healthiest diet possible, if you’re experiencing cognitive issues, it may be time to reevaluate.
If you’re reconfiguring your diet from scratch, you can start with a simple elimination diet to figure out what foods may be triggering your symptoms and what foods support your mental clarity. What you’re looking for with your personalized diet is to follow these four principles:
Eat to control inflammation.
Eat to control and balance blood sugar.
Find your ideal intake of carbohydrates and prebiotics.
Identify your food allergies and intolerances.
If you can achieve these benchmarks in your diet, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier and more efficient mind.
If you’re already practicing some form of movement, it’s worth asking whether a different type of movement might serve you and your brain better. This is what happened to Jeff: He prioritized weight training, believing it to be the best kind of exercise for muscle health and longevity. This may still be true, but he found that adding in a little light cardio a couple of times per week actually greatly improved his brain fog.
If he had remained rigid in his exercise beliefs, he never would have experienced the benefits of changing up his movement. But he was open to the possibility that his personal needs had changed in that moment (and they may change again in the future), and made the necessary adjustment to his routine that resulted in the outcome he wanted.
Sleep tends to be underrated in our culture, but it has a massive impact on cognitive function and brain health. Part of the reason we sleep is to give the brain a chance to detoxify, consolidate memories, and recover to prepare for more mental output the following day [21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Even if we don’t have problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night, we may not be getting the deep, restful sleep that our brains need. An intervention as simple as controlling how we breathe during sleep can make a huge difference.
As part of his treatment, Jeff began mouth taping at night to train his body to breathe through his nose instead of his mouth. Breathing through the nose activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest state. Although Jeff wasn’t having significant sleep issues, he noticed that his sleep was much more restful with mouth taping.
Mouth taping may sound somewhat intimidating to many people. It can be a useful therapy for some, like Jeff, but trying simple breathing exercises and myofunctional therapy exercises (physical therapy for the mouth) can also help promote nasal breathing during sleep. You can start with basic exercises, and then move on to mouth taping or other interventions if needed.
If you have sleep foundations in place like a consistent bedtime routine, turning lights down at night, and putting social media and electronics away at least an hour before bed, but you’re still not having as restful sleep as you could, consider addressing your breathing for better sleep and brain function.
According to the National Institute on Aging, mental stimulation, such as playing strategic games, reading, learning new skills, or engaging in deep conversation, may improve cognitive health including mood, thinking ability, and memory .
We don’t yet have studies showing specific cognitive health benefits for specific mental stimulation, such as learning a language [23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. But the concept of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity suggests that brain change occurs throughout the human lifespan, so presumably using our brains for more and more complex tasks would contribute to mental agility over time.
Either way, participating in these brain-stimulating activities certainly doesn’t hurt. Not only that, these activities prove that keeping yourself healthy mentally and physically doesn’t have to be a chore you force yourself to do, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, research shows that it can and should be fun.
Participating in these activities in a calm and relaxed way also signals safety to your body and nervous system. This is a place where healing and neurogenesis can occur more easily.
Sometimes, due to chronic stress, trauma (including chronic illness), or brain injury, the brain can get stuck in negative and unhelpful thought patterns, effectively shutting down neuroplasticity. These thought patterns can both manifest physical symptoms and prevent healing.
So let’s say a patient is having brain fog, fatigue, and joint pain, for example. If as a clinician, from the outside perspective, you’re seeing improvements in these symptoms with dietary and lifestyle changes, but the patient is telling you they don’t feel any better, that is one indication they may need some neuroplasticity retraining [26 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
This is not the same as saying “the symptoms are all in your head.” We would never tell a patient this, and it’s unlikely to be true anyway. In many cases, there are multiple causal factors at play. But one of them may be these recurring thought loops or a sense of hypervigilance to symptoms.
What’s happening here is the limbic system, the fear center of the brain, is constantly activated, always searching for threats and putting the nervous system on high alert. Once that pattern is in place, the brain naturally continues to follow it based on past experience, unless it is consciously interrupted and a different thought pattern is chosen [27 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 28 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
This was part of Danielle’s journey to recovery from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Despite making significant progress on her symptoms, she still felt poorly. It was only when she began limbic retraining to calm down her nervous system, regain neuroplasticity, and really begin to enjoy life again that her symptoms improved tremendously.
If you’re struggling with multiple symptoms, feeling like they’re the only thing you think about, and you’ve even had multiple doctors try and fail to help you resolve those symptoms, I encourage you to watch Danielle’s video interview with me.
Reduce Stress for Mental Clarity
Ever go on vacation for a week, and when you return to work it’s like your brain has been supercharged? It’s a good bet that you benefited from a reduction in stress while you were on vacation.
Getting that boost in your energy levels is great, but how were you handling stress before? Were you letting it build up with your to-do list and never-ending email notifications?
Even though we know chronic stress is unhealthy, reducing it tends to be low on the list of our health strategies. It’s easy to get trapped in our day-to-day responsibilities and forget that our state of mind depends on how we take care of ourselves.
Fortunately, putting strategies in place for eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep each night, moving your body, and enjoying fun hobbies go a long way toward reducing stress.
But taking time for activities that involve inner reflection, like journaling, meditation, and breathwork, can really help to calm the stress response, reduce mental fog, and support whole body wellness [29 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. These practices can all help you actively keep track of your mental state and promote mental clarity.
Achieving Mental Clarity Can Be Accomplished Without Supplements
Of course, supplements are still available when you need them, and we don’t deny that they can have a huge impact on your mind and body. But sometimes it’s simple tweaks and considerations to your health regimen that can initiate huge leaps forward in healing brain fog or cognitive impairment. If you do find that you need additional support beyond diet, movement, and sleep practices, check out the “Great-in-8” steps in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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