Slow thinking, low motivation, blue mood, spotty memory and poor focus -- when brain fog strikes, it can impair virtually all aspects of cognitive performance. Nootropics for brain fog can help.
With natural support for mental energy, brain chemicals, stress resistance and more, the right nootropics can clear away brain fog burnout and revitalize your overall cognitive performance. This guide discusses the best nootropics for regaining your mental clarity when brain fog has rolled in.
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a temporary state of diminished cognitive function typically signified by mild, transient impairment to memory, attention, processing speed, and other executive functions.<1>
Also called mental fatigue or burnout, brain fog often manifests as sudden mental confusion marked by inability to focus, poor memory, and confusion. This cognitive fog can range from mild to severe, from frustrating to truly incapacitating.
Brain fog can hamper your clarity and productivity to varying degrees, and it’s easy to blow off slighter episodes. You could experience just one or two isolated incidents related to lifestyle choices, but if the fuzziness begins to occur more frequently you might have to make some changes.
Brain Fog Symptoms
Today is a big day. The presentation you’ve been working on so hard for so long is scheduled for 2 pm, and you’re fired up and ready to go. But then you sit down to polish up the finishing touches – and your mind goes blank.
You struggle to come up with the right words. It should be easy, but you can’t concentrate. It feels like the words you're looking for are just beyond your grasp, but the harder you try to pull them out, the more frustrated you feel. What is going on?
You’ve probably been hit by a sudden case of brain fog.
A slow, moderate decline in cognitive functions, especially memory, is considered a natural part of aging. But brain fog is not part of normal age-related cognitive decline, and it can be a sign of serious physiological deficiencies or mental health concerns.
Some of the symptoms of brain fog are similar to other disorders, like ADD or ADHD. The main difference between brain fog and psychological or cognitive disorders is that brain fog is usually temporary, while disorders are generally recurring or persistent.
Brain fog symptoms vary but may include difficulty with:
- Recalling words
- Working memory
- Spatial orientation
- Math and numerical processing
In addition, some people claim feeling light-headed, dizzy, and generally “cloudy.”
Like other conditions, the symptoms of brain fog are only signs of an underlying cause that could further deteriorate cognitive function if left unaddressed.
How Brain Fog Works
Extensive research has analyzed individual components of chronic fatigue’s cognitive symptoms, but sources lack a comprehensive description of the multiple factors that contribute to brain fog and how they interact.<2>
However, researchers are beginning to understand the anatomical changes that accompany brain fog’s cognitive symptoms – like lack of creativity, difficulty problem-solving, and poor working memory – by studying clinically-diagnosed mental burnout.
- In a compilation of 15 highly credible studies, a team of Greek scientists verified that in 13 of the 15 studies, burnout was associated with cognitive deficits. The researchers reported that “specifically, executive attentional and memory systems appear to suffer in association with burnout, and cognitive functioning is impaired in burned-out individuals.”
The results of these studies seem to suggest that burnout causes observable changes to brain structures.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) controls motor actions, learned behaviors, and speech and language. The PFC naturally thins with age, and cognitive difficulties start to become really noticeable around age 60.
But brains impacted by mental burnout show more pronounced thinning than normal in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), regardless of age, compared with control subjects.
A thinner PFC means fewer neural connections, smaller dendrite clusters, and reduction in synaptic transmission and the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), resulting in reduced cognitive function and less effective brain communication.<3>
Nootropics for BDNF could help mediate the effects of stress-related brain fog over time.
People diagnosed with mental burnout appear to have a larger amygdala, a physical manifestation of repeated stimulation from intense, prolonged stress.
Overactivity in the amygdala diminishes modulation in the mPFC. This further stimulates the amygdala, which promotes mPFC activation, creating a downward spiral of overactivation in both the mPFC and the amygdala, prematurely “aging” both.<4>
As this cycle repeats neural structures exhibit signs of wear and tear, leading to cortical thinning and resulting in problems with memory, attention, and emotional control.
Neurologist Ivanka Savic, in collaboration with a team of Karolinska Institute stress researchers, found that long-term stress was linked to significant reductions of gray-matter in the hippocampus, caudate nucleus, and putamen.
Together, these structures control learning and memory, and they are particularly susceptible to neurotoxic changes caused by excessive release of glutamate caused by too much stress or severe trauma.<5>
- According to Savic and her team, “Data from animal experiments show that stress causes an enhanced release of glutamate, and that a stress-related elevation of extracellular glutamate levels induces retraction in the spines in stress-targeted regions, such as the mPFC, the anterior cingulate, and the basal ganglia.”<6>
Neuroimaging studies of people who have survived extreme trauma reveal brain patterns similar to the brains of people with clinical burnout. This evidence suggests that neuronal circuits can be damaged both severe trauma and accrued stress.
Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, and Fibro Fog
Fibro fog is one of the most common cognitive complaints among people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
The type of brain fog that accompanies these conditions can be severe and persistent and is often coupled with pain or fatigue. Some sufferers claim that fibro fog is more disabling than other more physical symptoms. Fatigue, anxiety, stress, and sensory overload can make fibro fog worse.
Because cognitive function is so complex, brain fog has been hard to pinpoint, but recent research gives us some clues.
- One study showed that people who have both FMS and ME/CFS also had more cognitive impairment than those with just ME/CFS. Study subjects who reported more pain also had more difficulty remembering verbal content.
- In another study, people with only ME/CFS appeared to have more difficulty with visual perception.
One of the biggest complaints of people with fibro fog or ME/CFS is difficulty with word recall. Research backs their claims, showing that people with FMS are slower at word recall than people with other memory deficits.
Life Impact of Brain Fog and Mental Burnout
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that usually happens after a prolonged period of excessive stress.
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in 1974. Although burnout is recognized as a legitimate medical disorder, while brain fog is not, people with burnout nearly always show symptoms of brain fog.
Burnout is usually associated with some type of job or regular work. Whether you are paid or volunteering your time, working outside the home or caring for a family full-time, some factors can put you at risk for burnout and accompanying brain fog.
High demands, low personal control, and an imbalance between effort and reward can cause mental burnout. Ultimately, burnout occurs when demands, time, energy, and other stressors outstrip downtime, recognition, and other rewards.
The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of your life including your career, relationships, hobbies, and personal life.
If you can’t think straight, you can’t do your work well no matter what it is. The more focus your job requires, the more alert your brain has to be - all the time.
Your job may not require as much attention as an air traffic controller’s or demand in-depth problem-solving like a marine in the heart of enemy territory, but every job is important to some degree, particularly those that involve direct contact with vulnerable people.
Unfortunately, high-pressure jobs like nursing, counseling, and related occupations are the ones that are most likely to lead to brain fog and crippling mental burnout. Nootropics for brain fog can help keep your brain at its optimal state so you can work well, even under pressure.
Brain fog episodes can lead to communication breakdown within the family and other close relationships. The constant responsibilities of managing and caring for a family can eventually lead to mental burnout, especially if you are the sole homemaker for the family or the primary caregiver for an ill family member.
And you can’t take care of anybody if you can’t find the spark in your self.
The pressures of pursuing a college degree can really take a toll on cognitive function. The strain of late night study sessions, important exams, and maintaining a good GPA can drain mental energy, leading to bouts of brain fog.
Academics is all about learning, and you can't do that with a foggy mind. Keep your head in the clear by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and taking the right supplements.
Even if you’re single and live alone, everything runs more smoothly when your cognitive prowess is at its best. At the very least, brain fog can be irritating and time-consuming. Forgetting why you walked into a room or losing your keys time and again really adds up in time and frustration.
Adult life and the relationships that come with it require attention, memory, and problem-solving. You can’t do any of that well with cloudy cognition. Make sure your personal life runs as smoothly as it should by keeping your mind clear.
Your hobbies are your passion and your creative outlet. At least they should be. It’s hard to feel passionate when your cognition is murky. Brain fog makes it more difficult to do everything, including pursuing your pastimes.
Whether your after-hours activities include sports, performance, crafts, or pretty much anything else, you need attention, memory, and critical thinking to do it well. Stay on top of your game by protecting your cognition.
Lifestyle Tips to Clear Brain Fog
Brain fog and mental fatigue can last for a few minutes or for months and can stem from many different factors. Getting to the root of the problem is key to overcoming it.
Mental fatigue often results from prolonged, intense focus on a particular task, accompanied by high mental stress or emotional involvement. Like our bodies, our minds have a limit to how much work they can do and how much energy they can put out – and everyone is different.
Mental fatigue tends to occur later in the day, after much of our mental energy has been expended on work, chores, studies, or other daily demands.
When mental energy becomes depleted, tasks seem more complicated, concentration becomes more difficult, attention wanders, and we are more likely to make mistakes.
Some things that cause brain fog are beyond our control - like menopause or neurological issues - but we can address most brain fog causes by modifying our lifestyle choices.
If you experience regular sleep disruptions, you're more likely to feel foggy in the morning. Sleep is important because this is when the brain builds and stores energy and performs cell repair. The more often sleep is interrupted, the longer morning fog can last.
Getting enough sleep will allow your brain to build up the energy that was depleted during the day and store it for tomorrow.
Experts recommend six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, but your brain’s needs vary depending on factors like age, metabolism, and health. And quality matters more than quantity. Eight hours of fitful sleep can actually be more draining than five hours of solid, cyclical sleep.
Experts agree that stress is the number one common factor among most cognitive issues, and it affects the brain in a myriad of ways – including brain fog. However, normal, everyday stress alone should not cause brain fog. Unless you are undergoing a period of exceptional stress, like the loss of a loved one or the birth of an infant, you should consider looking into other factors that might be causing recurrent or serious brain fog.
Finding ways to reduce stress in your daily life can help counteract the effects of daily stressors.
Exercise, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, deep breathing, tai chi, and many other calming activities can reduce stress, improve well-being, and fight brain fog before it begins.
Glucose is the brain’s primary energy source, and fluctuating glucose levels can cause short-term brain fatigue symptoms. The frequency of these episodes varies depending on how much control you have over your blood sugar levels.
A diet rich in whole foods that includes plenty of Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, magnesium, and B vitamins, can help increase brain energy and reduce your chances of mental fatigue.
Nootropics for brain fog sometimes supply free-radical fighting antioxidants suggested to boost cognitive function by protecting your brain from free radical damage. Increasing antioxidant intake via diet and multivitamin supplements may help reduce some symptoms of brain fog.
Depression can trigger mental fatigue, brain fog, and even clinical burnout. A depressed brain gets confused easier and more often, and depression is known to mess with memory, focus, and problem-solving as well as mood.
Most of the time, you can control mental fatigue if you can determine the underlying cause. You may be able to lessen the frequency and severity of foggy episodes by modifying your lifestyle or habits.
Nootropics for Brain Fog
Nootropics can enhance attention, focus, and concentration, and can improve working memory, helping you beat brain fog by boosting overall brain health and cognitive function.
Clinical trials involving Rhodiola rosea show that it fights brain fog by energizing the central nervous system. Animal studies involving Rhodiola indicate it also repairs damaged neurons and stimulates brain cell growth in the hippocampus.<7>
- In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 60 adult men and women who reported symptoms of mental fatigue, Rhodiola rosea increased attention, reduced fatigue, and improved cognitive function. Researchers concluded that, "Rhodiola, acting as an adaptogen, increases attention and endurance in situations of decreased performance cause by
Rhodiola is best known for its mood-boosting, stress-busting properties. For mental fatigue and brain fog caused by burnout, Rhodiola's mechanisms work to protect the brain from the effects of stress and repair damaged cells.
Citicoline is one of the best all-around brain boosters. Backed by numerous clinical studies, citicoline boosts mental energy by improving cerebral blood flow and protecting brain cells from free radical damage. This nootropic is so powerful that it’s used to enhance cognitive function damaged by neurological disorders or brain trauma.
Citicoline boosts acetylcholine levels, a neurotransmitter closely involved in learning and memory. Plus it contains CDP choline, an active component of phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid that preserves brain cell membranes, protects memory, and facilitates neural communication.
- A study investigated the effects of Cognizin® Citicoline on memory disturbances and working memory and found that citicoline can mitigate the effects of mental fatigue by increasing frontal lobe activity brain energy reserves.<9>
However, too much CDP choline can actually cause brain fog. The study mentioned above showed that research participants benefitted more from a lower dose. Mind Lab Pro’s formula contains the right amount of Citicoline to boost mental energy and avoid overdoing it.
Brain fog typically happens after too much stress has been put on the brain by any number of the factors we have discussed. Stress can deplete catecholamines like dopamine and norepinephrine that your brain needs to stay sharp and quick.
So when you're under pressure and need to meet a deadline or do some serious multitasking, chemical depletion and stress can feed into each other, creating a downward cognitive spiral that results in crippling brain fog.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) combats brain fog by boosting catecholamine levels, helping you meet the demands of stress and protecting cognitive functions.
- Animal studies show that tyrosine supplementation lowers stress levels, enhances catecholamine synthesis, and protects the brain from neurochemical depletion. This multi-faceted approach staves off brain fog by preserving cognitive functions like learning and working memory.<10>
B9, also called folate or folic acid, works with B12 as part of the B complex family of vitamins. Together, they are responsible for healthy brain cell function and protection from free radical damage and other damaging factors that can affect brain cells and neural communication.
- Studies show that when partnered, B12 and B9 can improve memory and protect cognition by lowering levels of homocysteine – a naturally-occurring sulfuric amino acid that is believed to contribute to chronic mental fatigue and permanent loss of related cognitive functions.<11>
- For additional basic nutritional support for clearing away brain fog, consider stacking Mind Lab Pro® with a quality, high-absorption multivitamin supplement that supplies ample Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) helps clear away brain fog by boosting short-term and long-term memory functions like learning, recall, and attention.
PS works by protecting the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve pathways and cell membranes. Studies show that its protective mechanisms can safely slow, stop, and even reverse nerve cell deterioration. Better nerve cell integrity and communication improves concentration, problem-solving, communication, and language skills.<12>
- Human studies show that phosphatidylserine is effective for preserving cognitive activity, protecting against cognitive aging, and retaining optimal cognitive functioning abilities.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies some of the best nootropics for brain fog in one clean and healthy universal stack.
Mind Lab Pro®‘s unique Universal Nootropic™ design transcends ordinary smart drugs and memory pills to boost cognitive function throughout the entire brain.
- This sophisticated formula's ingredients include nootropics for brain fog specifically chosen for their ability to preserve mental performance under pressure and defend the brain from stress-related burnout.
Supplementing with Mind Lab Pro® helps improve the many negative symptoms associated with brain fog -- all while nourishing brain health for stronger resistance to burnout and superior long-range cognitive wellness.
- Yelland GW. Gluten-induced cognitive impairment ("brain fog") in coeliac. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:90-93. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13706.
- Ocon AJ. Caught in the thickness of brain fog: exploring the cognitive symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Front. Physiol., 05 April 2013. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00063
- Radley JJ, et al. Repeated Stress Induces Dendritic Spine Loss in the Rat Medial Prefrontal Cortex. Cerebral Cortex, Volume 16, Issue 3, 1 March 2006, Pages 313–320, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhi104
- Roozendal B, McEwan B, Chattarji S. Stress, memory and the amygdala. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2019. Volume 10, pages 423–433.
- Savic I. Structural Changes of the Brain in Relation to Occupational Stress. Cerebral Cortex. Volume 25, Issue 6. 1 June 2015. Pages 1554–1564. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht348
- Michel A. Burnout and the Brain. Association for Psychological Science. Feb 2016.
- Chen QG, et al. The effects of Rhodiola rosea extract on 5-HT level, cell proliferation and quantity of neurons at cerebral hippocampus of depressive rats. Phytomedicine. Volume 16, Issue 9, September 2009. Pages 830-838. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2009.03.011
- Olson EMG, von Scheele B, Panossian AG. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo_controlled, Parallel Group Study of the Standardized Extract SHR5 of the Roots of Rhodiola Rosea in the Treatment of Subjects With Stress-Related Fatigue. Planta Med. 2009. 75:105-112.
- Silveri MM, et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR in Biomedicine. 24 Sep 2008. https://doi.org/10.1002/nbm.1281
- Lieberman HR. Tyrosine and Stress: Human and Animal Studies. Food Components to Enhance Performance: An Evaluation of Potential Performance-Enhancing Food Components for Operational Rations. Institute of Medicine Committee on Military Nutrition Research; Marriott BM, editor. Washington DC: National Academies Press. 1994.
- Shen L, Ji, HF. Associations between Homocysteine, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and Alzheimer’s Disease: Insights from Meta-Analyses. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Vol. 46, no. 3. 2015. pp. 777-790. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150140
- Glade MJ, Smith K. Phosphatidylserine and the human brain. Nutrition. 2015 Jun;31(6):781-6. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.10.014.