Some days do you feel like your brain has been stuffed with cotton wool, or have the sensation that your body isn’t tired, but your head is half asleep – like you’re hungover without the fun the night before? You aren’t imagining it. Brain fog can cause memory issues, confusion, inability to think straight and potentially putting your sunglasses in the fridge.
A friend of mine recently said, ‘Oh, that’s your age. Over 40 you get brain fog and start waking at 6am.’ There’s some truth in this. At an age when hormones start to ebb, this has a massive bearing on brain chemistry, says nutritional therapist Nicola Moore, as well as how our cells respond to the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. ‘During the menopause, lower levels of oestrogen can affect brain function, and symptoms of fogginess, insomnia and forgetfulness can become difficult,’ she says. If this is you, I suggest you visit your GP or seek out a hormone specialist (I recommend mariongluckclinic.com).
However, there are many other causes that may make you feel like you’re drawing through treacle, and they can affect men as well as women. The simplest is lack of sleep. I definitely feel murky-minded if I have less than seven hours. Another is alcohol, which Nicola says ‘can undermine gut health’ and becomes harder to process as we age.
Another cause for brain fog could be dehydration. But how much water should we be drinking? According to Nicola, it depends on our height, weight, activity levels and even how much we talk (unfortunate, as I do love a good natter). Instead of focusing on a number of glasses per day, Nicola says to monitor the colour of your urine, which should be pale, and to make sure you are passing urine often throughout the day.
A further brain-fog factor could be ‘neuroinflammation’. ‘Inflammation in the gut can lead to wider systemic inflammation, and most certainly affects brain function,’ says Nicola. ‘Helping brain health from an early age is important, as neuroinflammation is linked to degenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.’
Nicola goes on to explain that our microbiome (the millions of microbes that line our gut and help with digestion) plays a vital role in the manufacture of serotonin and dopamine, so it’s essential we eat a wide range of natural foods to help with microbiome diversity, increase our immunity levels and boost our mood. Her go-to brain fog-busting diet is Mediterranean (see page 46 for our delicious Med-inspired recipes): lots of different foods from the plant kingdom, plus a range of proteins and natural fats. It’s also important that you add in colour, herbs and spices – not just for taste but for good gut health.
The nutrient choline is also vital for cognitive function. While your liver makes it in small amounts, you must obtain the majority through your diet from eggs, fish, meat, nuts and beans. Studies show that oestrogen is required to create choline, which may explain why women experience memory loss and confusion during the menopausal years.
Finally, my big tip is to exercise outdoors. Whether it’s a run or a brisk walk, get the blood pumping, immerse yourself in nature and absorb vital vitamin D from sunlight to wipe away the brain fog cobwebs like nothing else.
Don’t overthink it!
The Practice of Not Thinking by Buddhist monk Ryunosuke Koike (Penguin, £9.99*) sold
over a million copies in Japan. Koike explores the idea that overthinking is a ‘disease’. He suggests practical and life-changing ways to get out of our heads and back into really living.
*To order a copy for £8.89 until 30 June go to books.mailshop.co.uk or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.
Anyone for a tennis dress?
I have decided to up my tennis game and after a year of wearing leggings am hankering after this Adidas originals recycled piqué dress. It’s breathable, flattering and retro chic – at least I’ll look the part (just need to get my serve in).