Do you have ADHD and struggle to keep track of things you use regularly? Do you find getting sidetracked at work, when doing house chores or when carrying a conversation? It may be brain fog. Although brain fog is not a disease in itself, it can have a significant impact on day-to-day life. What is brain fog, what are the causes, and why is it associated with ADHD? This article answers all these questions, along with tips and tricks to manage brain fog.
What exactly is brain fog?
Brain fog, sometimes called mental fatigue, describes subjective feelings of having memory problems, inability to focus and concentrate, troubles processing new information, short memory, or solving problems. Some people have trouble finding the right words or doing basic math (ie calculating), reduced visual and spatial skills, and overall feeling confused and disoriented.
Anyone can experience brain fog after a sleepless night, during stressful times, or after drinking some alcohol or having a larger meal. However, symptoms resolve quickly. If the brain fog occurs without any obvious trigger and persists for a while, it will likely get worse if not treated.
Why is the link between ADHD and brain fog?
There are multiple changes in the ADHD brain that can contribute to brain fog. Impaired levels of brain chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and GABA, glutamate; excess free radicals, and abnormal brain activity all lead to brain inflammation. Inflammation is ultimately responsible for causing brain fog. Abnormal glucose levels and fatigue may also lead to brain fog.
Researchers from Harvard suggest that ADHD tends to cause memory, attention, and brain fog in adults, while children tend to be more hyperactive.
Brain expert and neurologist Dr. Daniel Amen believes there are six main causes of brain fog. ADHD/ ADD is one of them, as this condition makes a person more distracted, restless, and unable to focus on daily tasks. Based on his work and looking at tens of thousands of brain scans, Dr. Amen also found there are different subtypes of ADHD. It is important to get the right diagnosis because treatment helps improve brain fog, along with improving other symptoms of ADHD as well. Besides ADHD, the other major causes of brain fog are depression (which often coexists with ADHD), Lyme disease, mold toxicity, mild cognitive impairment or dementia, and the newly added COVID-19.
Brain fog is also documented in MS, hormonal imbalances, migraines, poor nutrition, sleeping problems, chronic fatigue syndrome/fibromyalgia, sleeping disorders, and more. Prescription medications may cause brain fog, too.
How can you fight ADHD brain fog?
- The most important step is to find the underlying cause of the brain fog. Is it due to ADHD or could be due to other conditions? ADHD is sometimes misdiagnosed, as there are conditions that mimic ADHD. Bipolar disorder, autism, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleeping or hearing disorders and even low blood sugar can mimic ADHD. If the symptoms do not improve with ADHD medication, despite changing doses or switching to another drug, it is worth reevaluating the diagnosis and confirming it really is ADHD.
- Treat ADHD. The right treatment improves ADHD symptoms, including brain fog. In addition to prescription meds and psychotherapy, making healthy lifestyle changes is important to better manage ADHD brain fog.
- Let’s think about optimizing brain health. Each and every brain cell has four basic needs. It needs proper nutrition, oxygen, stimulation, as well as quality time to rest and repair. When it comes to nutrition it is important to avoid bad foods ( processed foods, fast food type) and increase the amount of nutrient rich foods by adopting a Mediterranean diet. Stimulation is achieved with exercise and brain work such as puzzles,math exercises, practicing piano or another instrument or simply learning something new. Oxygen levels improve with exercise and optimal nutrition. Finally, improving sleep and managing stress allow the brain cells to get some rest and repair.
- Natural supplements like omega 3, B 12 and other B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, and magnesium support healthy brain function. These nutrients are often deficient in case of ADHD and may worsen brain fog. Other supplements and herbs like L-theanine bacopa, ashwagandha, maca and holy basil also support cognition. However, herbs should be taken under medical supervision to avoid any interactions with the prescription drugs.
- A few strategies help improve focus and motivation, thus counteracting the brain fog. For example setting up – and following a schedule with specific start time and finish time for each project. Tight deadlines are particularly useful, followed by a reward. The reward should be available only if a task is completed properly, within the time frame. Avoid multitasking. Make sure you take several short breaks (ie 5 minutes breaks) ]and do nothing during these minutes- not even meditate. You can keep your eyes closed, or look out the window, or go for a quick walk. Simply taking these short breaks allow the brain to recharge. Have a quick cold shower- or at least wash your face with cold water. Cold increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels, leading to increased focus and a better mood.