Did you know that more than 70% of cancer survivors experience brain fog. What is brain fog you may ask? Well, it can be described as that fuzzy feeling -no, not warm fuzzy feeling- where you don’t have mental clarity and struggle to remember details or have difficulty coming up with the right word or phrase. Those with brain fog may have issues remembering things like names, birthdays, phone numbers, addresses, or even commitments they’ve made. It may be more difficult to multi-task or learn new information, and it can even affect emotions or behavior. Many people who struggle with brain fog can feel embarrassed, isolated, or incapable of doing what they want to do.
What causes brain fog?
Factors like your age, stress level, nutrition, sleep, and more, play a role in brain fog for the general population. For cancer survivors, however, additional factors such as certain types of treatments and additional stress related to cancer can increase one’s likelihood of experiencing brain fog. Cancer survivors also have the additional burden of financial stress related to treatments as well as anxiety around food choices out of fear that they may cause/worsen cancer. It’s no wonder why cancer survivors often give brain fog the nickname chemobrain.
5 Ways to Reduce Brain Fog
Fortunately there are so many things we can do to reduce brain fog or just make our lives easier when we are struggling with keeping track of everything that life is throwing at us. When we are doing what we can to cope with our stressful world and keep our bodies in a good position to do so, we are prioritizing mental hygiene! This includes how we eat, move, sleep, think, and carry out tasks.
1. Focus on Nutrition
As a dietitian working with cancer survivors, I am always amazed at how changing nutrition can impact so many other things. Incorporating plenty of whole foods can help to ensure that you are giving your brain the tools it needs to work effectively.
Stock up on these the next time you are at the grocery store!
Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Adding omega 3s to the diet can increase learning, memory and reduce brain fog! Yes please. Not to mention, its super tasty. I love seared salmon with a sesame honey glaze!
Leafy greens are full of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, like lutein and beta-carotene, that help to slow cognitive decline.
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Not only are you getting plenty of fiber to keep your gut happy which plays a role in our mental health (hello gut-brain axis), but you are also getting plenty of nutrients and WATER. Dehydration can compound brain fog, making it difficult to think clearly. Berries, especially, are full of plant compounds called anthocyanins which are associated with thinking and memory! Click here to read about how blueberries may reduce cancer risk!
Consuming refined carbs, especially on their own, can lead to blood sugar crashes for some people. This is associated with feeling tired, maybe even irritable, and not as mentally sharp. Ward off these blood sugar crashes by choosing whole grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and popcorn! Don’t forget to pair these with some fiber rich vegetables, healthy fats, and protein for balanced blood sugar levels. You will feel energized and ready to tackle your day!
What NOT to consume?
Alcohol can dehydrate you and increase the body’s removal of nutrients that help your brain function properly. This can leaving you feeling foggy or even stuck with a grueling hangover. Remember, NO alcohol is recommended as part of a cancer prevention lifestyle. Instead, try to cut back or completely cut out alcohol to increase mental clarity AND reduce your brain fog.
2. Get Moving
Regular movement helps to release feel good hormones known as endorphins which helps to relieve stress and improve neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to develop new neurons and connections). Breaking up your work day with a brisk walk can actually help you work more effectively and think more clearly.
3. Exercise Your Brain
It’s not just your body that needs a workout! Challenge yourself with puzzles and strategic games. Playing these games help to increase your processing speed and memory! It is also a fun way to spend a bit of your afternoon. Try whipping out a game of sudoku instead of scrolling on instagram during your lunch break.
Another way to give that brain a good stretch is learning new things. This can include learning to speak a new language, learning a new skill, like reading music or playing a sport, and delving into a topic that interests you!
4. Declutter your space
There is something to be said about how removing physical clutter can clear your mental fog. See how you feel after tidying up your workspace or your room. You may find it easier to keep track of everything when it has a place and stays in order. Not a fan of cleaning or tidying up? A trick you can try to get the ball rolling is make your bed. This simple act will set the tone for how you arrange your space and can have a domino effect on the rest of your day. You may be more apt to pick up after yourself and have everything else in order. Another tip is setting a timer for 10 minutes each day and doing as much tidying as possible. Start with the big things like putting clothes away. Then get down to the more nitty gritty tasks like organizing your dresser, desk, purse, backpack, etc.
5. Give your brain a break
Use a google calendar, alarms, and notepads to keep track of little things. This can make it easier to remember birthdays, appointments, and social commitments. Make a list before going to the grocery store, and use a to-do list to keep track of what you want to get done that day.
We don’t just have electronics and journals to give our brain a break. Ask friends and family for help. Have your friend pick the lunch place or your kids/spouse choose what to have for dinner. Give others some tasks so that you don’t have as many things on your plate to keep track of. This can help to free up some of that mental space and reduce that annoying brain fog.
Although brain fog or chemo brain can be daunting, there are definitely some ways to reduce it’s effect. Remember that there is nothing wrong with saying “no”. Don’t be afraid to take some things off of your plate to prioritize your own physical and mental health. You’ve got this!
Nutrition can be one of those areas that is a massive contributor to brain fog. After making dozens of decisions at your job or about your treatment, theres no more room left in the tank to do all the nutrition research. That’s where I come in! I’m your oncology dietitian BFF who has done the work for you! I’ve put together the nitty gritty science into easy to digest modules along with simple to follow recipes that are sure to satisfy! My Cancer Simplified Program is my most affordable one yet. Click here to get started!
Enjoyed learning about reducing brain fog? Maybe now you’re interested in learning about your other organs! Sign up for my Nurture Your Organs Masterclass! Inside, I share how to have a healthy gut, heart, kidney, skin/hair/nails, brain, liver, and MORE Click here to join!
This blog is not intended as medical nutrition therapy, medical advice, or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation or recommendations from your medical professional.