What Your Brain Fog Might Be Saying About Your Gut Health

Brain fog: Woman holding her head while thinking

Brain fog, characterized by symptoms such as slowed thinking, forgetfulness, inability to focus, and poor mental stamina, is a type of cognitive dysfunction. Instead of a stand-alone medical condition, brain fog is usually a symptom of other health problems, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Autoimmune ailments, like multiple sclerosis and thyroid disorders, are also associated with it. Brain fog is a sign of declining cognitive health that may lead to worsening cognitive health over time.

But you may be surprised to learn that in many cases, poor gut health is the actual root cause of many cases of brain fog.

The digestive system plays an integral part in your overall health. Imbalances in your gut ecosystem can activate immune responses and lead to inflammation in other parts of your body besides the gut. Poor gut health can lead to brain inflammation, mental fatigue, haziness, and even memory problems.

Fortunately, a healthy gut can help alleviate your symptoms of brain fog. In this article, we will show you how you can improve your gut health to address this cognitive dysfunction.

The Link Between Brain Fog and Gut Health 

When you experience poor mental clarity, it’s normal to assume that you need to see a neurological specialist for your symptoms. However, the underlying condition of your brain fog may lie in your gut.

A healthy gut is essential for normal cognitive function [1]. An impaired digestive system may not only manifest as intestinal symptoms (for example, diarrhea and bloating) but also can cause non-digestive issues such as brain fog.

These gastrointestinal conditions are commonly associated with brain fog:

  • Celiac disease [2, 3]
  • Crohn’s disease [4]
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth [5]
  • Leaky gut [6, 7]
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [8, 9]
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis [10, 11]

Diet and Sleep Impact Your Gut Health To Cause Brain Fog

If you have a gut imbalance, a diet high in carbohydrates and high-fiber foods can feed the harmful microorganisms in your digestive tract. The result is much like fertilizing a patch of weeds, causing overgrowth of harmful organisms in the gut. 

In response, your immune system reacts by trying to fight off the bad bugs. With chronic immune activation comes chronic inflammation in your gut and elsewhere. Gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, and brain fog [12] are common symptoms of this condition.

In fact, one patient who had indigestion, gas, and brain fog initially tried to resolve his health problems by eating a healthy, high-fiber diet. Unfortunately, high-fiber foods only made his mental fatigue worse. This is a common mistake for people who try to diagnose and resolve their own health problem.

Also, poor sleep habits and sleep disorders that lead to poor sleep quality can affect your gut ecosystem. We all know that a lack of sleep reduces mental clarity and causes sluggishness in the short term, so you feel tired and cranky the next day. What few people recognize is that, in the long run, insufficient sleep increases intestinal permeability, leading to gut ailments like leaky gut syndrome.

With leaky gut, undigested food particles and bacterial fragments pass from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, once again triggering your immune system and creating inflammation. This not only causes health problems in your GI tract but also causes issues like brain fog.

Symptoms of Brain Fog

Brain fog: Woman yawning

Since brain fog is linked to a myriad of health conditions, it may be difficult to pinpoint its exact cause(s). However, if mental fatigue and haziness are accompanied by gastrointestinal issues or IBS Symptoms (for example, bloating, constipation, diarrhea), poor gut health may be the root cause of brain fog.

Common symptoms of brain fog include:

  • Difficulty focusing on the task at hand
  • Slowed speech
  • Poor mental clarity, haziness, or fuzzy thinking
  • Feeling uncoordinated
  • Forgetfulness
  • Mental fatigue

These cognitive impairments can have significant impacts on your decision-making skills and day-to-day functioning. In the longer term, unchecked brain inflammation can lead to significant memory loss and set the stage for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease [13, 14].

How To Improve Your Gut Health To Address Brain Fog

Since poor gut health is one of the common causes of brain fog, improving your digestive system will likely improve your cognitive function.

Healthcare providers skilled in treating gastrointestinal diseases, such as the team at Austin Functional Medicine, can recommend the right treatment protocols to promote a healthy gut and help resolve your symptoms of brain fog.

Clinical guidelines usually include:

  • Therapeutic diets, such as the low-FODMAP and low-histamine diets.
  • Dietary supplements, including probiotics.
  • Lifestyle changes, like getting enough sleep and more physical activity.

Therapeutic Diets

Several therapeutic diets used in the treatment of gastrointestinal ailments may help address brain fog:

  • Low-FODMAP diet: A diet low in fermentable carbohydrates reduces harmful gut bacteria to resolve bacterial overgrowth. This helps to balance your gut microbiome and calms your body’s immune response. Incidentally, this lowers your body’s histamine levels and can provide relief from brain fog [15].
  • Low-histamine diet: In some patients, gut dysbiosis triggers high histamine levels that can worsen brain fog and lead to allergy-like symptoms. For these patients, a low-histamine diet (free of dairy products and fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, miso, and sauerkraut) may be beneficial. 
  • Paleo diet: A diet high in healthy fats and proteins (excluding dairy products, legumes, and whole grains) lowers inflammation and has been shown to  improve cognitive function in patients with type 2 diabetes [16].
  • Whole30 diet: Similar to the paleo diet, this popular elimination diet avoids inflammatory food triggers like whole grains, legumes, alcohol, and dairy products, helps to heal your digestive tract and rebalance your gut microbiome.

Your functional healthcare provider can help you select and customize the best dietary intervention for your unique health challenges

It’s worth noting that a dietary framework can and should be personalized to each individual. One case study exemplifies this perfectly: A patient following the paleo diet benefited from further customizations — he removed nightshade and high-histamine vegetables — and resolved his chronic brain fog symptoms.

The bottom line is, dietary frameworks act as a guide for you to navigate the nutritional landscape and find the best diet that works for you. By learning which foods make you feel healthy and which foods trigger symptoms, you can optimize your healing process.


Probiotic supplement bottle

Probiotics provide an added boost to rebalance and improve your gut microbiome. Probiotic supplements allow beneficial bacteria to flourish and promote a more balanced gut ecosystem. A healthier gastrointestinal tract helps to reduce inflammation, which can mitigate the symptoms of brain fog.

In the scientific literature, probiotic supplements have shown potential in reducing brain fog in IBS patients [17] , as well as improved cognition in individuals with Alzheimer’s [18, 19] and fibromyalgia [20]. Besides that, probiotics have also been shown to improve sleep quality [21, 22, 23, 24, 25], which may help reduce mental fatigue while boosting clarity in the short term.

Although probiotic foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir are readily available, their high-histamine content may worsen brain fog, for those who are histamine-sensitive. In cases where these foods aren’t well-tolerated, it may be better to use high-quality probiotic supplements in therapeutic dosages.

A multistrain probiotic approach should include these three probiotic categories:

  • Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium
  • Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Soil-based probiotics like the Bacillus strains

When taken together, these probiotic blends work together to balance the gut ecosystem, which helps improve symptoms of brain fog.

Note: While prebiotics are healthy for some individuals, they can aggravate digestive symptoms and brain fog in others. To reiterate an earlier point, prebiotics feed the harmful microbes in your gut. It’s best to check with your healthcare provider before including prebiotics (whole foods and supplements) in your treatment plan.

Lifestyle Changes

Healthy lifestyle habits are an important cornerstone of any treatment plan for brain fog relief. Take stock of your current lifestyle and prioritize these important lifestyle changes:

  • Get enough sleep: Improving your sleep quality and duration is a cornerstone of your gut, immune, and overall health. A general guideline for most individuals is 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Exercise at the right frequency: Too little or too much physical activity can disrupt the delicate ecosystem in your GI tract. The right amount of exercise improves and maintains a healthy gut microbiome, with far-reaching benefits for your brain health.
  • Manage stress levels: Chronic stress increases your risk of intestinal permeability and gut dysbiosis. Healthy stress management techniques, like yoga and meditation, have been shown to improve IBS and possibly improve symptoms of brain fog for better mental health.

Making changes to your daily lifestyle and behavior can be difficult at first. That’s why, at Austin FM, our in-house health coach listens attentively to your needs and empowers you to make meaningful lifestyle changes.

Get Relief From Brain Fog

Brain fog can be a debilitating health condition that affects your daily life. Poor gut health may be the root cause of your symptoms. Standard healthcare providers may be dismissive of symptoms like brain fog. A functional healthcare provider can help you implement the right treatment options.

At Austin Functional medicine, our experienced team of doctors and a health coach will create a personalized treatment plan to help you regain your mental clarity. Book a consultation with us to learn more.


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