2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Causes of Brain Fog: How To Test and How To Treat

Last week we began a series on brain fog, a term used by patients to describe a situation in which they’re experiencing poor focus and concentration, memory problems, and/or an overall lack of mental clarity.

There are medical conditions, covered below, associated with brain fog that your doctor can screen for using a few simple blood tests. You can also start working on some of them yourself.

And while there are excellent nutritional supplements called smart drugs (nootropics) designed to improve focus and memory, you’ll want to hold off on these until any potentially reversible health problem has been diagnosed and treated.

The most common causes of brain fog are not linked to illness
They are:

Stress. Reduce stress with daily exercise (a long walk is a fine start), sound sleep, and nutritious food. Go online to learn yoga, meditation, or tai chi and practice daily. Stay connected to people you can talk to and consider getting a pet.

Poor sleep. Sleep is essential for a clear head. Turn off electronic devices an hour before bedtime and read a book before you sleep. Also, avoid alcohol. Poor sleep can be caused by obstructive sleep apnea, so if you suspect it or your partner says you snore or even stop breathing during sleep, ask your doctor to order a sleep study.

Sex hormone changes. If your brain fog is worse during your PMS week, you may benefit from the herb Vitex. If you’re in menopause, consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.

Nutritional issues. These are a far more common than people appreciate. You may have a vitamin deficiency (especially B-12 and D) or a hidden food sensitivity or food additive (MSG, aspartame, etc) sensitivity. You can set yourself on the path to normalizing your body’s vitamin and mineral levels, detoxify your liver, and determine if you have hidden food sensitivities with a ten-day detoxification program called Clear Change by Metagenics.

You’ll need to eat strictly organic whole foods (no junk with additives, preservatives, etc.) and carefully avoid the big six food sensitivities (dairy, egg, corn, gluten grains, citrus, and soy). If you feel especially toxic, you might consider the 28-day Clear Change instead.

Medications. If you’re taking virtually any prescription drug, run a quick online search to see if your medication has brain fog as a side effect. For example, search for statins brain fog. Common brain fog culprits include birth control pills, blood pressure meds, statins for cholesterol, and antidepressants. Caution: Don’t discontinue anything before discussing with your doctor as there are usually alternatives available.

Common illnesses causing brain fog
Any condition that causes chronic inflammation, chronic fatigue, or changes in your blood sugar levels. These can include autoimmune disorders, allergies, fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic Lyme disease, and the frequently overlooked chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), which is triggered by your body’s absorption of black mold toxins.

Thyroid problems, either overactive (hyperthyroid) or underactive (hypothyroid). Even a minimally underactive thyroid can interfere with brain function. Test yourself by measuring your basal body temperature. If you’re fortunate, a small dose of thyroid hormone can work wonders for your brain.

Anemia, which essentially means you’re not bringing enough oxygen to your brain. Iron deficiency from loss of menstrual blood is by far the most common cause of anemia, but vitamin B12 deficiency is a close second. Like thyroid, sometimes simply correcting a low blood count works like magic.

Undiagnosed or poorly treated diabetes is famously associated with brain fog. Your brain needs a steady supply of glucose to run efficiently. The moment it’s confronted with too much (hyperglycemia) or too little (hypoglycemia), it goes off kilter.

Dehydration. Brain fog is one sign of dehydration and chronic, low-grade dehydration is very common, so drink up, even if you’re not thirsty. Dehydration is the topic of a book I recommend called Your Body’s Many Cries for Water.

Mood disorders. I mentioned these last week, including depression, anxiety with or without panic attacks, and obsessive thinking. Although counseling, eating a nutritionally dense diet, exercise, and being in sunlight are all helpful, sometimes a prescription antidepressant to regulate neurotransmitters is called for. Surveys of patient satisfaction have shown that antidepressants get very high marks from patients themselves. It’s not uncommon to hear “I can think again” when one of the mood disorders is successfully treated.

Attention deficit disorder (ADD). A frequently overlooked cause of brain fog, especially in women, is undiagnosed ADD. Historically, ADD was overlooked in school-age girls. The boys were screened for hyperactivity while the girls sat quietly, though some were seriously unfocused. This condition was later named Inattentive ADD and for some women it can gradually worsen with time. If it ever crossed your mind that ADD is a possibility, take this simple screening test. If you get a positive result, discuss the results with your doctor.

After reading this, if you have issues with brain fog you now have plenty to do. Get some simple blood tests, check your thyroid (including basal temperature testing), screen yourself for ADD, begin a detoxification with food sensitivity elimination testing, and, most important, work on issues of stress.

I don’t know if watching the election returns tonight will help much with the stress part. Wait and see how you feel tomorrow morning.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Sarah Hemmer says:

    Also, heavy metals poisoning. Through Dr. E’s office, and Nurse Katie McManigal, I recently was tested with the “provoked heavy metals test” — came back super-high in lead, and high in mercury and nickel. Yikes! Causes brain fog? Is the Pope Catholic? I am now getting treated by Whole Health via chelation therapy to get this stuff out of my body. Never would have found this out via conventional medicine, never did, and that’s a fact.

  2. Dr. E says:

    You’re totally correct about the heavy metals. Any workup for brain fog should include the testing as you described

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our


The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Telemedicine – Now Available at WholeHealth Chicago

In order to maintain your continuity of care, WholeHealth Chicago now offers telemedicine appointments with most of our practitioners. During a telemedicine visit, you and your healthcare provider can review medical history, discuss symptoms, arrange for prescriptions, and more. When necessary, labs and diagnostic imaging can be ordered from a facility near your home, and our Natural Apothecary can ship supplements quickly to your door.

Please contact Patient Services for details and scheduling a telemedicine appointment, or to change a regular appointment to telemedicine by calling 773-296-6700.

We’re looking forward to meeting with you in our virtual consultation room soon.


Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.


• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

Recent Health Tips

  • Commonly Missed Diagnosis: Early Autoimmune Disease

    Amazingly enough, there are more than 100 different autoimmune conditions, which collectively are responsible for more chronic illness and disability in women than heart disease and cancer combined. Men can get autoimmune diseases too, but the predominance in women (2:1) is striking and also puzzling, though current thinking attributes this susceptibility to a combination of genes and hormones. Because autoimmune conditions can affect any area Read More

  • Six Commonly Missed Diagnoses: B12 Deficiency

    You’re pretty sure you know your body and you tell your doctor you’re just not feeling right. You’re tired, maybe a little depressed, a bit achy. Maybe your digestion is “off.” The list of foods you can’t seem to enjoy is definitely longer. Your doctor’s empathic, not at all dismissive of your symptoms, but after a physical exam and some apparently appropriate tests she can’t Read More

  • What is Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN) and Can It Help Me?

    Ten years ago April marks the anniversary of the first time I wrote about low-dose naltrexone (LDN). I described it as an orphan drug, meaning that its patent had long ago expired, that it was generic, and that it was not owned by any one company. For these reasons and because they’d never recoup their investment, no Big Pharma company was interested in pursuing the Read More

Join our Discount Program

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).


Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!