Just about everyone can relate to the unpleasant sensation of brain fog, usually descending mid-afternoon, interrupting one’s flow with sleepy, sluggish thoughts. More serious cases of brain fog can be a symptom of chronic illness, and in some cases, can greatly interfere with daily life.
While you may be tempted to reach for a sugary snack to clear your head, there are healthier alternatives. Here are four healthy ways to support mental clarity. They may help with mid-afternoon dips in brain function, and they may also improve cognition for the long term.
1. Try CBD
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology took a look at the effects of CBD, or cannabidiol, on cerebral blood flow and memory function. The study was double-blind and conducted on 15 healthy volunteers. Participants took either 600mg of oral CBD or a placebo and later had their cerebral blood flow and working memory measured. The result? The research suggests CBD may increase blood flow to areas of the brain concerned with memory processing.
Since CBD is natural with few reported side effects, it may be worth experimenting to see if it works for you. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether CBD is right for you and to determine dosage. A few drops of a good extract mid-afternoon may help clear your head and help you stay focused.
2. Consider Ginkgo
Leaves from the beautiful Ginkgo biloba tree have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to improve memory and cognition. Now, ginkgo is one of the more popular supplements sold in the US to boost brain function.
A 2003 clinical trial looked at ginkgo’s effects on cognitive performance in a group of healthy volunteers from ages 60-70. The study was done over eight months and compared those taking ginkgo to a control group. At the end of the time period, those taking ginkgo showed a reduction of blood viscosity and improved brain function. Though more study is needed to understand how ginkgo works its magic, the research indicates the herb may be helpful with cognitive function for older people.
3. Add Rhodiola
The roots, stems, and leaves of the Rhodiola rosea plant have been used by traditional herbalists in Northern Europe as an adaptogen that supports a healthy stress response and improves mood. Rhodiola is also said to help generally with cognition and fatigue.
A 2020 pilot study administered rhodiola to 50 healthy volunteers over the course of 12 weeks, and tested cognitive performance at the 6- and 12-week marks. Participants reported an improvement in mental speed, as well as improved cognition. Further study is needed to understand how rhodiola works, but these results are promising.
Note: You may need to take rhodiola for a few weeks to notice a difference in mental clarity.
4. Get Moving
In addition to herbal support, just about everyone agrees that exercise is a great way to clear the mind in the short-term and improve cognition long-term. Getting out for a brief walk during the day can work wonders, making work and daily tasks more appealing upon your return.
Building exercise, even gentle movements, into your daily routine is well worth the effort. A 2014 study determined that participants who scored higher on tests evaluating cardiovascular fitness at a young age had better verbal memory and faster psychomotor speed 25 years later! No matter your age, see if you can find a form of exercise you love, and get moving. Your brain will thank you.
Brain fog bedevils us all at one point or another, whether as a mere annoyance or as a more severe symptom. Instead of reaching for sugary goodies to perk you up, work with your healthcare provider to discuss whether CBD, ginkgo, or rhodiola supplements may help support your cognitive functioning. And don’t forget to move your body on a daily basis. Long-term brain function is worth the investment.
- Bloomfield MAP, Green SF, Hindocha C, Yamamori Y, Yim JLL, Jones APM, Walker HR, Tokarczuk P, Statton B, Howes OD, Curran HV, Freeman TP. The effects of acute cannabidiol on cerebral blood flow and its relationship to memory: An arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging study. J Psychopharmacol. 2020 Sep;34(9):981-989. doi: 10.1177/0269881120936419
- Koop T, Dienel A, Heldmann M, Münte TF. Effects of a Rhodiola rosea extract on mental resource allocation and attention: An event-related potential dual task study. Phytother Res. 2020 Dec;34(12):3287-3297. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6778
- Santos RF, Galduróz JC, Barbieri A, Castiglioni ML, Ytaya LY, Bueno OF. Cognitive performance, SPECT, and blood viscosity in elderly non-demented people using Ginkgo biloba. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2003 Jul;36(4):127-33. doi:10.1055/s-2003-41197
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.