Brain Fog: 4 Simple Fixes for Helping Your Brain at Work

Do you ever feel tired, sluggish, foggy, unable to learn, remember, plan or control emotions at work? New research and better understanding of certain products we use, food we eat and habits we develop in the workplace indicates that we may be robbing ourselves of our basic brainpower. Here’s a look at 4 common things at work that can be affecting not only our mental acuteness, but also the structure of the brain itself. From watching what we eat, to choosing non-toxic office supplies, the solutions to these brain depleting problems are simple.

Braindrain #1: High fructose corn syrup.

Can eating products with high fructose corn syrup really affect our intelligence? According to recent studies at UCLA, this common ingredient can do just that. High fructose corn syrup is used extensively in soda and candy products, but it is also found in ‘healthy’ foods such as applesauce, bread, juice and oatmeal. The ingredient has been long associated with fatty liver disease, diabetes and increases in obesity, but this new study has investigated its effects on the brain.

Researchers found that ingesting food and drinks with high fructose corn syrup for just 6 weeks can alter how one thinks. “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think,” says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, a professor of neurosurgery and integrative biology and physiology at UCLA. Specifically, consuming this ingredient on a regular basis can inhibit one’s ability to learn and remember information. These are key cognitive skills, without which one cannot hope to do very well in the workplace.

The solution: Read food labels to avoid high fructose corn syrup, sometimes labeled as HFCS. Foods sweetened with natural sweeteners such as fruit juice, cane sugar, or stevia are better choices.

Braindrain #2: Dry-erase markers for the whiteboard.

What’s the harm in a little dry-erase marker? Considering the everyday use of dry-erase markers (usually in a poorly ventilated room), and the toxicity of their ingredients, it is little wonder that this product is a contributing factor to reduced brain function at work. Many people experience headaches from the pungent smells of dry-erase markers. But the strong smell from dry-erase markers is proving to be more than just a nuisance.

Harsh solvents like xylene and toluene, which are classified as neurotoxins, can be found in many dry-erase markers. Inhaling the VOC vapors of these markers can have troubling effects on the brain and work productivity. Headaches and ‘brain fog’, or difficulty in thinking clearly, are the common symptoms caused by regular dry-erase markers.

The solution: Search for dry-erase markers that are not only labeled ‘low odor’, but also non-toxic. An alcohol-based ink is a safer choice.

Braindrain #3: Dehydration.

The office water cooler has a more important function than spreading the latest office gossip. Dehydration causes a degree of shrinkage of brain tissue. In a recent study among healthy adolescents, it was found that prolonged states of reduced water intake had a profound impact on brain functions such as planning and visuo-spatial processing. Several factors can lead to dehydration such as drinking too much coffee, working under hot conditions, or mostly not drinking enough water in the first place.

The solution: Aim to drink 8 glasses of water every day. Having a favorite water container on your desk will serve as a reminder to hydrate in order to avoid brain tissue shrinkage!

Braindrain #4: Regular, on-going stress.

If your regular work day stress is not stressful enough, how about the added notion that on-going stress can lead to shrinkage in parts of the brain, and a problem in the prefrontal cortex – a region that is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions such as maintaining proper glucose and insulin levels?

Dr. Rajita Sinha, a professor of psychiatry and neurobiology at Yale University School of Medicine and director of the Yale Stress Center, recently reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry that even among healthy individuals, it is not individual traumatic events that have the most impact on the brain, but the cumulative effect of a lifetime’s worth of stress that might cause the most dramatic changes in brain volume.

The solution: Become aware of the everyday stresses underlying your life, and make efforts to reduce its impact on you. Vacation time, meditation and prayer, exercise, focusing on relationships, and ultimately finding the career that is right for you are all measures to reduce or put in perspective the stresses of life.

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