Irritable bowel syndrome can affect more than just your gut. Many people with this condition also experience brain fog. Here’s how to take back your focus.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder of unknown cause that creates unpleasant digestive symptoms without causing physical damage. If you live with IBS, you may be used to digestive disruptions that range from inconvenient to life-altering, such as constipation, gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

But GI problems aren’t the only ones you may experience related to IBS. Some people report a sense of hazy thinking or mental sluggishness, known as brain fog. Though there’s no cure for IBS or brain fog, there are some steps you can take to regain your focus.

Here’s more information about IBS.

Though research is still teasing apart the underlying connection between IBS and the brain, some hypotheses have emerged to explain why this condition could cause mental symptoms like foggy thinking and lack of focus.

Most theories have to do with the microbiome — the trillions of bacteria that make their home in the human body. Imbalances in this delicate ecosystem could lead to trouble not only in your belly but in your brain too.

Research from 2016, for example, revealed that the health of the microbiome could influence cognition and behavior, even inducing depression-like behaviors. Another study from 2018 found that people with brain fog had increased rates of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Beyond the clinical reasons for connecting IBS and mental cloudiness, the practical reality of living in pain could also contribute to decreased mental wellness.

“IBS can greatly impact someone’s quality of life, which may contribute to brain fog,” says gut health dietitian Amanda Sauceda, RDN. “It can be exhausting to think about if that food may upset your stomach, wondering where the bathroom is, or being nervous to eat in social settings.”

Understanding IBS’ impact on mental clarity requires a little deeper digging into the microbiome. This broad term refers to the collection of microbes (both good and bad) that have been linked to numerous health outcomes, from weight gain to diabetes. What is it about this mini-cosmos of bacteria that makes it so impactful on your thinking?

Researchers believe that the bacteria in the digestive tract may influence or even disrupt the gut-brain communication pathway. Though the reasons why are still poorly understood, it appears that these disruptions could ultimately lead to mental disturbances like brain fog.

Learn more about the microbiome here.

Much like the hazy sensation it describes, there’s no medical definition of brain fog. Still, many people report common symptoms, including:

  • lack of concentration
  • inability to focus
  • being easily distracted
  • memory problems
  • feelings of sluggishness, confusion, or overwhelm

Since research on IBS-related brain fog is still relatively new, evidence-based medical treatments are in short supply. However, there are some approaches many people find helpful.

Medical treatment

If you feel mental sluggishness from irritable bowel syndrome is affecting your day-to-day life, it’s worth bringing it up with your doctor. In extreme cases, they may consider prescription drugs to treat your symptoms. More likely, however, they will recommend lifestyle modifications to help you recapture your focus.

Home treatment

Simple changes to your routine could add up to significant improvements in your mental clarity. Try these at-home treatments for brain fog related to IBS.

Low-FODMAP diet

“A low-FODMAP diet, which has been shown to help reduce IBS symptoms, may be a strategy to help with brain fog,” says Sauceda. She points out that a 2017 study showed a low-FODMAP diet reduces histamine, a chemical that has been linked to brain fog.

Stress reduction techniques

Research shows that chronic stress can affect brain function. Taming feelings of overwhelm and anxiety through stress reduction techniques like meditation, aerobic exercise, or talking out your feelings with a friend could clear a sense of mental fogginess.


A variety of dietary supplements are sold to reduce symptoms of brain fog. Research is still working to identify which ones are most effective, but some to consider include vitamin D, vitamin C, omega-3s, and magnesium.

Symptom tracking

One additional way to get clarity on your symptoms is to keep a food and mood journal. “You can use it to track what you are eating and how you are feeling so that you have data to better pinpoint when you experience the brain fog and any potential diet or lifestyle triggers,” Sauceda says.

What causes brain fog?

Though brain fog has been linked to IBS, a sense of being “out of it” could also stem from other causes. Stress, hormonal changes, and mental health issues like anxiety or depression may all play a role in fuzzy thinking.

Can other digestive problems create brain fog?

Considering the connection between the brain and the gut, it’s not surprising that IBS is just one of many digestive disorders that can lead to brain fog. It has also been reported in connection with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Do probiotics decrease brain fog?

Probiotics might not be the answer to a mental blur due to IBS. In one study, the use of probiotics was actually correlated with higher levels of brain fog in those with irritable bowel disease (IBD). “I would recommend someone with IBS work with their doctor and dietitian to find what probiotic may be best — or even if it’s beneficial for them at all,” says Sauceda.

Since treatments for IBS-related brain fog are still in development, it may be hard to pin down the best ways to un-cloud your mind. Consider yourself your own health advocate by consulting a healthcare professional, mental health professional, or trying at-home treatments. Through trial and error, you may find that dietary modifications, stress reduction, supplements, exercise, or other approaches get your brain back on track.