Does brain fog really exist?
Because this thing called “brain fog” or “mental fog” or even “leaky brain” is so subjective, it’s not listed as a diagnosis or recognized health condition. Even pinpointing the exact cause of this increasingly common condition has been the subject of much debate. Yet almost everyone has suffered from it at some point in their lives.
Characterized by a lack of mental clarity and poor concentration, Brain fog is a sign of inflammation in the body. Inflammatory messages may be released in the brain as a result of head trauma, unregulated blood sugar, poor circulation, an inflamed gut, or chemical sensitivity.
Seven common causes of “brain fog” and seven tips to bring back the sunshine.
1. Gluten. Eating the wrong food is one of the biggest causes of long-term brain fog—long-term because the unsuspected, trouble-making culprit keeps being an invited guest. No single food is worse at causing and sustaining it than wheat. In his popular 2011 book Wheat Belly,
Dr. William Davis shows how today’s semi-dwarf strain of wheat has a modified gliadin protein that forms part of the larger gluten polymer. This result of hybridization has a devastating impact upon our cognitive faculties leading to chronic brain fog while it also stimulates appetite. In fact, this is probably the explanation for the weight loss, reduced fatigue, and mental clarity that people report after going wheat-free.
2. Digestive dysfunction: Improperly digested food will rot, putrefy or ferment in your intestines. It slows down and instead of taking 8-20 hours to pass through, food can require 2-3 days. This encourages an imbalance of bacteria and yeast where candida and others take over from the probiotics that should live there. Gut bacteria actually are your friends; they digest the food you eat and extract vital nutrients before sending them across the gut membrane into your bloodstream. Candida and unwanted bacteria do the opposite; they steal food nutrients and in return generate powerful toxins that are released into the bloodstream. As the gut slowly acidifies, the specialized gut cells die off and the intestine becomes leaky. Having many food sensitivities or allergies indicates a leaky gut that must be healed. Yeast, bacterial and rotting food toxins slowly poison the liver and other organs as well as can migrate to the brain and cause symptoms of brain fog.
Causes of bowel toxicity include antibiotics and an improper diet containing sweets or sometimes too much fruit, especially bananas and others with higher sugar content. Other causes include insufficient digestive enzymes, intestinal infections, stress, use of antacids, or even just negative emotions.
3. Toxic metals and metal imbalances. The most common metal imbalances associated with brain fog include:
Copper & Zinc. Both copper and zinc are needed for a large number of cellular functions. Zinc balances the copper which tends to be overabundant in today’s world. Vegetarian diets are also high in copper and low in zinc; low energy is a common problem for vegetarians and vegans. Such diets are also often low in other important brain nutrients including taurine, carnitine, essential fatty acids, and alpha lipoic acid. Only certain forms of copper can be used by the body and other forms are toxic. Excessive or bio-unavailable copper is strongly associated with feelings of confusion, disorientation, racing thoughts, mood swings and confusion. Copper imbalance affects the thyroid gland, and this, in turn, can create the symptoms of brain fog. Sources of bio-unavailable copper include contaminated well water and the food supply, birth control pills, copper intra-uterine devices. Many children are born with copper imbalance today from their mothers,
Mercury, aluminum, cadmium, lead or other toxic metals can cause symptoms of brain fog. Today, most everyone has accumulated toxic metals. These tend to store in various organs and disrupt hormone balance. Mercury toxicity is extremely common, primarily from dental amalgams although certain fish like tuna are suspect. Aluminum is added to table salt and drinking water, and found in anti-perspirants, anti-acids and many cosmetics. Although removed from paints and gasoline decades ago, lead persists in the environment and is still found in high concentrations near roadways.
Fortunately, gentle detoxification including sauna therapy along with a nutritional balancing program can slowly remove ALL of the toxic metals—about two dozen of them.
4. Toxic chemicals: Everyone is exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals and we’re usually unaware we’ve been exposed. Toxic chemicals are everywhere; in new homes, car interiors, furniture upholstery, plastic water bottles, lawn chemicals, paints, inks, insecticides pesticides preservatives and additives to food, and always in the water supply.
Although each chemical may not be so toxic individually, accumulated mixtures of the over 100,000 chemicals in use today have been shown to severely affect brain function in some people. A good nutritional balancing program helps the body remove chemicals although this takes time. Exercise and eating habits that help burn fat (where most chemicals are stored) can speed this up. Exercise in general helps the body in many ways and can improve alertness—the opposite of brain fog.
5. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. These relatively recently recognized disorders cause impaired mental function. They are most likely caused by exposures to toxic chemicals or metals, but there is also a link with high sugar diets and certain anti-foods. Specific nutrients as well as light to moderate exercise can boost alertness, help with circulation and improve mood and sleep.
6. Lack of sleep. As obvious as it sounds, sleep-deprivation fatigue affects the ol’ gray matter and can cause symptoms mimicking mental illness. We need from seven to nine hours of sleep per night—and quality counts.
7. Nutrient deficiencies. Your brain is cranking through nutrients at a furious pace—so is your body. Make sure a steady supply is at hand. Foods high in vitamins C and E, Zinc, and Co-Q10, along with essential fats, have been shown improve mental function. The B vitamins can help improve memory. Synthetic vitamins create imbalances; let your body take what it needs out of whole foods or compressed whole food supplements.
Seven tips to alleviate recurrent brain fog and take control of chronic inflammation:
1. Get enough sleep at night. Don’t check email or do work right before going to bed. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks late in the day. Practice calming techniques.
2. Address mental and emotional stress. Stress and sleep deprivation make it harder for the body to fight off inflammation and raise inflammatory hormones. Surround yourself with positive people. Plan your day and keep your plan.
3. Balance your blood sugar. Don’t skip meals or binge on sugar, which can trigger spikes in blood sugar and the release of pro-inflammatory stress hormones.
4. Eliminate cereal grains. Most grains prevent your body from absorbing minerals and their hard fiber can be harsh on your delicate digestive tract. Grains that contain gluten have hormonal effects. We’ve provided nearly 100 recipes with many alternate options at OurNutritionKitchen.com
5. Heal your digestion. Eliminating sugar and grains, especially wheat, while adding in gut-healing greens and root vegetables will slowly heal your intestinal tract. Sugar binges will just feed Candida and bacterial overgrowth in the body and release pro-inflammatory hormones. Include fermented foods and probiotic drinks in your daily meals.
6. Cleanse environmental toxins and avoid exposure. Support your body’s natural ability to eliminate toxic chemicals with whole foods that are high in anti-oxidants and B vitamins. Natural and clean fish oils and bio-available minerals are also important. Choose scent free and chemical free detergents and cleaning products, one of the bigger household sources of toxic chemicals.
7. Aerobic exercise will improve circulation, lower inflammatory hormones, and burn fat. Although there is a lot of science to this, keep it simple: just a 20 minute fast walk—just enough to get your heart-rate up while still breath comfortably is sufficiently aerobic for most people.
and one more bonus brain fog solution:
8. Drink plenty of clean water. Hydration (preferably with spring water) helps move food through your digestive tract, release the toxins that accumulate in your intestines, flush your blood of metabolic waste products that slow you down and can even travel to your brain and disrupt its functioning. One first sign of getting a little dehydrated is to feel tired; life can seems not as fun even while doing your favorite activity—and all this can happen before you feel thirsty. If it’s easy to remember the “8 x 8” rule (drink 8 by eight oz glasses of water daily) then this can work for most. More exactly drink half your weight in ounces: so the “8 x 8” rule is perfect for a 128 pound person, take it from there.