Everyone is familiar with the sensation of brain fog - whether from a late night out, extreme stress, or even when we are recuperating from the flu - but what happens when that sensation doesn't go away?
You may notice over the course of days, weeks or months that your mental acuity is not as sharp - that names and locations are hard to recall. It may be that speaking and writing is more difficult, or it just takes longer.
Don't be put off by those who dismiss your symptoms as just a part of 'getting older.'
Many times, solutions are a simple as a diet or lifestyle change. For toxicity, SIBO or a viral infection, testing and treatment are necessary to solve your underlying problem.
The Top 3 Causes of
-Gut Health -
Food sensitivities play a major role in creating inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. This inflammation can then trigger imbalances in the brain leading to cognitive impairment and emotional symptoms. I discuss food sensitivities in detail here.
Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
sudden feelings of sickness throughout the day
rapid heart rate especially after eating
anxiety that seems to come from nowhere
trouble losing weight
Identifying and removing your food sensitivities can improve or eliminate symptoms of brain fog. The most common food sensitivities in patients suffering from brain fog are usually gluten, eggs, dairy, corn, and soy.
Personally, eliminating soy has made a huge difference in my own life. I grew up eating soy almost on a daily basis. When I eliminated it from my diet my mental clarity, energy levels, and sleep quality drastically improved.
Low Stomach Acid
The parietal cells in the stomach produce hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) which helps break down food - especially dietary protein.
Hydrochloric acid is vital for optimal digestion, if your levels are too low then food can start putrefying and fermenting in your stomach.
The byproduct of leftover improperly digested food being eaten by certain bacteria is ammonia gas.
Ammonia gas can leach through the intestines and travel to the brain disrupting neurotransmitter balance, creating brain fog symptoms. This is often an overlooked cause of cognitive symptoms.
Besides preventing brain fog, optimal levels of stomach acid prevents many other gut related problems.
If the gastric digestive process breaks down at this stage, then the 'downstream' negative effects on the gut will be numerous, from SIBO, gastroparesis, and IBS to contributing to the development of inflammatory bowel disease.
Causes of Low Stomach Acid
Stress or excess adrenaline
Medications (particularly antacid medications)
Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
Difficulty digesting meat
Undigested food in stool
Acid Reflux or heart burn
Nausea when taking any type of pills
Hair, skin, and nails - not as healthy and vibrant may mean that you are not effectively absorbing minerals through your food
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
& Microbial Imbalance
Gastrointestinal microbial imbalances or infections are important causes of brain fog. In most cases of brain fog there is an infectious component.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, is the most common gut infection seen today.
This is a condition where there is an overgrowth of harmful bacterial in the small intestine contributes to digestive problems, bloating, joint pain, fatigue, IBS symptoms, and can trigger inflammation throughout the body.
Causes of SIBO
Low Stomach Acid
Bacterial infections and imbalances in gut flora
Underlying liver toxicity
If you experience bloating or discomfort after eating carbohydrates, then the chances of you having small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is high.
Other types of gut dysbiosis - like fungal overgrowth, chronic viral infections, and mold toxicity overloads - can all contribute to brain fog.
In SIBO, the bacteria can interact with certain foods to release hydrogen sulfide gas which can directly cause brain fog and fatigue.
Symptoms of SIBO
Bloating after eating especially high carbohydrate meals
Weight gain, especially around middle
Lower abdominal discomfort
Constipation and/or loose stools
Medical Conditions associated with SIBO
- Blood Sugar & Adrenal Glands -
Your brain must have glucose (blood sugar) to function. In order for you to be able to think clearly, your brain depends on this vital fuel.
Glucose is optimized when your adrenal hormones are balanced and blood sugar is stable.
The brain does not use fat as a primary energy source. It needs adequate levels of glucose. Deprive the brain from adequate levels of glucose and your brain function and health will suffer tremendously.
Researchers have postulated that Alzheimer’s could be called type 3 diabetes because of the striking similarities between diabetics and Alzheimer patients regarding blood sugar imbalances.
Your blood sugar regulation must be functioning well if you want adequate levels of fuel reaching where it counts most. One of the first symptoms of low blood sugar is brain fog, followed by irritability and shakiness.
In just about every case of blood sugar problems - pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, type II diabetes, and even some cases of type I diabetes - there is an adrenal imbalance involved.
You have two small adrenal glands that sit on top of either kidney. Your adrenal glands play a major role in how you handle the stresses of every day life.
They make the hormones - cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Your adrenals also regulate your blood pressure and balance your electrolyte levels.
When these organs are in homeostasis (balance) we can adapt well to stress, our energy levels are high, and we are able to enjoy overall good health.
Factors that Contribute to Adrenal Fatigue
Any factor that spikes adrenaline can hurt your pancreas and impair its function. Over time this can cause adrenal fatigue.
Poor diet (specifically high carb / high sugar / high fat meals)
Negative emotions (like fear, anger, frustration, and worry) all trigger the release of adrenaline which harms the pancreas and eventually can create a blood sugar problem.
Too much dietary fat - stimulates the release of adrenaline and over time chronic surges will disrupt balanced adrenal function
- Toxicity -
Many patients who come to me with brain fog symptoms very often have a high toxic burden.
Our bodies are equipped to detoxify harmful materials that enter our body, but if our organs (like our liver) are overburdened with toxins from our environment, then they do not perform their other duties well and our health can suffer.
Heavy metal contamination in water is very common as are toxins leeched from cooking pans. Mold contamination can cause a myriad of symptoms ranging from joint pain, to respiratory problems to debilitating brain fog.
The symptoms of toxicity can be so varied that it is absolutely necessary to have it confirmed via testing. Suspicion alone is not enough to begin a detoxification program. Done incorrectly, attempted removal of toxins (especially heavy metals) can be dangerous.
Once the source is identified we can carefully chelate (remove) the toxins.
During this process, nutritional medicines will be given to ensure that your body safely eliminates these substances.
Read more about Toxicity
- How Functional Medicine Can Help Brain Fog -
If you have 'tried everything' and nothing seems to be helping you then it may be that you have an underlying condition. Sometimes an autoimmune condition can manifest symptoms like sudden headaches, numbness, digestive upset and brain fog that are frequently dismissed as unimportant.
In order for serious medical conditions to be ruled out and in order to really find out what is going on, seeing a doctor and getting appropriate testing is necessary.
Functional medicine offers detailed testing that goes beyond standard diagnostics and can tell you how your organs are functioning, if you have deficiencies, can assess neurotransmitter function, and can determine if you have SIBO or some other type of infection affecting your cognition.
My new patient appointments are at least one hour long. This is so the patient can have time to thoroughly go into their own health history, family history, lab results, health goals, and questions.
Functional medicine utilizes genetic data, testing, nutritional medicines, and lifestyle interventions to target symptoms and optimize your health.