top of page
  • Dr. Brian Lum

How Stress Causes Brain Fog

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Whether you are thriving or just surviving all depends on your adrenal glands.

These are two glands that sit on top of your kidneys. These glands, though tiny, have a massive effect on how you handle stress. 

Your adrenal glands make the hormones responsible for getting you through a crisis - cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.  Your adrenals also regulate your blood pressure and balance your electrolyte levels.  

When your adrenal glands are functioning properly, you will feel energetic throughout the day, when they are out of balance you can feel drained of energy, emotionally exhausted, and feel unable to respond to even the most basic stresses.

a foggy field. text overlay that says how stress can cause brain fog

Stress & Adrenaline

Adrenaline is a survival hormone.  It enables the body to adapt and survive through a stressful event. When you feel your temper rise during an argument or when you feel extra energy surge through you when a deadline approaches - that is your body relying on your adrenal glands for some extra power.

Too much stress for too long can have devastating effects on the body. If that 'deadline' stress stretches into the daily stress of a demanding job or if a periodic fight turns into a nightly argument - your body will begin to lose the ability to keep up.

High amounts of adrenaline is caustic to nervous system tissue and to organs in the body.  

The capacity of your body to produce adrenaline and cortisol is not infinite.  If stress is prolonged and adrenaline is continually released, over time your adrenal glands will begin to fail to produce enough stress adapting hormones - adrenaline and cortisol.  

Adrenaline & Blood Sugar

Sometimes you may go through a work day and realize you skipped lunch. You may start to feel shaky, irritable and slightly sick. This is what happens when your blood sugar drops too low.

In addition to dealing with stress, adrenaline is also used when there is not enough food - it is how your body 'pushes through.'

Every time your blood sugar drops, the adrenals have to release adrenaline to bring your blood sugar back up to normal.

a woman looking stressed at work

Adrenaline’s job is to keep your body functioning. Optimal cognition can only take place when your blood sugar is balanced, not too high and not too low.

Adrenal function can suffer if your body constantly has to produce and release adrenaline. Eventually, the adrenal glands can no longer keep up with the demand for these hormones. Lower and lower amounts of stress adapting hormones are produced.

During this period of 'adrenal fatigue' it can feel as though you don't have any reserves, your body cant seem to handle even small stressors and your sleep becomes less restful. You may even develop anxiety or panic attacks.

Adrenal fatigue can lead to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or diabetes making it even more difficult for your body to utilize glucose for fuel.

Stress & Pancreatic Function

High levels of adrenaline (in the form of stress or low blood sugar) harms your pancreas, which produces the insulin needed to escort blood glucose to your cells. Insulin is absolutely necessary for your cells to actually use the glucose.

With insulin resistance or diabetes, it’s the insulin hormone that is not working properly, so sugar (glucose) ends up being too high in your blood.

Factors Involved in Adrenal Fatigue

Skipping Meals & Fasting

Too long between meals triggers the release of adrenaline to stabilize blood sugar. Fasting also depletes the liver of stored sugar (glycogen). If one skips enough meals, over time an adrenal imbalance will be created, as will a liver problem.

During adrenal fatigue, patients often need to eat every 2 hours to avoid low blood sugar. Eating fiber rich, whole foods will help your body heal faster.

Poor Diet

The worst food combination is a high fat + high carb + high sugar meal. The high fat will make it virtually impossible for your body to use carbohydrates appropriately and will pave the path towards insulin resistance.

a meal with a hamburger and fries

Too much fat (even 'good' fat) requires the pancreas to work harder by secreting a fat digesting enzyme (lipase) which can start to wear on the pancreas as a whole.

Too much fat also places a tremendous stress on the liver, impeding the livers ability to effectively perform its other duties including the biotransformation of internal and external toxins, hormone synthesis, and transportation of nutrients.

Negative Emotions

Fear, anger, frustration, worry - all trigger the release of adrenaline which harms the pancreas and eventually can create a blood sugar problem.

Other Causes of Brain Fog

  • Food Allergies and Sensitivities

  • Gut Infection

  • SIBO

  • Poor Digestion

  • Heavy Metal Toxicity

  • Neurotransmitter Imbalance

How Functional Medicine Can Help Brain Fog

Reducing stress in your life will have a monumental impact on your health as a whole as well as your capacity to think clearly.

If you have tried to reduce stress and still suffer from brain fog, adrenal fatigue, a lack of energy, migraines, sleep problems or any other troubling symptom - then there is likely a biochemical cause.

Functional medicine can offer solutions to complex problems. I use targeted testing and nutritional medicines to address situations like longstanding infections, SIBO, toxicity or genetic variations that may be contributing to chronic conditions.

If your symptoms are affecting your day to day function, then correcting underlying conditions can drastically improve or eliminate brain fog entirely.

Read more about the Functional Medicine approach to Brain Fog

If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, chronic illness or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.

My clinic offers functional medicine appointments as well as manual chiropractic treatments. I do online consultations for those out-of-state or outside of the United States.


If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.

bottom of page