The Foggy Brain
Do you have brain fog? Brain fog may not be a medically recognized term, but it’s a very real complaint we hear about quite frequently at our functional medicine practice, the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia. This commonly used phrase sums up feelings of forgetfulness, confusion and a lack of mental focus. We believe that bdrain fog is not a medical condition itself but rather a symptom of other medication conditions.
Brain fog has become an unwanted consequence of our fast-paced, highly industrialized lifestyles. Many of the seemingly convenient but extremely processed foods and farmed meats & fishes we eat, and how we live our lives, do not support optimal brain health.
Even though having brain fog may be fairly common, it’s NOT normal. When you feel distracted, unfocused, fatigued, moody, or as if you just can’t think, you’re likely dealing with some type of brain fog. This is your brain giving you a red flag that there are issues in your life that need to be addressed.
Fortunately, brain fog is considered a condition we can rectify. If you want to regain your sense of focus and mental clarity, start by addressing the underlying issues in your diet, lifestyle, and biochemistry. It is likely that brain fog’s root cause is a lifestyle that promotes inflammation and hormonal imbalances, and is exacerbated by high cortisol (stress).
When a patient comes in with the complaint of brain fog, we do a comprehensive evaluation, looking at the diet, every aspect of their lifestyle, all the hormones, level of inflammation, gut dysfunction, as well as running a micronutrient analysis on them. What we find is that a significant number of our patients suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, a lack of sleep, high stress, and sugar overload, all of which decrease energy levels. Our brains not only require rest and relaxation, they also need a steady stream of vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and glucose from complex carbs.
At our cutting edge medical practice, we thoroughly look for all sources of inflammation. One of the first things we evaluate is whether you are eating the right foods. Your brain’s main source of fuel is glucose. Refined carbs like sugar and high fructose corn syrup send your blood sugars skyrocketing up, and then crashing down. So, first you get too much, then too little, which leads to brain fog, mood swings, irritability, and mental confusion. If your blood sugar is chronically high, this will lead to insulin resistance, then diabetes, which are both linked to Alzheimer’s.
Since the brain is 60% fat, it’s important to eat enough dietary fat and protein from healthy sources like avocados, nuts, coconut and olive oils, wild salmon, eggs, and grass-fed meats. Unfortunately, the standard American diet (appropriately nicknamed SAD) is full of inflammatory omega-6 fats and low in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. For some patients, it may be a good idea to supplement with a high quality omega 3 nutraceutical. Several micronutrient deficiencies contribute to brain fog, and these can be measured on a simple blood test.
Optimal sleep is key. Did you know that over 40 million Americans have disordered sleep? If you have brain fog, you may be one of them. It’s during high-quality, uninterrupted sleep that you consolidate memories so you can remember what you learned the previous day. The optimal number of sleep we need is between seven and nine hours of quality sleep every night, and children and teenagers often need even more. A study done last summer in Europe showed that just one night of lost sleep caused an increase in B-amyloid, the protein that accumulates in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of brain fog as it increases oxygen flow to the brain and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. The best exercises for building neural pathways and preserve cognition, is dancing and endurance training. Two studies in 2012 by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine clearly revealed that dancing increased mental clarity as well as serotonin levels.
Let’s talk about another significant source of inflammation – leaky gut. As 70% of our immune system lives in our gut, having symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, food insensitivities, constipation, diarrhea or acid reflux, are indicative of dysfunction in the gut microbiome. Your microbiome, which is housed in your intestines, is made up of tens of trillions of microbes that are involved in human metabolism, nutrition, physiology, and immune function. Using a comprehensive stool analysis, we are able to measure inflammatory markers in the gut, presence of pathogenic yeast and bacteria, and microbiome diversity as well as how stocked you are with the major classes of bacteria that keep our gut working optimally. We use these results to choose appropriate probiotics and a strategy to heal the gut.
Food insensitivities are a significant cause of inflammation in the gut and therefore the brain. Just because a food is a healthy food to eat, if your immune system creates antibodies to it, it’s mounting an inflammatory response as it would to a foreign invader like a virus.
It’s important to know which foods do and don’t create this type of inflammation. This can be achieved through an elimination diet, which temporarily removes whole groups of food like gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy and measures how your body reacts. We routinely utilize laboratories that do specialized bloodwork that answers what your food insensitivities are. Sometimes these inflammatory foods are able to be brought back into the diet after a personalized gut healing protocol, and sometimes, they are just foods that need to be avoided. Patients very quickly realize how much better they feel when these foods are not part of their diet. Despite what most people think, food related reactions are more than just digestive problems.
Are you having difficulty managing stress? If you’re constantly looking at your emails, FB, and the news on the internet, whether you realize it or not, this is raising your production of cortisol. Elevated cortisol reduces your cognition. It causes weight gain, hormonal imbalances, insomnia, anxiety, depression and leaky gut. It’s more important now than ever before, to start a mindfulness/meditation practice, engage in moderate exercise, and do things that make you happy every day.
Last, but certainly not least, various hormonal imbalances, including those involving the thyroid and sex hormones, can cause significant foggy brain symptoms. Many women during their peri-menopausal years endorse decreased mental clarity, which is often quite detrimental to their work life as well as performing their activities of daily living. Men who are treated for low testosterone with testosterone replacement therapy classically describe marked improvement of focus and mental clarity, as well as of their low motivation, concentration, and libido.
Please remember that brain fog is often a reversible condition. Even studies done by Dr. Dale Bredesen of UCLA show that on his Bredesen protocol, patients with Alzheimer’s Disease had improved cognition, some even returning to work. However, like anything else, prevention is key and knowledge is power. You are your brain which is why when dementia sets in, family members often describe this as the family member “not being himself/herself.” Know that there is so much you can do to ensure that your cognition stays intact as you grow older and that you have much more control over your medical well being than traditional medicine will have you know.