Is Brain Fog a Thing?

brainfogJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

Brain fog may not be recognized in medical textbooks, but thousands of men, women and children may beg to differ. Normally described as a sense of mental confusion or a lack of mental clarity, brain fog, which some liken to walking around with their head in the clouds, can leave you feeling moody, irritable and unable to focus. Brain fog may actually be a catch-all phrase for many different issues ranging from fatigue to forgetfulness to depression to inflammation. When one feels disoriented or thoughts are scattered, it’s no surprise that trouble focusing and a lack of concentration would follow. Brain fog may occur as the result of an imbalance in the body, a side effect of medication, an underlying medical condition or an unhealthy lifestyle.

Brain fog can come on over time or may develop quickly in response to a traumatic event, illness or possibly toxic exposure. Many people describe feeling distracted, frustrated, or unable to function normally. Others describe feeling simply “off” their game. Diagnosis is difficult, as there is no testing, nor is there a specific medical diagnosis. Getting to the underlying causes is the key to overcoming this condition which can be debilitating, negatively affecting cognition and performance. For the most part, occasional brain fog is avoidable and treatable, with dietary, environmental and lifestyle changes.

A little self-reflection is helpful when trying to determine the cause. If you are able to determine the source, there are numerous suggestions for resolving the condition. Simple causes such as chronic sleep loss or nutritional concerns are easy to correct, but may require vigilance to ensure symptoms don’t reoccur. It may take several weeks of dedicated healthy living for mental clarity to return. When you are unable to determine the cause or the brain fog becomes chronic, it may be attributed to a medical or a genetic condition, at which point you may want to check in with your healthcare provider.

Analyze your diet. Often times, brain fog can be the result of sensitivities or allergies to certain foods. Common food allergens include wheat, corn, and soy, as well as dairy, eggs, shellfish and peanuts. Gluten, food additives and artificial sweeteners may also be a culprit for some.

Refined carbohydrates, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup, cause blood sugar spikes followed by crashes. Low brain glucose can lead to brain fog, mood swings, irritability, and mental confusion. Chronically high glucose levels can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, both linked to Alzheimer’s. Unlike muscles, the brain does not store fuel and needs a constant supply of energy for optimal function. Sticking to complex carbs leads to a consistent level of blood glucose enabling healthier brain function.

A diet high in healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids actually fuels the brain, aids in the creation of essential brain chemicals and supports a healthy inflammatory response. A diet too high in unhealthy pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids contributes to brain fog, anxiety, depression and memory loss.

Even when you are avoiding allergens and eating a healthy whole food diet, micronutrient deficiencies can result in poor memory and a state of brain fog. Be sure you are getting sufficient amounts of nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D3, magnesium, B complex, glutamine, and omega-3’s. Balanced nutrition and, in fact, all vitamins and minerals are essential to enhanced cognitive performance and proper bodily functions.

Analyze your sleep patterns. If you have symptoms of brain fog, poor concentration or trouble retaining information, make a concerted effort to get regular, sufficient, restful sleep. Running on empty makes it very difficult not only to pay attention and focus, but also to control food cravings, hunger and emotions. Chronic sleep loss raises cortisol levels and depresses dopamine levels, feeding into a vicious cycle of poor quality sleep and inadequate cognitive function. Make a habit of getting good quality, adequate sleep to burn away brain fog and improve attention, problem solving and decision-making skills.

Analyze your stress levels. High stress levels make it challenging for the body to ward off inflammation. Prolonged stress is a risk factor for developing chronic disease, and can lead to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia and memory loss, and may lead to interference of the formation of new brain cells. High levels of stress hormones can lead to oxidative stress and surplus free radicals that can damage brain cells and membranes, interfere with normal function, and result in premature cell death. Meditation, mindful relaxation, listening to music, and physical exercise can all reduce cortisol levels.

Analyze your environment. Unfortunately, we live in a chemical laden world, many of which are untested and unregulated. Indoor and outdoor pollution can affect each person differently. Chemical toxins and heavy metals can build up in the body and create symptoms of confusion, mood swings and disorientation. To limit your exposure, clean up your indoor environment by switching to more natural household and beauty products. Consider supporting your body’s natural detoxification pathways with cleansing herbs or an occasional detox program.

Analyze you overall mental and physical health. Mental or emotional conflicts and unresolved trauma can make it difficult to think clearly. People who may have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit disorders, celiac disease, Asperger’s or autoimmune diseases are more likely to also suffer from brain fog. Evaluate any OTC or prescription medications, as brain fog is a common side effect. Along with beneficial lifestyle changes, medical interventions may be needed in certain cases to address cognitive and neurological health.

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