Everyone has felt it, that frustrating feeling of not being able to concentrate or an inability to come up with a simple word or even just forgetting why you entered a room. It is Brain Fog, also known as, Mental Fog, Fibro Fog, Pregnancy Brain, clouding of consciousness, and more scientifically, cognitive dysfunction but for consistency, we will stick with Brain Fog. While not a medical condition in and of itself, Brain Fog certainly seems like it should be when you are the one who is dealing with it.
Even though it may not possess its own diagnostic code in the medical journals, the symptoms associated with Brain Fog should be discussed with a doctor. It is often indicative of other medical issues that need to be addressed. So, what are the symptoms of Brain Fog? For that matter, what are those other medical issues that need to be addressed? Most importantly, what can be done to treat or cure Brain Fog?
Maybe might seem like a strange word to include in a heading but with Brain Fog, not much is certain which means everything is a maybe. This condition is as diverse and unique as the people who suffer from it. There is no specific gender or age group that is affected as there is with many other conditions. Brain Fog does not play favorites. Everyone can suffer the myriad of symptoms which are chalked up to Brain Fog and everyone probably has at one point or another.
With a long list of symptoms, this irritating condition will be likely to sound familiar to everyone. The most common and hallmark symptoms of this symptomatic condition are a lack of mental clarity, inability to focus, confusion, forgetfulness, and fatigue, both mental and physical.
People also report feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping and insomnia, feeling disoriented and scattered, stuttering or stammering when speaking, low motivation, and poor executive function like processing new information. It is unknown if the first set of symptoms contributes to the second set but it is reasonable to believe that they do.
But what causes Brain Fog? Well, we are glad you asked.
Causes … Maybe
The vast array of uncertainties surrounding Brain Fog are often the cause of much confusion. That includes the understanding of what causes it. The one thing that is thought by nearly all the sources consulted to be at the root of Brain Fog is inflammation. Inflammation in the brain can cause the firing of neurons to slow down. This, in turn, slows down reflexes, mental sharpness, and one's ability to recall information. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Isn't My Brain Working, describes inflammation as "a sign of ‘leaky brain' or ‘brain on fire'."
That sounds pretty serious, and if that inflammation in the brain goes on for too long it could be. However, generally, Brain Fog is an isolated incident posing no danger. Still, an understanding of what inflammation is would be helpful too. For a condition that is just a symptom in itself and that causes confusion and delayed processing, it sure has become complicated.
Inflammation is the body's effort to defend itself against attackers like viruses and bacteria. It also helps the body heal itself and repair damaged tissue after a trauma or injury. It is designed to help your body heal by attracting white blood cells to these areas. However, when the acute inflammation that is meant to heal continues for too long, it then becomes chronic and can lead to many long-term diseases. The list of these conditions includes Asthma, Fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer's, Ulcerative colitis (often simply referred to as UC), Rheumatoid and other forms of arthritis, chronic sinusitis, and Crohn's disease.
Yet, not every "expert" agrees that inflammation is the culprit in this medical mystery but they all agree it plays a part. That inflammation is combined with other medical issues in some explanations; these include out of whack levels of cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin which are all responsible for the areas that Brain Fog effects.
Sometimes, Brain Fog is a symptom of a more serious condition. These can include multiple sclerosis or MS for short, cancer and the treatments that cure it, pregnancy, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS for short, Lupus, and poor circulation to the brain.
One study found a vicious cycle of Brain Fog while studying the immune system of the brain. This system is comprised of cells called microglia. Once these cells are activated they cannot be turned off, they simply feed inflammation messages to your brain until they die. Yet by the time those cells die, there are new ones to replace them and these are activated by the very inflammation their predecessors are triggering. This not only confuses the brain, it can destroy brain tissue.
Still, another research study found that Brain Fog has connections to an imbalance in the Limbic system. Within the limbic system resides the hypothalamus which is responsible for all the areas affected by Brain Fog. In fact, many of the symptoms that your limbic system may need assistance match those that we have already discussed above.
These symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, memory problems, lower motivation, attention problems, and Circadian rhythm issues. The last being a fancy way of saying that you are tired all day but have a hard time sleeping at night. In addition, limbic system dysfunction can produce more symptoms that are not often cited as correlating with Brain Fog but that bear watching for. Suppressed appetite, problems with temperature regulation, stomach issues, lowered thyroid hormones, lower blood pressure, hormonal issues, visual problems, lowered sex drive, hypoglycemia, frequent urination, and problems letting go of thoughts bordering on or crossing into obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD for short.
Other Possible Causes
Some list more common causes such as dietary deficiency, specifically low levels of Vitamin D, B12, and Omega-3 that is found in fatty fish. Dietary excess has also been cited as a cause, in particular, a diet that is high in sugar, caffeine, and/or carbs. Lack of sleep, persistent stress and/or anxiety, environmental toxins, uncontrolled blood sugar levels, and food additives have all shouldered the blame for Brain Fog.
If all of that confuses you, do not worry it is not Brain Fog. All of that information confuses the doctors too. That is exactly why there is so much of it. As often happens in medicine and any science for that matter, one question leads to five more and rarely any concrete answers.
So, now we have a huge collection of symptoms and an even larger assortment of causes. With all the varied ways that Brain Fog presents itself and the innumerable possibilities for what causes it, how can there ever be hope for a treatment or cure?
The Cures … Maybe
With no real medical claim to fame, there is not research for a medical cure. If Brain Fog is triggered by a chronic condition, then that condition can be treated with medications and appropriate therapy. In fact, if it is caused by inflammation, that too can be treated medically. Yet, what if it is caused by one of the more common factors, such as a dietary issue or environmental toxins? Those areas often require a lifestyle change on the part of the sufferer.
Blood Sugar Levels & other Dietary Concerns
Dietitian Marion Hauser of Caring Medical Rehabilitation Services in Oak Park, Illinois has plenty of advice for helping Brain Fog caused by dietary issues. According to her, the brain consumes about 20 percent of the body's energy. Since our body gets energy from food if we give it the wrong fuel the body won't work right. Therefore, if we change how we eat we might be able to head off Brain Fog.
Hauser specifically suggests some steps that you can take to help. The first is avoiding sugar and sugar-containing products. This means obvious sugar containing items such as sodas and sweets. It also includes lesser-known items which contain high levels of sugar such as white bread, white rice, and pasta. These ultra-processed foods are metabolized very quickly which causes blood sugar levels to spike and then drop rapidly. Hauser warns that in addition to the other issues this teeter-totter effect causes, it will throw the body out of equilibrium and cause Brain Fog. Thus, eliminating or reducing these sugar-heavy food sources will relieve that condition.
Other sources seem to concur with Ms. Hauser. One advises that eating complex carbohydrates and other low glycemic foods combined with not skipping meals will help with Brain Fog. They cite the science behind their suggestion by saying that these foods are digested more slowly and thus can help to keep blood sugar levels even. It is also suggested that using items with Stevia, a natural sugar-free sweetener, can help to curb those sugar cravings.
Beyond the connection to blood sugar levels are other dietary concerns. Vitamin levels, specifically vitamins D and B12 as well as Omega-3 oils, can play a part in Brain Fog. Taking a multivitamin is one solution to this issue and eating whole foods as close to their natural state as possible is helpful. A diet heavy in fatty fish such as Salmon, Tuna, and Mackerel can also help with this area. These fish contain all three of the aforementioned vitamins and are shown to reduce inflammation as well.
Dehydration also falls under this subheading. Keeping the body hydrated helps to keep inflammation to a minimum and flushes toxins from the body. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding excessive sodium intake are two of the most common ways to help keep the body hydrated and thus, fight Brain Fog.
On the other end of the spectrum is Neurologist Dr. Larry McCleary, author of "The Brain Trust Program." He suggests that stress and not dietary issues are the main factor in Brain Fog. His first suggestion for alleviating the condition is somewhat simplistic and out of touch but worth stating nonetheless. Dr. McCleary says that to destress people need to "structure their life better and eliminate stressors." It seems like if somebody could consciously do that then they would have already.
One source focuses on meditation as the solution to combat Brain Fog inducing stress focusing on how it addresses the symptoms. They claim that meditation can improve focus and concentration. These two areas are central to Brain Fog symptoms. Thus, meditation will make one happier and more resilient.
Other recommendations to reduce stress include conscious breathing and purposeful exercise, such as Tai Chi. Conscious breathing is defined by Freedictionary.com's medical dictionary as "a relaxation technique in which the practitioners shift the focus of their attention from the stream of mental chatter to the natural rhythms of their breath." In short, focusing on your breathing to a point where you block out the many stressors that vie for attention within your mind. This is much like the breathing exercises taught in Lamaze classes for pregnant women.
Environmental toxins place undue stress on the body and its regulatory systems. It is no wonder then that these toxic elements could cause Brain Fog. It would be more surprising if this compromise of the body's regulatory systems did not cause some type of issue mentally.
Avoiding environmental toxins in today's world is nearly impossible. Environmental toxins are anything that poisons the environment … so, pollutants. There are very few areas of the world that are untouched by some form of pollution. Air pollution travels on the wind, water pollution spreads from lakes to rivers to oceans and vice versa.
However, that does not mean that avoiding these environmental toxins in your personal environment is pointless. Eliminating cigarette smoke is one obvious way to remove toxins from your home. Others are less apparent.
For example, leaving your driveway dirt rather than paving and sealing it will help remove toxins. The sealant is the main target here as tar-based sealants are known to contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs. These are carcinogenic compounds that may also contribute to genetic mutations but most definitely contributes to the toxicity of the environment. Worse yet, rainwater is shown to wash these compounds off and into the groundwater.
So, maybe people should use more antibacterial soaps to keep them cleaner. Well, no. Those very soaps that people commonly believe will help them avoid any and all illness are actually toxins. The triclosan that is used in many of these soaps has been shown to disrupt the function of the thyroid and hormone levels in people. In fact, the majority of health experts believe that overusing this and other antibacterial chemicals are actually promoting the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial treatments. That is right, excessive use of antibacterial soaps can actually make you sicker.
The American Medical Association recommends eight hours of sleep per night for most adults and Dr. McCleary concurs. When you do not get the sleep you need, inflammation and infection can take hold much easier in your body. In his research, Dr. McCleary found that just one sleep-deprived night results in the same mental capacity of somebody who is drunk. That means all those problems associated with Brain Fog could be caused just by this one factor.
Allowing for enough time to sleep the full eight hours is one obvious remedy. Setting a regular bedtime and sticking to it can also help. Regular exercise is one less known sleep cure but one that makes perfect sense. Exercise tires the body out and makes it easier to fall asleep and to stay asleep. It also gets the blood pumping which speeds the rate at which toxins are purged from the body.
Since this is thought to be the main cause of Brain Fog by the majority of health professionals and others, it seems odd that this is the precedent with the least amount of cures. Yet, as the one with the most medical research, inflammation has proven methods rather than just theories and opinions.
Treatment with NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) is the number one solution to inflammation. As well, treatment of conditions that cause inflammation is essential to combatting Brain Fog at its source. As such, low-grade infections trigger inflammation and need to be dealt with before they become chronic. Consumption of probiotics to avoid these low-grade infections before they start is also advised.
While there may never be a complete understanding of Brain Fog, there is no doubt that it is increasingly coming to the forefront as a condition that bears study. Since this condition is commonly a precursor to more serious conditions, it is essential that the medical community embrace its authenticity as a condition without simply brushing it aside as has been happening for too many years. Much of the confusion, frustration, and irritation of Brain Fog is likely due to just that dismissal.
Fight the battle from your end while the medical community races towards a solution like the fastest snail ever. Drink more water to stay hydrated and flush toxins. Avoid what toxins you can by reducing your use of bug sprays, antibacterial soaps, and sealants. Get enough sleep and do it regularly. Change your diet to be higher in energy-producing proteins and lower in sugars and simple carbs. Destress with mediation, concentrated though, and purposeful movement. Seek treatment for any and all low-grade infections and do whatever you can to reduce inflammation.
Treat the condition that you know you are experiencing and do not listen to naysayers who do not believe that Brain Fog exists. Do not chalk it up to getting old. Do not ignore it with the hope that it will go away by itself, it might, but then again, it might not and then what.
Brain Fog is real. It is not going anywhere anytime soon either. So, the best thing to do is continue to study its causes and search for solutions. Until then, write things down, ask others to be patient with you and be patient with yourself, do what you can to minimize the effects as we discussed earlier, and tell your doctor. Most of all cut yourself a break. The entire fate of the world does not rest on your shoulders despite how it may feel; it is okay if you need a little down time to simply focus on you. After all, you are the only you that the world has.