This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! I encourage you to go check out her website!
Are you always looking for those supposed misplaced items (you swore they were there a second ago)? Or forgot why you entered a room? Spaced out on marking down an important meeting or due date for an assignment? These are all common scenarios that can occur at any age, but concern may arise when they interfere with most of our daily activity. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where our attention span is less than a goldfish, but if a walk in the park or a vacation doesn’t seem to help your memory or focus, or people close to you begin to notice your inconsistencies, then consider speaking with your doctor to discern all potential causes.
The Causes of Brain Fog
Brain fog is not a medical term, though usually interpreted as forgetfulness, confusion, lack of mental clarity, and lack of focus, and may be due to a single or any combination of issues such as hormonal imbalances, stress, poor diet, gut issues, blood sugar dysregulation, insomnia, thyroid issues, mood disorders, fatigue, medication, pregnancy, autoimmune diseases, and dementia, to name a few.
Your knowledgeable healthcare professional will ask questions to help rule in or rule out certain conditions, may perform physical exams as appropriate, and potentially order certain blood work, imaging, or perhaps additional tests that may not be covered by insurance. A diagnosis certainly helps guide a treatment plan (then it addresses the cause of concern), however, regardless of the results there are many lifestyles and natural approaches that can improve function as well as overall health.
How To Prevent Brain Fog – Lifestyle Changes
New neuronal connections and ‘rewiring’ the brain is important for us both as a species, and throughout our daily life in order, to adapt to new scenarios. To strengthen these connections on a regular basis, ensure that you are, being social, and seek to play more brain games, switch up your routine (e.g. brushing your teeth with the opposite hand), and continuously learn new skills and knowledge to foster these attachments.
Exercise (especially aerobic from walking to running) is also incredibly important in enhanced learning due to new hippocampal connections (responsible for learning and memory), as well as being able to help address post-stroke rehabilitation, stress, and depression (Cotman, Berchtold, & Christie, 2007). Consider working with a fitness professional if you’re starting a brand new regimen, or interested in increasing your fitness goals.
Sleep is critical to overall health as it helps solidify those new neuronal connections, encoding information, and memory, in addition to melatonin being our most potent endogenous (we make it ourselves) antioxidant. We can get the most value once asleep around 10/10:30 pm, as it’s made between 11pm-3am. It also varies inversely with cortisol, our stress hormone, which can actually impair memory formation. Outside our body, our potential constant exposure to environmental toxins such as like heavy metals and fragrance in our beauty and cleaning products can be an additional obstacle to overcome in achieving mental clarity.
How To Prevent Brain Fog – Dietary Changes
Nutritionally, decreasing sugar consumption (especially artificial sweeteners, as they have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease- also known as Type 3 Diabetes) is the most important step. This also includes simple carbohydrates (especially those from white flour), and alcohol as these two get metabolized quickly to turn into sugar and promote inflammation.
In addition to cutting back sugar, opt for more Mediterranean based diet by increasing consumption of vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and cruciferous, as well as healthy fats (most of our brain is comprised of fat) like olive oil, fish (wild caught is best), avocado, and coconut oil; this can both preserve and boost brain function.
Lastly, consider an elimination diet, diet diary, testing, or any other method that can also rule out a potential food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance (e.g. gluten intolerance can commonly lead to ‘brain fog’). Poor gut health can affect absorption of important vitamins and minerals that not only affect brain health but overall health as well. Furthermore, the gut is now touted as the second brain, making the same neurotransmitters as our brain and uses the vagus nerve to ‘talk to’ the brain in what we need. There are strong links between our gut integrity and brain function (Mayer, 2011).
How To Prevent Brain Fog – Therapeutic Supplements
Supplements are meant to supplement, not replace an unhealthy lifestyle, so as these changes are being implemented, it can be helpful to add in these brain boosting nutrients for extra support. Vinpocetine, for example, can help improve memory and concentration by increasing blood flow to the brain, uptake of glucose to neurons, and increase levels of the acetylcholine neurotransmitter, which is especially important to regions related to memory.
Vitamins C & E are potent antioxidants and studied to also have beneficial effects on memory (especially E) as the brain is a vulnerable organ to aging and oxidative stress. Acetyl-L-Carnitine is also noted to support cellular production and cognitive benefits especially as it can cross the blood brain barrier (participates in energy production within the brain) (McDaniel, Maier, Einstein, 2003). Additional therapeutics include CoQ10 (involved in cellular energy), alpha lipoic acid (great antioxidant, good for cell membranes), and fish oil (especially DHA).
Brain Fog – The Bottom Line
Switch up your routine
Swap sugar, carbs, and alcohol for healthy fats
Test for food sensitivities
The majority of conditions in current times have multiple risk factors and reasons for developing, so while a single supplement or pharmaceutical may help, it’s imperative to discern and treat the reason why dis-ease is present not only for relief but for prevention. Before beginning any therapies, best to discuss with your knowledgeable health care professional who is also aware of potential herb/drug/nutrient interaction, and quality of potential supplements. Fortunately, many of the strategies used to strengthen brain health can also cross over to enhancing overall health.
Cotman, C.W., Berchtold, N.C., & Christie, L. (2007). Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Neurosciences. 30(9): 464-471. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/acba/2db2954f38241bae6261d33c80dedd5d3b86.pdf
Mayer, E.A. (2011). Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain connection. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 12(8):10.1038/nrn3071. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845678/
McDaniel, M.A., Maier, S.F., & Einstein, G.O. (2003). ‘Brain specific’ nutrients: a memory cure? Nutrition. 19:957-975. http://media.sethroberts.net/chandra/2003-11_Review_article_in_Nutrition_related_to_Chandra_letter.pdf