Have you been suffering from mental confusion, forgetfulness or the inability to focus on tasks? Do you often forget simple words when speaking with someone? Do you have trouble remembering what you did just two hours ago?
Brain fog is a common symptom of inflammation affecting the brain and is commonly noted in people diagnosed with autoimmune conditions, and other inflammatory conditions like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and has even been correlated as an early sign of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. So what causes it and what can you do about it?
Brain fog is generally caused by lifestyle factors, which each of us can readily change. When you start feeling foggy, the first question you should ask yourself is “was it something that I ate?” Let’s go over some of the foods that can cause brain fog:
Refined carbs like sugar and high fructose corn syrup cause an immediate spike in your blood sugar levels, followed by a very severe crash. The main fuel source for the brain is blood glucose, so eating refined sugars causes a roller-coaster ride of energy for your brain. Low blood glucose leads to brain fog, mood swings, tiredness, irritability and mental confusion. Chronically high blood sugar leads to diabetes, insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s disease. Step 1 is to cut down on the amount of sugar you eat.
Low Fat Diets
About 60% of your brain (by dry weight) is comprised of fat. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, the author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, a diet that is low in good fats often leads to the brain literally starting to digest itself for the raw materials and fats that it needs to create important brain chemicals like Neurotransmitters.
Good fats in your diet act like a “super fuel” for the brain, so you should eat a diet that is higher in good fats like nuts, avocados, coconut oil, wild salmon, eggs and organic grass-fed meat. It is also important to avoid inflammatory bad fats like vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower and canola oil. These bad fats are high in Omega-6 fatty acids which promote inflammation in the brain.
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The Mayo Clinic found a direct correlation between celiac disease (a digestive disorder triggered by gluten) and dementia (link to article). Even those who have a far more common condition like gluten sensitivity are at risk of suffering mental and cognitive decline. Wheat gluten has already been linked to worsening of symptoms in brain disorders like schizophrenia, autism and ADHD. Gluten is not only present in wheat, but also in other grains like rye, barley and spelt.
If you are eating any processed, restaurant or fast food, you are likely getting more salt, sugar, bad fats and food additives than you might think. Two of the worst food additives are MSG and artificial sweeteners. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is a known neurotoxin that can cause headaches, mood swings, dizziness, anxiety and depression. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose can also cause brain fog symptoms as well as headaches, migraines, dizziness, anxiety, depression and tinnitus.
Other lifestyle factors that can increase Brain Fog Include:
Dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, vitamin and mineral deficiencies (Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Vitamin D, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Magnesium, Carnitine and Zinc), lack of restful sleep, inability to handle stress, lack of exercise, toxins in your home and other underlying health conditions.
What you can do about it
Lucky for us, our bodies are designed to heal the issues that we cause for it. Our brains contain cells called Microglia that help to remove any inflammation, waste products and uninvited guests that enter the brain space. Through a process called Autophagy, they remove and recycle any biochemical debris that would otherwise hamper brain function. As we age, these cells decrease in ability and function, thus debris begins to build up. There are some foods that help the Microglia to perform their function and last longer.
Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants
Berries are a great source of antioxidants, which help to eliminate brain damaging materials. 2-3 servings of fruit daily are essential in ensuring the microglia are able to function correctly. Blueberries, Acai berries and strawberries have the highest antioxidant quantities. It is important to ensure that these fruits are organic and don’t contain any pesticide residues which can also have severe effects on brain function.
Green vegetables contain many of the vitamins and minerals that our cells need to be able to function correctly. These vegetables contribute greatly to proper brain function. The best vegetables to choose are organic, dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, arugala and asparagus as well as other great vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, celery, cabbage, bell peppers and mushrooms. Again, organic options are the best choice for all of these.
Like we discussed, our brains are made primarily of fat. It is important to give these cells good fats to replenish with, so eat nuts like almonds, cashews and brazil nuts, seeds like chia and flax and cook with high quality oils like Coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter and drizzle your salads with olive oil or avocado oil. Remember, Omega-3’s are good, Omega-6’s are bad.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish Oils are high in Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. These are important for nourishing the brain which helps to normalize its function.
Ensure you drink enough water on a daily basis. Filtered water that doesn’t come from plastic bottles are the best option to help eliminate toxins like pesticide residues and BPA-like plastic chemicals.
Often times, there are underlying issues in your gut, dysfunctional energy production and over-stressed hormone systems that can be causing these symptoms. It is very important to get to the root of the problem by having functional lab testing completed by a functional medicine practitioner.
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