Root Causes of Brain FogSep 15, 2022
Sure, sometimes we forget where we put our keys or what we wrote on that grocery list. But other times it’s obvious that we are not just dealing with a little bit of “mom brain.” Are you suffering with brain fog? Do you feel like you’re drowning in post-it notes and reminders from your smartphone just to get you through the day? If so, maybe something deeper and more serious is at play beyond simply needing to catch up on sleep. In this post, we will cover root causes of brain fog, lifestyle changes that can address the root fog, and supplements that may be able to provide rapid relief. Keep reading!
Root Causes of Brain Fog
Thyroid hormone imbalances
Having imbalanced thyroid hormones can set you up for an inflammatory-immune response which can induce inflammation in the brain, eventually leading to brain fog.
Adrenal fatigue (HPA axis dysfunction)
Adrenal exhaustion can occur when your stress response system [LINK TO STRESS RESPONSE BLOG POST #11] is disrupted, causing the stress hormone cortisol to rise. Because of the brain-hormone relationship, brain fog can be both a cause and a symptom of adrenal fatigue.
One of the many problems that viral infections cause is blocking the body's vitamin D receptors. This means you’ll be unable to use the vitamin D you consume, and low vitamin D levels have been linked to brain fog.
Leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability)
Having leaky gut syndrome raises your risk of developing leaky brain syndrome. With leaky gut, the increase in gut bacterial toxins has been proven to alter levels of brain inflammation.
An overgrowth of yeast in the microbiome, particularly yeasts of the candida genus, raises inflammatory cells which can lead to excessive inflammation in the body and brain.
Histamine intolerance occurs when the body fails to effectively break down the immune cell histamine or overreacts to its presence, resulting in the production of superoxide - a dangerous free radical that causes a lot of inflammatory damage to the brain.
Sleep deprivation [LINK TO CIRCADIAN RHYTHM BLOG POST] reduces the anti-inflammatory antioxidant glutathione, increasing oxidative stress in certain parts of the brain which ultimately can result in brain fog.
Methylation is a biological process that’s essential for the health and purification of your organs, including your brain. Many people have genetic methylation abnormalities that obstruct this detoxification process, increasing the chance of systemic inflammation.
Mitochondria are cell organelles that provide a majority of the chemical energy required to fuel your cell's metabolic activities. However, because the mitochondrial genome is exposed to oxidative stress through lifestyle and environmental factors, we tend to notice a steady reduction in the health of the mitochondrial genome as we age. Brain fog and excessive fatigue are common symptoms in practically every chronic disease that’s associated with decreased mitochondrial function.
Lifestyle Changes to Treat Brain Fog
So now what can you do about your brain fog?
The number one step is to work with a functional medicine practitioner to overcome the above root causes. Find out more about how to work with me.
In the meantime, you can implement these lifestyle changes to begin supporting your brain at home.
Inflammation is at the root of all disease. There are a variety of natural approaches to reduce your inflammation levels, including spices such as turmeric, and replacing inflammatory foods with nutrient-dense alternatives.
Heal your gut
Your gut and brain are intrinsically linked. Introduce bone broth and probiotic-rich fermented foods into your diet - they will feed your microbiome with healthy bacteria to start your healing journey.
The central nervous system (consisting of the brain and spinal cord) can be brought back into balance by adaptogenic herbs. This doesn’t replace other lifestyle changes, but it certainly can help. Ashwagandha is a fan-favorite around these parts, but holy basil is especially good for brain fog since it can improve cognitive function.
Get enough vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D can raise your risk of a poor memory and brain fog. The most bioavailable source is sunlight, but if you live somewhere with harsh winters make sure you’re eating foods such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel and supplementing as needed.
Avoid toxins as best you can
This includes eating organic, using natural personal care products, and using plants as medicine. These tips will also aid you in healing your gut.
Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night
Our mental clarity depends on how well we sleep. If you’re missing out on all important 💤‘s, you might find your brain feeling cloudy the next day as oxidative stress will have increased in the hypothalamus region. If you are a new Mama, know that it will come! If you are a caregiver like me, then leverage what you can. Personally, I try to go to sleep by 9:30 PM because my sleep is so frequently interrupted.
Supplements for Brain Fog
If you’re on the struggle bus and you need some rapid relief, check out these supplements. They can provide nutrient support for the brain and help you feel better faster. Don’t skip the lifestyle suggestions, however. You can’t out-supplement a poor lifestyle.
B vitamins are essential for methylation (an important biological process involving your genes), thus consuming activated B vitamins like B9 L-Methylfolate (L-5-MTHF) and B6 Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P5P) can help.
B vitamins aid in the production of neurotransmitters which function as chemical messengers and allow the brain to interact with other neurons throughout the body. B vitamins are also necessary for energy generation, so if you're feeling tired, it's possible you're deficient. Food sources of B-vitamins include:
- Lean meats
- Black beans
- Brown rice (if you tolerate grains)
My favorite supplement is Methyl B Complex from Ortho Molecular.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3’s are ideal for brain health since they have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Cognitive decline can actually form as a result of elevated levels of inflammation, so eating anti-inflammatory foods is key. You can find omega-3’s in:
- Fatty fish
- Chia seeds
- Algae oils (great option if you’re vegan)
My favorite high quality omega-3 supplement is Nordic Naturals ProOmega
Magnesium is beneficial to the brain since it can promote a restful night's sleep (key for brain health). Magnesium also improves the efficiency of our brain's higher executive processes, allowing us to think more creatively and flexibly. Good sources of magnesium include:
- Dark chocolate
My favorite form of magnesium to support the brain is magnesium threonate. I like Metagenics magnesium L-threonate.
Probiotics (aka beneficial gut bacteria) are one of the best nutrients for brain health since everything that improves the gut can also improve the brain. Studies have proven that probiotics can also enhance your mood! Foods high in probiotics include:
- Yogurt (if you’re sensitive to dairy, you could try coconut yogurt)
- Tempeh (opt for organic soy)
My favorite probiotic supplement is Klaire Labs Therbiotic Complete or, if you’re suffering with a lot of bloating, Ortho Molecular Ortho Spore IG.
If you want to learn more about gut health, check out my free guide to probiotics and prebiotics!
Know someone who’s been struggling with brain fog? Send this article to them!
Unsure where to purchase quality supplements? Check out my online dispensary.