What is brain fog?
Brain fog is classified as a lack of cognitive functioning or disorientation. It can be slight, but significant. Many speak of it literally as if a cloud has descended over their brain. Others describe it as they sometimes can’t remember names, or facts like they used to. It usually begins after some stressful times or after a long illness, or even after pregnancy, but it can happen anytime to people of all ages. The treatment of brain fog varies greatly, depending on the cause(s). One the cause or causes can be found, the healing can begin! Note that brain fog is not dementia, or memory loss, but people with these conditions can also describe their experience as such. Here is a comprehensive list with descriptions of many causes of brain fog.
What are the TOP TEN causes of brain fog?
- Suboptimal thyroid, low T3 hormone
- Adrenal fatigue, low cortisol
- Toxin build up
- Candida overgrowth in the gut
- Bad bacteria overgrowth in the gut
- Lack of nutrients
- Chronic infections
- Poor diet
- Sex hormone imbalance
Dehydration is super common. The brain and body need pure water daily, enough to saturate the cells and wash away the toxins that each cell brings to the surface. We need enough to move our lymph system, along with exercise, the lymph takes the toxins out of the tissues so they can properly exit through the kidneys to the urine and through the liver to the stool. We need a minimum of water that equals have our body weight in ounces, daily. You can see dehydration in the skin, notice chapping of the lips or if your urinalysis has a higher end specific gravity. Trace minerals are naturally supposed to be in our water. Natural spring water contains these trace minerals. It’s best if you add these to your water daily for optimal hydration.
Suboptimal thyroid, low T3 hormone, is found in a blood test. Testing thyroid properly is testing for TSH, free T3 and free T4 levels, which are often missed. You want your T3 to be minimum 3, better if 3.5 or higher. Low T3 is one of MOST common causes of brain fog that I see. The symptom of fatigue can also accompany this one, and it has the notable symptom of poor word or name recall.
Adrenal fatigue, low cortisol, is another cause of brain fog that is often missed. This is best tested via a 4 place salivary free cortisol test as blood tests can easily be skewed. Low cortisol can also be seen with fatigue and definitely follows a time of high stress but can also come on slowly over a long period of high stress. Those with adrenal fatigue often feel an afternoon crash or a surge of energy late in the day. They can be dizzy when standing quickly and have low blood pressure. Interestingly to note, I see this in young adults more and more these days.
Toxin build up in the body can show up anytime. There is a critical time when too much is too much and the body begins to show signs of toxicity and brain fog is certainly one of them. Mercury, a heavy metal found in food, sadly, primarily tuna, can build up quickly and cause brain fog. We can test for it using a urine test. Many toxins are in our environment and in our food. It depends on many factors how these toxins get into our body, and what is preventing them from detoxing out of the body. Certain toxins the body will quickly store in the tissues to keep us safe, some in fat, in bones, and like mercury, in brain tissue. Undergoing a detox protocol is best done after testing and finding out which toxins have built up in the body. That way you can avoid them going forward. The best thing is to avoid toxins, avoidance is key! Here is a page on toxin avoidance that may help.
Candida overgrowth in the gut. This is such a common thing I see. When one has carb or sugar cravings, and brain fog, I think of candida first. Other symptoms are gas and bloating, especially after carbs are eaten. What happens is our good bacteria become low in number and the natural yeast or candida that exist in our GI tract, overgrow. Candida can also form biofilms which are protective coverings to avoid being killed by treatment such as herbs or medications. Many who have had even a few courses of antibiotics in their lifetime, often have a higher level of candida. The thing is candida, when it eats, produces a ton of toxic byproducts and they take an enormous amount of the bodies faculties, nutrients and liver detox pathways, to get them out. Detoxing from candida is carefully done by supporting all the detox pathways involved in addition to correcting the microbiome of the GI tract. Candida is most accurately found via stool testing.
Bad bacteria overgrowth in the gut is caused by imbalance in the microbiome due to antibiotics, diet rich in processed foods, lack of strong stomach acid. The presence of bad bacteria in high amounts actually block an enzyme in the body that converts dopamine to norepinephrine, which is associated with focusing well. Another symptom associated with having bad bacteria is lots of gas, bloating, or belching but not always and sometimes fatigue is present as well.
Lack of nutrients. Brain fog can happen from a lack of nutrients due to taking a medication that depletes them, such as the birth control pill. It happens from not eating good quality foods, and not supplementing. It can happen from having heavy mense, causing a lack of iron, which can lead to brain fog. Most commonly the B vitamins that are involved heavily in detoxification are low in those with brain fog. Minerals are important too as they also are involved in many aspects of detox and the immune system. I usually test for this in the blood if we can’t figure it out otherwise.
Chronic infections. One symptom of having chronic infections is brain fog. This happens due to the burden of the immune system and detoxification systems. Since the COVID epidemic, chronic infections are more talked about but naturopathic physicians have been aware of this for many years. Other common chronic viral infections are Epstein-Barr or mono, HHV or Herpes 1,2, and 6, shingles virus, and cytomegalovirus, Chronic mycoplasma is seen after one has had walking pneumonia or chronic bacterial vaginal infections. There are more but I will stop with these. The problem with COVID is that it was more potent, so the body’s immune system, that had been fighting the other chronic infections, turned to fight the COVID, so as a result the chronic infections could take hold again. So sometimes brain fog is from the chronic COVID virus and sometimes it is from the other infections. Brain fog due to chronic infections can take longer to heal from but it can be done using herbs, IV vitamin C, immune system support and sometimes medication.
Poor diet causes brain fog because of the toxins and chemicals they contain and the nutrients they do not contain. The operation of all the body’s systems needs nutrients from high quality proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. When the body’s organs and systems, such as the liver, kidneys, immune system, don’t have the nutrients they need, they cannot do their jobs well. Processed food contains many chemicals that are NOT food. Our body does not need this extra burden. Thanks to the food industries neuro-marketing, processed foods are made to be addicting, it is not our fault we want to eat more and more of them. Studies show that with the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt, even cocaine addicted rats will choose the processed foods over their drug of choice.
Sex hormone imbalance. Hormones can be tested in the blood, urine or saliva. The imbalances can be low levels or suboptimal levels due to a myriad of reasons. In men, those who have low male sex hormone or low T can experience brain fog along with low mood. In menopausal women low female hormones can cause brain fog is some. In younger women who have hormone imbalance, they experience brain fog along with irritability during the time prior to their menses (PMS).
Brain fog is a real condition, not one that should be ignored! It can affect one’s quality of life, one’s work, and one’s relationships. Please share with someone you know!
Hope this helps!