The brain is one of the most complex organs in the body, and there is much that experts are still to discover about it. The brain consists of over 100 billion nerves that communicate with each other via connections called synapses.
The brain is made up of specific areas that work together:
The cortex: This is the outermost layer of brain cells. Our thinking and voluntary movements begin in this part of the brain.
The brain stem: This is between the spinal cord and the rest of the brain. This part of the brain controls functions like breathing and sleep.
The basal ganglia: These are a cluster of structures situated in the centre of the brain. This part of the brain coordinate messages between the different areas of the brain.
The cerebellum: This is at the base and the back of the brain. The cerebellum controls coordination and balance.
The brain is also further divided into areas called lobes:
The frontal lobes: Which are responsible for problem solving, judgment and motor skills such as balance.
The parietal lobes: Which interprets sensation, and controls handwriting, and body position.
The temporal lobes: These are involved with memory and hearing.
The occipital lobes: These process what the eyes see.
The brain is surrounded by a layer of tissue called the meninges. The skull helps to protect the brain from injury.
The brain is literally the body’s command centre, and occasionally, things can go wrong. Here are some of the most common conditions that can affect the brain:
Stroke: Blood flow and oxygen are interrupted to an area of the brain tissue, which then dies. A blood clot, or bleeding in the brain, can also cause a stroke.
Brain aneurysm: An artery in the brain has a weak area that swells up and ruptures, causing a stroke.
Brain haemorrhage: This is bleeding inside the brain.
Concussion: This is an injury to the brain that causes a disturbance in function. Trauma to the head is the most common cause of concussion.
Brain tumour: This is an abnormal growth of tissue inside the brain. Whether the tumour is cancerous or not, they can cause problems because they cause pressure to develop on the brain.
Meningitis: This is inflammation of the lining around the brain or spinal cord, usually caused by an infection. A stiff neck, neck pain, headache, fever, and drowsiness are the most common symptoms.
Encephalitis: This is inflammation of the brain tissue, usually caused by a virus. Fever, headache, and confusion are the most common symptoms.
Traumatic brain injury: This is permanent brain damage, usually from a traumatic head injury.
Parkinson’s disease: Nerves in an area of the brain degenerate, causing problems with movement and coordination. A tremor in the hands is a common early symptom of the disease.
Epilepsy: This is a problem with the electrical signalling in the brain, which causes seizures.
Dementia: This is a decline in cognition, caused by death or abnormal functioning of nerves in the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease: Nerves in the brain degenerate slowly and cause this condition, which is the most common form of dementia.
If you feel like you are constantly tired, distracted, or you don’t quite feel ‘right’, you might just be suffering from brain fog. Busy modern lifestyles, coupled with processed foods, and the often unhealthy ways that we spend our leisure time, is not conducive to brain health.
Many people suffer from nutrient deficiencies, they eat too much sugar, don’t get enough sleep, and they are chronically stressed. All of these factors impact on energy. For the brain to function optimally, it requires a constant supply of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and glucose, as well as time to repair and relax.
If you have brain fog, you need to go back to basics, and address any underlying issues with your diet, stress levels, sleep and overall health.
Symptoms of Brain Fog
Having brain fog is like living your life in a complete daze. If you feel like this constantly, this can easily lead to depression. Experts have pointed to inflammation in the body, hormonal imbalances, and stress as the main root causes for brain fog.
Brain fog symptoms include:
low energy or fatigue
forgetfulness and trouble with recalling information
low motivation, feeling hopeless or depressed
trouble sleeping through the night or insomnia
Difficulty learning new things
What Causes Brain Fog?
Lack of sleep
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s not surprising that you are more likely to have brain fog. The average adult needs around 7-9 hours of sleep per night to feel refreshed and to be able to think clearly.
If your sleep is satisfactory, but you still get symptoms of brain fog, it could be related to your diet. Nutrient deficiencies, too much sugar, and too high an intake of alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and caffeine can impact on the function of your brain. Dehydration is also a common cause, and even mild dehydration can affect concentration and performance.
Another factor that is believed to be involved in brain fog, is changes to the hormones that determine your mood, energy levels, and ability to focus. These are dopamine, serotonin and cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and it keeps you alert, while serotonin makes you feel happy and calm. These work in synergy to balance your body’s system, so when the levels of one hormone fall too low, or another rises too much, the system can be thrown off balance. Balancing these hormones is necessary for good brain function.
Inflammation can lead to brain fog. Inflammation is the cause of many illnesses, and in conditions like depression and dementia, overactivity of the immune system is implicated in possible causes. This is supported by a report published in 2015, which found that the people most likely to suffer from brain fog were those with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer’s disease, all of which are linked to inflammation.
Consuming anti-inflammatory foods and taking in plenty of antioxidant vitamins and minerals has been shown to boost brain health and reduce the likelihood of brain fog.
How to beat brain fog
Cut down on sugar and increase your intake of healthy carbs
Cut down on processed foods that are packed with artificial sweeteners and preservatives, not to mention sugar. Sugar might boost your energy initially, but it causes energy dips which lead to feelings of fatigue and brain fog. However, don’t reduce natural sugars and carbs too low, as this can have the same effect. Instead, get your carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If your carb intake is too low, your serotonin levels will fall which is bad news for your state of mind.
Try to eat healthy complex carbohydrates throughout the day, and include plenty of sweet potatoes, fruit, dairy and whole grains which keeps serotonin levels steady.
Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation in the body, and increase your risk of developing diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Research shows that consuming plenty of fruit and vegetables balances the hormones and reduces inflammation, which will reduce your risk of diseases associated with inflammation.
Get plenty of protein and healthy fats
The brain needs a constant supply of amino acids and fatty acids to make the chemicals it needs to function properly. Protein deficiency is caused by a lack of certain amino acids, especially the essential amino acids, which the body can’t make on its own.
Foods like meat, dairy products, fish and eggs are called complete proteins because they supply all the essential amino acids we need and they help to keep the brain functioning optimally.
We also need plenty of healthy fats to produce ‘happy’ hormones and fight inflammation in the body. Just as having a too low carb intake can be bad for a healthy brain, so can a diet that is too low in fat. High levels of inflammation in the body can result from levels are partially caused by imbalances in fatty acids. This is also linked to depression and cognitive decline in general. Generally, the western diet is full of omega 6 fats which can actually promote inflammation and low in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.
To make sure your brain is getting everything it needs, make sure that 20-30% of your diet consists of good quality protein, including free range eggs, grass fed beef, and wild fish. In addition, make 30-40% of your diet healthy fats, from coconut and avocado oils, and nuts and seeds to combat inflammation in the body.
Manage your stress levels.
These days, we are constantly available due to technology, which can interrupt and distract us constantly, and not only this, we are bombarded with so much information from day to day. This can be very tiring and stressful.
Large amounts of stress increase the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which produces side effects including feeling tired but stimulated, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. In today’s world, it is essential to set aside time for activities which reduce stress such as exercising, meditation, reading, and spending time outside in nature.
Doing things you love often produces dopamine, the body’s pleasure/happiness hormone. Dopamine is the main brain chemical that makes you feel pleasure, excitement, and motivation. It’s released every time you do something new or something you enjoy, like trying a new activity, spending time with people you love or engaging in hobbies. A lack of dopamine leaves you feeling unfocused, bored and lacking in motivation, and not only this, it increases the risk of developing addictions and mental illnesses. Do something you enjoy doing everyday to combat stress and keep your brain happy and healthy.
Get a good night’s sleep
One of the easiest ways to boost brain function is to get a better sleep. The hormones in your brain stay balanced when you get enough rest every night. Most adults should get between 7 and 9 hours sleep. If you’re constantly sleep-deprived, you will find it hard to focus, learn new things, and be able to recall information.
You will also find that if you’re well rested, you won’t feel as hungry and your emotions will be more balanced, which will benefit your overall health.
Brain fog is caused by a lack of sleep because sleep deprivation raises cortisol levels, which means you can feel irritable and tired but wired, which might mean that even though you feel tired, you won’t be able to get a restful sleep.
High cortisol levels depress dopamine levels in the brain and makes it difficult for the happy chemical serotonin to work like it’s supposed to, so you will likely notice that it impacts significantly on your mood.
Exercise, but do it appropriately
Exercise reduces inflammation, helps to lower stress levels, and increase energy levels, but too much of a good thing can cause hormonal imbalances and can make you feel even more fatigued.
For most people, moderate and regular exercise can help to balance hormones, improve insulin resistance and help you to get better quality sleep, which all help to fight fatigue. Exercise releases natural endorphins, which boost your stamina and lift your mood. However, exercising too hard, too often without getting enough rest increases the levels of cortisol in your body, and not only that, you lose electrolytes, nutrients, and your energy is depleted.
If you get symptoms of brain fog from overtraining, this is your body telling you that you need to ease off and take more rest. The exercise that you should do should boost your energy and make you feel better, and if it doesn’t, there’s something not right. To avoid overtraining, get at least 2 rest days per week and don’t base your workout regime on long sessions of cardio.
Think about how healthy your hormones are
If your thyroid isn’t working, or your adrenal glands are out of whack, you can feel as if you have brain fog. Such hormone imbalances can be caused by poor diet, allergies, stress, and a lack of rest. To get your energy back on track and balance your hormones, adjust your diet, cut back on caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and refined carbs. These, and in fact, all processed foods, leave you feeling drained in the long run. Try to include healthy fats, proteins, and plenty of vegetables in your diet, plus get plenty of rest, to balance your hormones.
Deal with any food allergies or sensitivities
When people suffer from a food sensitivity but they don’t eliminate all allergens from their diets, this can cause damage to the gut, and this actually affects brain function. This damage can cause significant changes in balance of bacteria in the gut, which can be an issue as your overall health pretty much depends on the health of your gut. An allergy triggers inflammatory responses in the body, which affect everything from the absorption of nutrients to the way your hormones work. Almost every cell, tissue and body system will suffer if there’s an underlying food sensitivity, so think about trying an elimination diet to see how you feel when you eliminate allergens from your diet.
Supplements to combat brain fog
There are some supplements that can help to clear up brain fog and get you back on track to a healthy lifestyle. Of course, supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy diet, plenty of rest, and exercise, they should be taken in addition to a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle will balance your hormones, then you’ll be better placed to make changes to your lifestyle to get rid of brain fog once and for all. Supplements will simply boost your overall health.
Adaptogens like holy basil, maca and Ashwagandha can help to lower cortisol levels and support your body in dealing with stress and tiredness.
Omega-3 fish oils are very effective at helping to reduce inflammation in the body, balancing the levels of omega-3s versus omega-6 and promoting a healthy brain.
B vitamins help to convert nutrients from your food into energy, so if you are deficient in any of the B group of vitamins, you will feel sluggish and low in mood.
Remember too that brain fog can be a side effect of some medications. Antidepressants, sleeping tablets, antipsychotic drugs, and blood pressure medications can cause that unmistakeable fatigue. Research has suggested that many medications can cause brain inflammation and inhibit the function of the hormones. If you are on medication and you notice a marked change in your mood or energy levels, speak to your doctor.
Everyone wants to feel energetic and healthy. You may think you eat right, and exercise, but you still get that annoying foggy brain feeling. Brain fog has many causes, and all of the exercise in the world won’t help you if your hormones aren’t functioning as they should.
Look at your lifestyle, make some changes, and bring your body back into balance to eliminate brain fog.