“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein
- Executive Summary
- Brain fog: Finding The Cure
- The Cause of Brain Fog
- The Most Common Causes of Brain Fog
- Brain Fog and Food
- Lectin-Induced Brain Fog
- Brain Fog and Genetics: MTHFR, SOD2, APOE4 and Other Mutations
- Brain Fog and Sleep
- Brain Fog and Infections
- Brain Fog and Biotoxins: The Role of Mold
- Brain Fog and Low Acetylcholine
- Brain Fog, Insulin Resistance and Hypoglycemia
- Brain Fog and Hormonal Imbalance
- Brain Fog, Leaky Gut and Dysbiosis
- Brain Fog, Allergies and Histamine
- Brain Fog, Anxiety, Chronic Stress and Depression
- Brain Fog, Heavy Metals and Toxins
- Brain Fog and Drugs
- The Most Important Factors To Combat Brain Fog
- Biological Factors That Contribute to Brain Fog
- Conditions That Increase the Odds of Brain fog
- Common Side Effects of Hypothalamic Disruption and Brain Fog
- Conditions Associated With Brain Fog and Caused by Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
- Other Relevant Posts
- Disclaimer and Caveats
The more complex question is why you have elevated inflammation and oxidative stress. I’ve spent years studying this and in the past few years I’ve helped a wide range of people deal with their brain fog issues, so I’ve gained quite a bit of experience in understanding the wide variety of causes.
The most common causes of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are as follows: lectins, chronic infections, biotoxins, sleep problems, injuries, low hormones, obesity/terrible diet, ‘gene-environment interactions’ or other causes (read the rest of the article). Often, there is a mix of these.
In most cases, people with brain fog have lectin sensitivity and should try a lectin avoidance diet or even better an elemental diet. You don’t have to keep to these permanently, but they help you figure out if lectins are the source of your issues. Dr. Gundry is the leading expert on lectins and you can listen to my interview with him.
Lectin sensitivity is very likely to blame if you experience fatigue after meals, gut problems (gas, bloating, etc…), anxiety and inability to let go of thoughts, etc….
People with lectin sensitivities develop immune imbalances. Some people are Th1 dominant, while others are Th2 dominant. Read this post to find out which immune profile you have. People obviously have a genetic predisposition for one immune profile or another, but dietary lectins usually exacerbate it. Milk and various other dairy products almost always make the problem worse.
If you don’t have lectin sensitivity or an immune imbalance, then the second and third most common explanation is an infection of some kind or sleep problems. In these cases, brain fog isn’t influenced by particular foods.
Whether you have lectin sensitivity or not, a Ketogenic Diet is almost always helpful. I’ve had a hard time with this in the past, so I’ve developed a protocol to get into it more easily. However, most will find a ketogenic diet too difficult in the long term.
Otherwise, various lifestyle and environmental factors can increase inflammation and oxidative stress. Scroll down to see which ones are most important. These factors are sometimes the starting point of people’s health issue, but mostly they are just contributing factors.
You can check for lectin sensitivity by taking a blood test for Adiponectin, Free T3, TNF and White Blood Cells. 23andme also has several markers that I’ve discovered for lectin sensitivity. I recommend doing a blood test to check for various other cytokines. (You can’t get these test by your doctor).
The most important blood test to check for chronic inflammation are these tests: Th1/Th2/Th17 and taking an Autoimmune Screening Panel. Unfortunately, your doctor will not order these (except maybe the autoimmune testing if you ask).
After dealing with a lot of people I realized everyone has somewhat different issues and symptoms. Often issues are multifactorial. 1 issue will trigger a cascade of events and people are left dealing with downstream events that are causing chronic issues.
Brain fog: Finding The Cure
I’ve suffered from brain fog as long as I can remember. Brain fog is what got me interested in health at an early age. At 12, I endeavored to stop eating any food with sugar and ate only whole grains.
I’ve always tried to eat as healthy as possible, yet I still had brain fog… I would always read about health when I got the chance, but nothing helped that much.
After many years of experimentation and research, I finally figured out what caused brain fog and how to heal it. After having 150 clients with brain fog (as of December 2014), I’ve identified all of the common causes of brain fog and have helped others heal their condition as well.
The Cause of Brain Fog
In a sentence, brain fog is a condition caused by oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxidative stress is when you have too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants.
The body has a ‘sensor’ that senses inflammation and oxidative stress in order to respond accordingly.
Inflammation is usually the starting point, which leads to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress (OS) in the hypothalamus is what we experience as brain fog.
Both OS and inflammation cause mitochondrial breakdown. The mitochondria are “the power plants” of the cell and provide energy for the brain and other organs. When your mitochondria break down, it causes even more OS and inflammation, leading to a vicious cycle. (R) You will, therefore, feel cognitive fatigue as well as brain fog.
Interestingly, the Vitamin D Receptor tends is most concentrated in the hypothalamus and its dysfunction will negatively affect the hypothalamus and cause more inflammation locally than other parts of our body. (R) However, Vitamin D supplementation likely won’t help, however.
Bottom Line: whatever exacerbates oxidative stress or inflammation will make brain fog worse.
Superoxide: The Worst Free Radical
There are many types of free radicals, but the most significant free radical is ‘superoxide’ (or O2¯).
Superoxide has some useful roles in the body. For example, Superoxide is used to damage foreign invaders such as bacteria, which is why your body produces it when you’re sick. Any time we eat or breath we create superoxide because it’s a byproduct of the energy production process (metabolism).
However, brain fog occurs when too much of it is chronically produced and not enough is neutralized. Just like superoxide is damaging to bacteria, it’s also damaging to us and the damage accumulates. The accumulated damage is the most significant reason people age.
Superoxide degrades collagen and hyaluronic acid, causes cytokine release/inflammation, lipid peroxidation, and DNA damage.
Superoxide is damaging enough on its own, but it also goes on to produce other harmful free radicals/ROS including peroxynitrite (ONOO¯) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which in turn creates hydroxyl radicals (·OH).
Superoxide converts to peroxynitrite. Peroxynitrite(ONOO¯) decreases MnSOD (antioxidant defense), decreases the cortisol receptor (causes glucocorticoid resistance), increases COX2 and prostaglandin production, decreases glutamate transporters and glutamine synthase (both of which increase glutamate outside the cell=bad), decreases tyrosine hydroxylase and therefore norepinephrine formation.
Superoxide converts to Hydroxyl Radicals. Hydroxyl Radicals (·OH) cause protein damage, cell membrane damage, DNA damage and mitochondrial damage.
What’s the Source of the Inflammation and Oxidative Stress?
Chronic inflammation (and oxidative stress) most commonly comes from chronic infections, biotoxins (such as mold), lectins, autoimmune disorders, bad genes, injuries, sleep problems, low hormones, obesity/terrible diet, drugs, toxins or other causes. Almost always, there is a mix of these factors.
In maybe 65% of the cases I had, brain fog was caused in large part by lectin consumption, but usually that’s not the full story.
The Most Common Causes of Brain Fog
There are many other possible sources for brain fog. However, I’ve only listed the most common ones that wouldn’t be diagnosed by your doctor.
Brain Fog and Food
The most common cause of brain fog is lectin sensitivity.
Sometimes, people only have to stay away from specific proteins or antigens and they’re fine. Some common ones are:
- GLUTEN (wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and oats),
- CASEIN (all dairy products),
- Yeast (in gluten-free breads),
- Lectins (every food has lectins, but we can be sensitive to different lectins.)
- Food additives like carrageenan (in rice milk, almond milk, etc..),
You can be allergic to any other foods as well. Egg and fish allergies are quite common, so pay attention to them.
These diets are highly restrictive, but in the long term you can eat whatever you want. I just think it’s a good idea to keep these diets until you can tell if lectins are the cause of your issues.
Follow an elemental diet for 2 weeks and then add one food at a time back in to see if your issues are from food allergies, lectin sensitivity or other.
If you’re living on a Standard American Diet, then that’ll likely be a significant contributing factor to your brain fog. I recommend following a modified Mediterranean diet if that’s the case.
Lectin-Induced Brain Fog
Lectins are plant proteins that induce an immune response. Most of the time, the immune response is not systemic – or if it is, it’s not too bad.
Instead, plant lectins resemble certain tissues such as the synovium in joints, the thyroid and I believe the hypothalamus.
People with lectin sensitivity will most often experience inflammation in their gut, joints, thyroid and hypothalamus. Sometimes they’ll go on to develop an autoimmune condition of one sort or another.
But lectin sensitivity starts out without many direct markers and modern medicine does not yet know of all the types of antibodies produced against different tissues.
People with one autoimmune condition are at increased risk for another. So if you have hashimoto’s in your family, you’ll be more likely to have a hypothalamic problem.
Sometimes, however, the autoimmune issue will be strictly in one tissue over another.
Brain Fog and Genetics: MTHFR, SOD2, APOE4 and Other Mutations
There’s a whole bunch of genes that don’t interact with our current environment well i.e. they are outdated.
Genetic mutations interact with the environment in a very significant ways. Knowing you have a mutation can help guide you on a more focused course of action for your brain fog.
Having the MTHFR mutation seriously hampered my ability to ‘detox’ and can result in inflammation and oxidative stress.
The SOD2 mutation causes a 33% decrease of the enzyme (MnSOD) that breaks down superoxide in the mitochondria. Superoxide production is the most significant cause of brain fog.
The main SOD2 gene rs4880 CC is more common in my brain fog clientele and there’s a lot of scientific research on it.
Three other SOD2 genes are also heavily overrepresented in my clientele and include rs2758331 (AA), rs2758339 (CC), rs10370 (AA). Although little science has been done on these and the most important gene is rs4880 (C;C).
Another study in 2014 found that the expression of another anti-oxidative enzyme gene that breaks down H2O2 (MPO/Myeloperoxidase) was also strongly tied to cognitive performance. Having a mutation in these genes could result in cognitive impairment. (R)
Obviously, your genes are only a part of the story. It’s usually the case that you need to have these mutations and other factors that increase oxidative stress.
Through my genetic data, I was able to see that I had various mutations (such as MTHFR, SOD2 and PON1).
I found mutations in my ability to ‘detox’ and in antioxidant genes. This tells me that the genetic data is accurate because I already knew I was Th1 dominant, I had elevated levels of oxidative stress and was sensitive to many chemicals.
In addition to these, I found many other genes that showed I was Th1 dominant, which I already knew, but my DNA confirmed this. I also had many genes involved in inflammation of the gut, which I also already knew. But it taught me a few things I didn’t know such as what the underlying driving force was for my Th1 dominance is (STAT4, IL-23, IFNa, etc…). This information allows me to make a more targeted protocol.
Is your brain fog from lectins, an infection or other? The genetic data can help you figure that out. It’s a significant piece of the puzzle.
Therefore, you want to check your 23andme. You spit in a tube and send it out. It’s as simple as pie. If your genes come back normal, then that can be eye-opening as well because it would indicate an infection rather than genetic causes. In my consulting service, I help people understand their genetic data.
The good news is that genes can be overcome with lifestyle and supplement choices.
Brain Fog and Sleep
Not sleeping well is one of the most common causes of brain fog.
Even if you don’t have sleep apnea, bad sleep is still a significant cause of brain fog, but may not be the whole story.
People with morning brain fog should particularly watch out for this.
Adequate sleep in my book means getting the amount of sleep you’d get if you didn’t have an alarm clock.
I suggest doing a sleep study and checking how much slow wave and REM sleep you’re getting. See my post on how to improve your sleep.
Brain Fog and Infections
Science is increasingly becoming aware of the link between various autoimmune conditions and infections – usually earlier in life.
Infections can cause chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, leading to brain fog.
Sometimes, infections such as viruses can be latent and then be reactivated by some stressor (lack of sleep, shitty diet, etc..)
Viruses can modify the immune system to become more sensitive or malfunction, which can cause downstream problems.
People with Th2 dominance often can’t control viral infections well and experience chronic inflammation. This is likely the case with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Epstein-Barr Virus is a common viral infection that causes harm. Even if it’s another virus, controlling viral infections have common themes.
People with severe immunodeficiency will struggle with controlling viral infections.
Since you can’t rid yourself of a virus, you want to instead make sure your immune system always keeps it at bay.
Testing your Natural Killer Cells and their activity are some important indicators into how you handle infections – both viral and other.
If this is the cause of your issues, then you want to rebalance your immune system.
I’ve seen many cases where brain fog was caused by a bacterial infection.
If you can identify that you have a bacterial infection then targeted drugs such as antibiotics would be a better option than herbs.
Some common infections include Lyme, Mycoplasma Pneumoniae and H Pylori.
I’ve seen other cases where candida or fungal infections were the sources of the brain fog.
Candida comes from an immune deficiency. Environmental triggers include refined carbs, stress, low stomach acidity (could be from antacids) and antibiotics.
Anybody with brain fog after antibiotic treatment and/or a particularly stressful period should look into candida as being the cause.
Although less common in the developed world, parasitic infections can also be problematic.
When someone was healthy their whole life and suddenly comes down with brain fog after an infection, effort should be made to identify and get rid of the infection. In the case of viral infections, you should control it.
Parasites and Protozoa
Other times, parasites or protozoa can be a problem such as Blastocystis Hominis, Tapeworm, Roundworm Antibodies, Tissue worm, and Toxoplasma.
Brain Fog and Biotoxins: The Role of Mold
People exposed to mold or other biotoxins and who go on to develop CIRS develop a certain kind of brain fog.
Any kind of toxins can stimulate the immune system and cause oxidative stress.
Brain Fog and Low Acetylcholine
People with chronic inflammation and brain fog (often from chronic infections) sometimes exhibit a mix of symptoms that almost exactly match symptoms from drugs that inhibit acetylcholine.
People with biotoxin issues usually fit into this boat, but most people with brain fog do not experience all of these symptoms because of different issues.
Cytokines can also decrease acetylcholine.
IL-1 induces the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine (acetylcholinesterase) and also increases the enzyme’s activity, thus promoting a cholinergic deficit. In addition, IL-1 directly inhibits acetylcholine release from neurons (R).
I recently had a client whose issues came about after botox injections. Botulinum toxin A has anti-cholinergic properties (inhibits acetylcholine release) (R).
Symptoms of anticholinergic drugs are similar to symptoms experienced by bad cases of biotoxin illness (R):
- Poor coordination
- Increased body temperature (although inflammation causes lower thyroid hormones, which should diminish this symptom for some).
- Sensitivity to bright light (photophobia) – from pupil dilation.
- Loss of focusing ability blurred vision
- Increased heart rate
- Tendency to be easily startled
- Diminished bowel movement (decreases motility via the vagus nerve)
- Increased intraocular pressure
- Euphoria or dysphoria
- Respiratory depression
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Wandering thoughts; inability to sustain a train of thought
- Mental confusion (brain fog)
- Muscle jerking/twitches
- Unusual sensitivity to sudden sounds
- Illogical thinking
- Visual disturbances
- Periodic flashes of light
- Periodic changes in visual field
- Visual snow
- Restricted or “tunnel vision”
- Visual, auditory, or other sensory hallucinations
- Warping or waving of surfaces and edges
- Textured surfaces
- “Dancing” lines; “spiders”, insects; form constants
- Lifelike objects indistinguishable from reality
- Hallucinated presence of people not actually there
- Orthostatic hypotension (sudden dropping of systolic blood pressure when standing up suddenly).
- Rarely: seizures, coma, and death
- Urinary retention,
- Decreased mucus production in the nose and throat; consequent dry, sore throat
- Dry-mouth with possible acceleration of dental caries
A common mnemonic for the main features of anticholinergic syndrome is the following:
- Blind as a bat (dilated pupils)
- Red as a beet (vasodilation/flushing)
- Hot as a hare (hyperthermia)
- Dry as a bone (dry skin)
- Mad as a hatter (hallucinations/agitation)
- Bloated as a Toad (ileus, urinary retention)
- And the heart runs alone (tachycardia)
Brain Fog, Insulin Resistance and Hypoglycemia
People with brain fog often get hypoglycemic because the hypothalamus is not functioning as it should. The hypothalamus is the organ that senses blood glucose levels.
When the hypothalamus is hypersensitive to glucose because of oxidative stress, it leads to hyperinsulinism and hypoglycemia (R).
Every time you get hypoglycemic you damage your brain.
Hypoglycemia drives psychiatric conditions by causing neurons to get over excited (glutamate excitotoxicity). This excitation causes increased levels of free radicals and mitochondrial breakdown (R). This is the most damaging aspect of hypoglycemia….
The pituitary and adrenal glands are particularly involved in glucose regulation, but these are controlled by the hypothalamus.
Realize that hypoglycemia contributes to brain fog, but it almost always isn’t the original cause. Inflammation is the source, usually.
Brain Fog and Hormonal Imbalance
Melatonin, progesterone, estrogen, DHEA, LH and oxytocin all have antioxidant effects. (R, R2) Genes that resulted in lower melatonin, for example, was found to be associated with cognitive dysfunction. (R)
More specifically, these hormones inhibit superoxide (and other free radicals): Melatonin (R), Pregnenolone (R), Progesterone (R), DHEA (R), Testosterone (R), Estrogen (R), Androstenedione (R), DHT (R), IGF-1 (R) and Oxytocin (R).
Almost always, pregnenolone levels are also low in people with brain fog. Pregnenolone is the most important hormone.
Thyroid hormones (R, R2), Growth Hormone (R), Prolactin (R) and Chronic Estrogen (birth control, HRT) (R) can actually increase superoxide. However, all of these hormones are necessary for proper brain function in normal amounts. For this reason, these hormone should be balanced rather than too low or too high.
With regard to thyroid hormones, low or high thyroid hormones can cause oxidative stress (R).
People with brain fog often have low levels of thyroid hormones. However, low thyroid hormones are a result of inflammation, not the cause of it. Actually, having a high level of thyroid hormones increases inflammation. (R, R2, R3)
Brain injuries from car accidents, being in the military, being a competitive athlete, fighting (professionally or not) or any kind of hit to the brain can lead to low hormones. So if you’ve received head blows from one source or another, you must check your hormones.
I believe the most common, fundamental cause of low hormones, however, is generally chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation (and oxidative stress) most commonly comes from injuries, sleep problems, low hormones, obesity/terrible diet, chronic infections, lectins or other causes. Often, there is a mix of these.
Brain Fog, Leaky Gut and Dysbiosis
With regard to gut health, intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” and/or an imbalance of your gut microbiota (“gut dysbiosis”) can increase inflammation, thereby contributing to brain fog.
Lectins are the most common reason for having a leaky gut, in my opinion.
To prevent microbial imbalance or dysbiosis, the gut needs the right ingredients to work well (like prebiotics), which is also why the right foods matter.
Probiotics can also be great at helping to modify inflammation.
Also, Hypothalamic inflammation dysregulates the endocrine system, causing changes in motility, which also leads to IBS.
Brain Fog, Allergies and Histamine
People with asthma and allergies commonly report brain fog, which is in part from the production of histamine.
Allergies and asthma are as a result of Th2 dominance.
Histamine can be produced from lectins or allergic reactions as a result of an elevated Th2 immune system.
People can also consume foods with histamine -mainly fermented and cured foods and beverages.
If you don’t have enough of an enzyme to break histamine down, then this can be the cause of your brain fog. I’ve found this to be the case for some people.
The mechanism by which histamine cause brain fog may be as a result of oxidative stress (R).
Otherwise, when mast cells activate, they release superoxide (R), which supports my central theory of brain fog (that superoxide is responsible).
I also recommend getting your genetic data from 23andme. I make most of my clients get this test and help them understand the results.
Brain Fog, Anxiety, Chronic Stress and Depression
In almost all cases of brain fog, people experience anxiety and often depression/bad moods.
This is mainly because inflammation and oxidative stress increase our stress response and causes anxiety. This also lead to depression. This certainly happened with me.
Indeed, that’s why cognitive dysfunction, depression, and anxiety often go together. (R)
Inflammation (TNF, IL-1) activates the stress pathway and causes us to be more anxious and depressed. Cytokines also degrade the hippocampus and other areas of the brain, which cause depression (R). Oxidative stress can also cause anxiety. (R)
Chronic stress can elevate inflammation in the long run (by causing glucocorticoid resistance). (R).
Depression can be caused by inflammation and oxidative stress. (R, R2) However, it likely contributes to oxidative stress as well.
Sometimes depression is the source of brain fog, but this isn’t usually the case. In most cases, it’s just a contributing factor.
Chronic stress is usually more of a problem in people who are Th2 dominant and have an immune deficiency because cortisol decreases our immune system.
I recommend you:
- Listen to John Kabat Zinn – Where You Go, There You Are and Mindfulness for Beginners…
- Do Yoga. I uploaded the video to Youtube.
- Do breathing exercises. This breathing program by Dr Weil is good
Brain Fog, Heavy Metals and Toxins
Heavy metals and toxins increase oxidative stress in the body. Since heavy metals bioaccumulate, they may cause increased levels of oxidative stress in the body.
However, while heavy metals may be a contributing factor, I’ve never had a case where it was the sole cause. Unless you have a specific reason to believe that you’ve been exposed to excess heavy metals, it’s probably best not to assume that this is the most significant factor.
Even necessary minerals can also accumulate in the body and cause oxidative stress in the long term, but again this would just be a contributory factor.
Toxins such as Pthalates, BPA, pesticides and others also cause oxidative stress . However, these are usually contributory in a minor way, but not the main cause.
Brain Fog and Drugs
There are many drugs that can cause or contribute to brain fog.
Alcohol is a neurotoxin and increases inflammation and oxidative stress. (R, R2, R3) If you’re an alcoholic then it will most likely be the cause of your brain fog. However, in other cases alcohol is just a contributing factor, but far from the main cause.
Many drugs can cause oxidative stress, but antibiotics are the most commonly taken ones that do.
Antibiotics, for example, produce superoxide and H2O2 and can damage you mitochondria. (R)
Three different classes of antibiotics were tested: ciprofloxacin (a fluoroquinolone), ampicillin (a β-lactam), and kanamycin (an aminoglycoside). All three bactericidal antibiotics induced a dose- and time-dependent increase in free radical production.
The fluoroquinolone antibiotics and some other antibiotics can damage the mitochondria and produce free radical leakage.
I’ve also seen brain fog induced by marijuana, LSD and ayahuasca. The mechanism is almost certainly related to hypothalamic and limbic system dysregulation, but the exact reason why only a tiny fraction of people experience this remains a mystery.
The Most Important Factors To Combat Brain Fog
Most of the time, however, a lack of sun is just a contributory factor to chronic inflammation and brain fog.
Sun also suppresses seasonal allergies, which are IgG and IgE related allergies. (R)
Besides UVB rays directly suppressing autoimmunity, vitamin D, which is a byproduct of UVB, also decreases Th1 and Th17 immune responses (R). The sun makes sulfated vitamin D, which is better than supplemental vitamin D.
With regard to oxidative stress, UVB increases our body’s internal antioxidant defenses (R).
People think that taking a vitamin D supplement will make up for not getting sun. This is false. In my opinion, most of the benefits from sun don’t involve vitamin D.
The most beneficial ingredient of the sun is probably not even the vitamin D, but the infrared that it provides. Infrared creates structured water in our body, which is fundamental to our well-being.
I recommend an hour of sun on most of your body (don’t exceed an hour per a spot).
If you can’t get sun, then use these tools:
- Far Infrared Sauna
- LLLT – 660nm….Has different effects than the other one that I recommend. Get both.
- LLLT – 850nm (CCTV camera). This one only has infrared, as opposed to the light relief. I like both of them. Take off glass.
- LLLT to put up nose
- Infrared Light at night and in the day. It will also warm you up.
- LLLT – I like this because it wraps around a location, but I don’t like that emits blue light. I still use it sometimes, but not at night. See the benefits of LLLT.
All of these have different effects. I use ALL of the products that I link to AND I get an hour of sun a day. Infrared is fundamental to your healing.
Also use this UVB light and use it for at least 15 minutes a day on various parts of you body and not more than 30 minutes per a spot.
As you can see, it’s no easy task to mimic the benefits of the sun. But UV is also a carcinogen, which is why you don’t want to go overboard. You should still get more infrared if you do get an hour of sun daily.
Your Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is deeply connected with inflammation and both can cause the other to get out of balance. I explore this subject a bit in my post about why we get tired even with enough sleep.
Disrupting your circadian rhythm will result in brain fog, as happens during jet lag. Some people are more sensitive to circadian disruptions.
Researchers have shown that the 24-hour circadian clock also influences cognitive performance in a wide variety of areas, including verbal reasoning and working memory. Researchers conclude that factors that disturb circadian rhythms can also affect cognitive performance. (R)
Circadian disruption can come about for a variety of reasons, but the most common is a lack of light in the day, too much light at night, disrupted sleep patterns and chronic inflammation.
Disrupting circadian rhythms can also lead to heart diseases, neurodegenerative conditions, and cancer. (R)
People with brain fog are often wired but tired at night, fatigued in the day and lack a cortisol spike in the AM. They can be hot at night and wake up to pee multiple times in the night.
These are all symptoms of circadian dysruption. I used to have these symptoms, but getting better meant my metabolism increased in the day and slowed at night.
I now get tired at night and am awake in the day. I feel warmer in the day and cooler at night. I don’t get hypoglycemic at night. My vasopressin release has normalized so I don’t wake up to pee.
I am alert and awake in the day and get tired at night, and have a good amount of energy until right before bed – when I crash out. I wake up refreshed and ready to hit the day when my circadian rhythm is working properly.
The circadian rhythm controls you adrenal glands, and flat or low cortisol is a suprachiasmatic nucleus problem, not an adrenal one.
- Take care of your circadian rhythm by going to sleep and awakening at a similar time every day.
- Use Glasses (red) 2 hours before bed to produce melatonin.
- Use a Bright light device upon awakening if you don’t get sun.
- Don’t eat 3 hours before bed, except raw honey.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Too much or too little exercise can contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress.
I’ve never had a client whose brain fog was solely related to exercise, but it can be a contributory factor.
Moderate exercise brings down inflammation and oxidative stress. Interval exercise is particularly good for the hypothalamus because it produces lactate, which prevents hypoglycemia.
Yoga is also particularly good because it balances the HPA axis and your thyroid as well.
However, endurance exercise increases inflammation (Th17 immune response) (R). Don’t confuse endurance exercise with moderate aerobic exercise.
The Vagus Nerve
The bottom line is that the vagus nerve is important for optimal brain function and directly combats the underlying causes of brain fog.
Because the vagus nerve is associated with many different functions and brain regions, promising research is being done to determine its usefulness in treating other illnesses, including various anxiety disorders, Heart disease, Intestinal barrier breakdown, OCD, Alzheimer’s disease, Memory and Mood disorders in elderly, migraines, fibromyalgia, obesity, tinnitus, Alcohol addiction, Autism, Bulimia, Severe mental diseases, Multiple sclerosis and Chronic heart failure. (R)
Other diseases that it may also help: Atrial fibrillation, Burn-induced organ dysfunction, Chronic intractable hiccups, Comorbid personality disorders, Dravet syndrome, Drop-attacks, Heatstroke, heroin addiction, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Myocarditis, Peripheral arterial occlusion disease, Postoperative cognitive dysfunction in elderly patients, Rasmussen’s encephalitis, Sepsis, Spinal trigeminal neuronal, Transient focal cerebral ischemia, Trauma-hemorrhagic shock, Traumatic brain injury, Vaginal-Cervical self-stimulation in women with complete spinal cord injury, Visceral pain-related affective memory. (R)
If you don’t eat seafood often and don’t get enough DHA, it will worsen all issues related to the immune system.
DHA is critical for all functions of the body that relate to brain fog.
Biological Factors That Contribute to Brain Fog
The following are biological factors that make brain fog worse and are a contributory cause of brain fog.
Brain Fog and Low NAD+ Levels
When you have low NAD+ levels, your mitochondria don’t work well and you create too much superoxide.
You’re more susceptible to infections and toxins and you are more likely to have chronic inflammation.
Your general energy levels decline and you will feel more tired.
Ubiquitination increases and you lose weight. Insulin and leptin sensitivity drop. A bunch of negative metabolic changes takes place.
NAD+ levels decline with age and they are caused in part by oxidative stress over time (R).
Having low oxygen in your cells also results in higher NADH and lower NAD+.
Blood sugar dose-dependently worsens (increases) your NADH/NAD+ ratio in the same way as low oxygen. When you combine excess carbs/sugar and low oxygen, you start getting fatigued and have low energy.
This is one of the most significant reasons why sugar/carbs makes people with brain fog feel worse.
In fact, you might feel worse after eating anything because eating decreases NAD+ levels and fasting increases it. Of course, inflammation will also make you fatigued by shutting orexin down.
On the other hand, some people do worse in the short term because skipping meals cause hypoglycemia and when I was in a bad state, I’d feel like crap if I skipped meals. And then I’d eat a meal and crash because there wasn’t enough energy-related molecules (ATP levels) in my lateral hypothalamus from fasting, which results in the shutting down of orexin down.
Alcohol has a host of other negative effects, but they don’t explain the rapidity by which people feel worse from it. NAD+ explains the almost instant effects in people with brain fog.
So we see that lower levels of NAD+ will decrease brain energy and dopamine, and people will start to need amphetamines to keep up.
Saunas are also considered a panacea and have been a part of every historical culture. We think it’s because we’re sweating out toxins, and that might have something to do with it, but saunas and heat shocks also increase NAD+ levels (R). Since infrared also increases SIRT1 (R), infrared Saunas are ideal (the one I have).
However, some fermented byproducts cause problems in mold/histamine intolerance and Th2 dominant people.
Brain Fog and Low Oxygen
People with brain fog often have hypoxia.
When you have low oxygen (hypoxia), your mitochondria don’t work as well and for good reason. Oxygen needs to be there to accept electrons in the mitochondria. When you have low oxygen, it can’t accept electrons, so your body wants to slow mitochondrial function down.
When you have low oxygen, your body responds by slowing the conversion of NADH to NAD+ (less oxidation). Therefore, you have a buildup of NADH and a relative reduction of NAD+.
We need superoxide/free radicals to defend against infections and oxygen is needed to create superoxide.
Hypoxia also causes less activation of MHC II, which lowers our ability to clear pathogens.
ICES increases oxygen in cells.
Brain Fog and Low Cyclic AMP
Low cyclic AMP is a root cause of brain fog and this is caused by poor mitochondrial function (lower ATP production).
When cyclic AMP is low, most of your hormones are lower, inflammation increases and you can’t deal well with infections, toxins or other cellular stressors.
Conditions That Increase the Odds of Brain fog
Some conditions like Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency and Thalassemia increase the risk of brain fog for somewhat different reasons.
G6PD deficiency results in higher levels of oxidative stress because of less reduced glutathione.
Thalassemia results in lower red blood cells and hemoglobin, which means less transport of oxygen. This increases the risk of hypoxia in various tissues.
Anemia will also increase the risk of brain fog for the same reason: increased risk of hypoxia in various tissues.
Gilbert’s Syndrome is associated with brain fog possibly because it’s often caused by low glucuronidation, high Beta-Glucuronidase, and not enough light.
Euler’s Danlos Syndrome is associated with brain fog because of its effects on collagen formation, which affects many systems in the body.
Common Side Effects of Hypothalamic Disruption and Brain Fog
When I used to experience brain fog, I had a host of other symptoms that at the time I didn’t realize were related.
The hypothalamus plays a critical role in the following:
- Thermal regulation
- Circadian Rhythm (Regulates Sleep-Wake Cycle)
- Hunger, Satiety
- Blood pressure, heart rate
- GI stimulation
- Sex drive and hormones
- Antidiuretic hormone
- Glucose regulation
- Vision (R)
I’ve noticed with myself and my clients that people with brain fog are more likely to have:
- Fatigue in the day. The hypothalamus controls wakefulness with orexin. Inflammation (TNF) suppresses orexin neurons.
- Anxiety. Inflammation can activate your stress response and lower neurotransmitters.
- Low motivation. Orexin is a significant factor in motivation and it’s suppressed by inflammation.
- GI problems. The hypothalamus controls vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and CRH, which influence gut function as well.
- Cold hands and feet. The hypothalamus controls temperature regulation. Low orexin causes lower body temperature (R) and therefore you’ll feel cold.
- Decreased/increased appetite. Low hypothalamic serotonin leads to increased carb cravings. The hypothalamus is also the base of Orexin, T3, insulin, ghrelin, MCH, FGF21, and NPY, all of which increase appetite, while leptin, insulin, norepinephrine, serotonin, GLP-1 and FGF19 are appetite suppressants.
- Decreased sex drive from low hypothalamic dopamine.
- Increased thirst from low ADH, which is secreted by the hypothalamus.
- Increased urination (Low ADH)
- Low blood pressure (Low ADH)
- Insomnia from stress response activation, which can come from inflammation.
- Hormonal issues. The hypothalamus is the center for hormonal control…It controls male and female hormonal production, the thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands.
- Blood sugar swings and hypoglycemia. The hypothalamus controls glucose homeostasis (R)
- Attention problems – through orexin and melanin-concentrating hormone (R), low levels of dopamine (R) and acetylcholine (R). Orexin increases acetylcholine (R) and so inflammation will lead to lower levels of this neurotransmitter.
- Visual problems. The hypothalamus is connected to your visual system (R). For example, when you get tired you notice an effect on your eyes – they get heavy.
As you can see, the symptoms that people commonly experience with brain fog are directly tied to hypothalamic function.
I had GAD/OCD/anxiety issues, GI problems (IBS), cold hands and feet, decreased blood pressure, insomnia at night and fatigue in the day, decreased appetite (relative to others), thirsty all the time and I’d pee all the time.
I couldn’t figure out why I was so thirsty. The more my brain fog improved, the more the other symptoms improved in lockstep.
I also would get hypoglycemic and feel very weak when I ate any food with a high glycemic index.
Brain Fog and Adrenal Fatigue
The hypothalamus directs the adrenal glands. Adrenal fatigue is a misconception and the root cause of fatigue has to do with the hypothalamus, not your adrenals.
Brain Fog and Derealization/Depersonalization
People who have strong levels of depersonalization and derealization have a bit of a different category of brain fog. See my post on the biology of depersonalization and its potential solutions.
Conditions Associated With Brain Fog and Caused by Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Brain fog is much more likely to be experienced with other conditions. This is the case with conditions that are heavily associated with oxidative stress and inflammation.
Inflammation hits the brain stem as well in CFS (R).
It’s no wonder why brain fog is commonly cited in people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia – the same processes are driving all three.
Brain fog can be exacerbated by mood disorders such Anxiety, OCD, Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Alcoholism because it is widely believed that oxidative stress plays a role in these disorders (R, R2, R3).
Actually, science is discovering now that many antidepressants work by combating oxidative stress (R).
I’ve noticed a strong correlation with these disorders – especially OCD, anxiety and depression- and brain fog in my clients. I had all three when I used to have brain fog.
It’s not surprising that all of these conditions also have a connection with inflammation. (R)
In Multiple Sclerosis, Sjogren’s and Lupus, brain fog is the common feature. In all of these disorders, inflammation, and oxidative stress are increased.
Women with menopause sometimes develop brain fog.
When a woman goes through menopause a reduction of these hormones shifts the balance in favor of oxidants to antioxidants (R).
Other Relevant Posts
- Brain Fog Treatment, Part 2: Supplements
- Are You Th1 or Th2 Dominant?
- How To Rebalance An Elevated Th1 Immune System
- How To Rebalance An Elevated Th2 Immune System
- How To Balance An Elevated Th17 Immune System
- How To Inhibit NF-kB: The Key To Health And Master Control of Inflammation
- How To Increase Performance and Improve Health By Inhibiting TNF-alpha
- How To Perform Better And Be Healthier by Decreasing Interleukin-1 (IL-1b)
- Inhibiting Interleukin-6 (IL-6): The Key To Health, Successful Aging and Vitality
- How to Cure Autoimmune Diseases and Allergies With Oral Tolerance
- Are Lectins Beneficial or Harmful?
- Why You Get Tired Even With Enough Sleep
- 27 Ways To Naturally Improve Mood and Motivation By Increasing Orexin/Hypocretin
- How Epstein-Barr Virus Leads To Autoimmune Disorders And How To Inhibit It