By Liz Friedman, MS
As we all know, the holidays can be stressful. With extra shopping, cleaning, cooking, and hosting added to an already full plate, it’s small wonder that we may feel overwhelmed. In order to navigate the extra tasks on our lists, it’s important to have a clear head and optimal focus. But this time of year there are many things that may contribute to a dazed feeling, which has become known as “brain fog.”
What exactly is brain fog? It is characterized by a lack of focus and mental clarity and sometimes by confusion and forgetfulness. The condition can range from annoying to debilitating, so it warrants a deeper dive into causes and potential treatments. Let’s take a look at a few of the things that may contribute to brain fog, and some things we can do to clear our minds and get through this stressful season.
Many classes of medication are known to dampen brain function through a variety of mechanisms. Prescription sleep aids work to slow down nerve communication in the brain, and there can be a “hangover effect” upon awakening, when nervous system communication is still a bit sluggish. Non-prescription sleep aids, some older allergy medicines, some older antidepressants, and a handful of other medications have anticholinergic properties, meaning they block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which can lead to fogginess and confusion. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you notice brain fogginess related to medication; you may be able to change medications or make lifestyle changes that allow you to reduce the dosage or forgo medication completely.
Just with one drink, alcohol can stimulate GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, so increasing GABA means that brain activity slows down. In addition, alcohol inhibits glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that controls brain activity levels. With longer-term use, alcohol can have other negative effects on brain function. In addition, alcohol is dehydrating, and dehydration is known to cause headaches, dizziness, and fuzziness. To lessen brain fog during the holidays, minimize alcohol consumption, and stay properly hydrated. For every alcoholic beverage consumed, be sure to drink one 8 oz glass of water. Choose alkalinizing mineral waters like San Pellegrino or Gerolsteiner that can provide much needed electrolytes as well.
Stress & Hormone Imbalance
Interestingly, stress itself can cause a foggy brain. There have been a couple of ideas as to why that may be. One hypothesis is that anxiety and stress take up energy in the brain and disrupt cognitive processes, leaving less energy available to process thoughts. Another theory points to cortisol levels having an effect on thinking ability. Whatever the cause, you can work to reduce stress this holiday season by planning ahead, pacing yourself, making lists, delegating tasks to other family members, getting adequate sleep, and making time for exercise and self-care. These things will all help to keep your stress to manageable levels this season.
As mentioned above, hormonal imbalances can also cause brain fog. Cortisol, other adrenal hormones, and thyroid hormones can all cause fogginess, so if other causes have been ruled out, it might be worthwhile getting your hormone levels tested. PERQUE Adreno Distress Guard™, a plant based adrenal support formula, can be very useful in helping with stress hormone balance.
I am going to interject a personal anecdote here. A few years back, I was struggling with persistent brain fog that was affecting my work and my daily life. After a consultation with an allergist indicated a wheat allergy, and after the LRA by ELISA/ACT® tests indicated a strong immune reaction to cow dairy, I removed both wheat and dairy from my diet. Within a short period of time, my head cleared, and it has remained clear to this day.
Do not discount food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances as a possible cause of brain fog. LRA tests and treatment plans can help you identify the things that are keeping you from feeling your best.
An Inflammatory Response
While we mostly relate inflammation to joints, did you know your brain can also become inflamed? With autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions, the inflammatory response can affect the brain causing fogginess and decreased alertness. This inflammatory reaction has been associated with the release of cytokines in the body that can trigger brain inflammation. Getting to the root cause of the inflammation can help clear the fog. Inflammation may be due to autoimmune conditions, pathogens, or food and chemical sensitivities as mentioned above. Post-viral syndromes can also cause brain fog through the inflammatory pathway. Some suggestions for helping it clear are provided in this article.
Eating too much sugar has also been associated with a systemic inflammatory response and resultant brain fog. Cutting back on sugar consumption can help clear the fog if sugar is the culprit in your case. Many tasty dishes and meals can be made without adding sugar. As Dr. Jaffe often says – “you are sweet enough as you are.”
Food additives found in non-organic foods, such as MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial sweeteners, and freshness enhancers can all cause brain fog. These chemicals are toxic to the brain and can overexcite and kill brain cells. The best way to avoid these issues is by steering clear of processed foods and drinks with chemical additives. Avoid overprocessed foods and “eating out of a box.” Sticking to a diet of minimally processed whole foods is always best.
Deficiencies of vitamins such as B12 and D, minerals such as iron, and omega 3 fatty acids have all been implicated in causing brain fog. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient required for central nervous system function, among other things. Deficiency can cause a whole host of problems, including fatigue and depression. PERQUE Activated B12 Guard™supports energy and endurance and combats fatigue.* Low vitamin D levels can lead to depression, which can cause brain fog. PERQUE D3 Cell Guard™ delivers valuable and complete health support for bones, brain, heart and immune system function.* While iron is best known for healthy red blood cell formation, it also is involved with brain development and cognitive function. Deficiency states can lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating. PERQUE Hematin Anemia Guard™provides 139% of the daily value of iron in the ferrous aspartate form that is most easily absorbable by the cells.* Omega 3 fatty acids are the healthy fats found in some fish. The two types of fatty acids are called EPA and DHA for short, and they have powerful anti-inflammatory functions as well as an important role in maintaining brain function. Low levels of omega 3 fatty acids have been linked with depression, memory deficits, and brain fog. PERQUE EPA/DHA Guard™improves brain cell communication and overall brain and body health.*
Lack of Sleep
One in three people do not get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and many try to treat the resulting fogginess with caffeine, which only leads to additional sleep difficulties. A 2017 study provided insight into why lack of sleep causes brain fog. Sleep deprivation actually disrupts the ability of our brain cells to communicate amongst themselves. A lack of adequate sleep prevented neurons from being able to encode information and to translate visual information into conscious thought. So getting enough quality sleep is essential. In a previous article, we discussed our recommendations on how to improve restorative sleep.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain. It also increases mood-boosting neurotransmitters that can increase both mood and the ability to focus. We recommend walking for 45 minutes every other day and investing 20 minutes a day in stretching and deep breathing exercises. Here are a few other ideas on types of exercise you can to help combat depression and the brain fog that accompanies it.
We’ve looked at a few of the main causes of brain fog and a few ways to mitigate it. Overall, to keep your brain daze-free this holiday season, be sure to eat a wide variety of healthy whole foods, stay hydrated, remove any foods or chemicals that you might be sensitive to, supplement any deficient nutrients, get plenty of sleep, and keep stress to a minimum, and get plenty of exercise. Also, we recommend implementing a detox program!
Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.