Something just feels...off.
It's like you're going around half-awake. You forget the simplest things, and it's getting to the point where you can't really hide it anymore. You remember, kind of, what it was like when you could really focus, when you were firing on all cylinders. But lately, you feel like you just can't get your brain to work right.
That's the frustrating, unsettling fuzziness that is brain fog.
Taken separately, all the indications can seem kind of silly. So, that word slips your mind, or you can't remember where you left your keys. Or maybe you just feel an overall lack of clarity and remember a time when your thought process was much clearer.
The good news is that brain fog is real. 1,2,3 And, it can result from many different changes in your body, which is actually great news––because that means that you can take steps to keep your mind clear.
So What Causes Brain Fog?
Temporary brain fog could be due to…
• Changes in your blood sugar. Your blood sugar levels are closely related to your mental clarity––and for good reason. Brain cells need glucose to function, so when your blood sugar drops, it can make you feel foggy. Plus, changes in your blood sugar have an effect on the the way that crucial hormones (including glucagon and insulin) are produced and metabolized, leaving you with that foggy, tired-but-wired feeling.4
• Changes in your hormones. And speaking of hormones...conditions that cause changes in your hormone levels are very commonly associated with brain fog. Things like menopause or hormonal fluctuations due to factors like diet or medications can change the amount of serotonin (the "happy" hormone), GABA (a neurotransmitter related to memory), and cortisol (the "stress" hormone) that your body produces. Once these become out of balance, you tend to experience subsequent effects in the rest of your body, including many of the feelings of brain fog.5
• Changes in the permeability of your intestinal walls. The walls of your intestines are meant to do two main things: absorb nutrients from the food you eat, and keep everything going through your intestines from getting into the rest of your body. But sometimes, the connections between the intestinal cells can start to break down.
When this happens, whatever is in your intestines at the time––microbes, particles of food, toxins––can leak out into your bloodstream, and from there, to the rest of your body. Your body sees these out-of-place particles as invaders, and responds in the same way: by kicking off an immune reaction. The resulting temporary inflammation can affect many different parts of your body—your blood sugar, hormones, and brain included. 6
What’s the common factor between these three issues? The gut.
Your blood sugar, hormones, and intestinal health are all closely tied to the health of your gut microbiome; this is the ecosystem of bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Ideally made up of about 85% good bacteria to 15% bad when it's in balance, your microbiome is responsible for helping your body maintain healthy blood sugar levels already within a normal range, produce the right amounts of hormones at the right time, and maintain the strength of your intestinal barrier, among many other things.
The gut microbiome also has an important effect on the brain via the gut-brain axis, a direct connection between the gut and the brain over the vagus nerve. This connection puts the brain and the gut in constant communication, and allows each to talk to and impact the other. 7 When the balance of the gut microbiome is off, however, it affects the way that the brain functions, and when the brain is under stress or isn’t getting the nutrition it needs for optimal health, that affects the balance of the gut microbiome. 8
The bottom line: The way your brain functions is strongly tied to the state of your microbial health.
The problem is that's it's unfortunately easy to throw your gut bacteria out of balance, and to perpetuate that imbalance once it starts. Common things like a diet high in gluten, caffeine, and sugar; stress or poor sleep habits; and exposure to antimicrobial substances in food, cleansers, and medication can all tip the balance towards the bad guys.
Once that happens, it takes a conscious effort to support a healthy balance. You see, it's easy to accidentally encourage imbalance simply because you don't know why it's happening to begin with, or because you end up trying to mitigate the issues related to the imbalance––like that fuzzy head––with things that just damage your gut bacteria more, like high-caffeine drinks, sugary foods, or stressing yourself out as you try to "push through."
How to Support Gut Health and Ward Off Brain Fog
One of the best ways to keep your microbiome in balance is to support it directly with probiotics, then feed those good bacteria with prebiotics. (Prebiotics are substances that feed good bacteria––they're like fertilizer that helps the "garden" of good bacteria grow.) This approach maintains your clarity at its source, rather than providing a temporary fix. So your first step is to supplement with a premium probiotic like PRO-15, and increase your intake of prebiotic foods and incorporate a prebiotic powder into your daily diet.
If you do nothing else, you've already made a great start.
But the body is complex, so you'll get even better support if you implement other practices that care for your microbiome while those good bacteria are gaining a foothold, and then keep maintaining those habits to give the good guys ongoing TLC.
Want to know how to take probiotics to keep your sharp focus and have them be as supportive as possible? It's simple. Try a few of these tips:
1. Be careful about what you're putting into your body.
You probably could have guessed this one: after all, your diet has a big impact on your blood sugar levels and hormones, so you may already be watching what you eat. But your diet also changes your microbiome fast, and has a big effect on your intestinal permeability.
First step: Cut out gluten, sugar, dairy (or all three!) for a week. You'll not only feel much better, you'll be removing common sources of temporary inflammation, letting your blood sugar levels balance out, and removing some of your inhospitable bacteria's favorite foods, giving the good guys a better chance to colonize.
Once you've done your detox, try reintroducing these foods one at a time (or if you’re extra daring, make it a long-term change!). You may find that you actually have a sensitivity to one or more of them that's been keeping you feeling fuzzy without you even knowing it.
2. Consider dietary changes or supplements to deal with pollutants.
Even if you've been eating well for some time now, toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides may have still made their way into your body. The truth is, it's nearly impossible to know what's going into the food you eat, even if you try to eat as seasonal, local, and organic as possible. Plus, the way buildings are built these days means that you're almost certainly exposed to polluted air. Try taking supplements or increasing the amount of antioxidant foods you get in your diet to help rid your body of built-up pollutants, and you may be surprised by just how big a difference it makes in your brain function.
First step: Increase the amount of antioxidant foods in your diet. Berries and dark, leafy greens are a great place to start!
Want to take things to the next level? Try a fish oil supplement. The omega-3s in fish oil benefit the brain and increase the amount of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut, which helps to support the health of colon cells.
3. Relax and get some good sleep.
Stress has a big impact on the health of your gut bacteria (remember the gut-brain axis), and prolonged stress is a common contributing factor to feelings of brain fog. Similarly, poor sleep negatively impacts both your brain and your gut, so make quality sleep a priority. If you're tempted to tough it out, consider this: studies show that even moderate sleep deprivation puts you in a similar mental state as someone who's too drunk to drive.9
While it can be tempting to try to push through, especially if you feel like you haven't been getting as much done lately because you've been feeling fuzzy, doing so only exacerbates the problem.
First step: Start turning off your screens an hour before you go to sleep—this prevents you from accidentally keeping yourself up and signals to your brain that it's time to wind down.
4. Move around.
If you're already feeling foggy and off, the last thing you may feel like doing is exercising, but regular exercise really is important. It not only increases the diversity of your gut bacteria, but exercise can help balance your hormones and blood sugar, allowing you to address the brain fog issue on several fronts. You don't have to run a marathon––even something as simple as getting outside for a walk every day can make a big difference.10
First step: Go outside for at least twenty minutes today and walk around. It's simple, it's easy, and it can be the start of a very good habit.
When your brain function is in top form, every single area of your life feels vibrantly engaging and alive. And since temporary brain fog is biologically-based, that means you have the power to maintain that precious focus and clarity throughout your life. Support the systems your brain needs for health, and brain function––not fog––will remain your norm.
1. Warga, C.L. (1999). Menopause and the Mind: A Complete Guide to Coping with the Cognitive Effects of Perimenopause, and Menopause, including Memory Loss, Foggy Thinking, and Verbal Slips. Touchstone: New York.
2. Theoharides, T., Stewart, J.M., Hatziagelaki, E. and Kolaitis, G. (2015). Brain “Fog,” Inflammation and Obesity: Key Aspects of Neuropsychiatric Disorders Improved by Luteolin. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 9(225). doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00225
3. Ross, A.J., Medow, M.S., Rowe, P.C., Stewart, J.M. (2013). What is Brain Fog? An Evaluation of the Symptom in Postural Tachycardia Syndrome. Clinical Autonomic Research, 23(6).
4. Rizzo, M.R., Barbieri, M., Marfella, R. and Paolisso, G. (2012). Reduction of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation by Blunting Daily Acute Glucose Fluctuations in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 35(10). doi: 10.2337/dc12-0199
5. Bravo, J. A., Forsythe, P., Chew, M. V., Escaravage, E., Savignac, H. M., Dinan, T. G., . . . Cryan, J. F. (2011). Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(38), 16050-16055.
6. Rao, R. K., & Samak, G. (2013). Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 9(2), 99-107.
7. Zhou, L. and Foster, J.A. (2015). Psychobiotics and the Gut–Brain Axis: in the Pursuit of Happiness.
8. Bercik, P., Denou, E., Collins, J., Jackson, W., Lu, J., Jury, J., . . . Collins, S. M. (2011). The Intestinal Microbiota Affect Central Levels of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor and Behavior in Mice. Gastroenterology, 141(2).
9. Williamson, A. and Feyer, A. (2000). Moderate Sleep Deprivation Produces Impairments in Cognitive and Motor Performance Equivalent to Legally Prescribed Levels of Alcohol Intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10). doi: 10.1136/oem.57.10.649
10. Campbell SC, Wisniewski PJ, Noji M, McGuinness LR, Häggblom MM, Lightfoot SA, et al. (2016). The Effect of Diet and Exercise on Intestinal Integrity and Microbial Diversity in Mice. PLoS ONE, 11(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150502
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
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