Brain down. Cannot compute. Error alert. System failure.
Oh, of course! It’s 3 pm! Better have me some Coke and Cadbury to power through this fog that has descended upon my brain because I just can’t think.
Sound familiar? You are not alone.
So what does it mean when you feel the cloud settle over the brain, leaving you unable to think clearly or speak coherently?
Brain fog – what is it?
Though not a medically defined term, when you hear it, you know what it is, right?
Collectively, symptoms such as forgetfulness, confusion, lack of clarity and focus tend to sum up brain fog. Research is limited in defining or measuring the fog. Still, we are beginning to understand that excess inflammation caused by what we eat and drink can play a major role in producing the symptoms experienced.
Blood glucose rollercoaster
At the end of a super busy, brain-draining day, I don’t know about you, but I cannot deal with the decision of what to make for dinner. I’m so done.
This similar type of brain fatigue ensues when we have left the brain without some fuel – either because we forget to eat or eat the wrong stuff.
When we eat simple sugars, blood glucose levels skyrocket. And shortly after, when our blood glucose levels drop, so does our ability to make very simple decisions. You may also have trouble to:
- Critically analyse
- Recall facts from recent conversations
- Converse properly
- Exercise patience
- Curb your reactions to those really irritating moments!
Neurons (brain cells) need glucose more than any cell in the body, and when insulin has quickly shepherded the glucose away, and there is nothing left for neurons to use, you can feel unfocused and lightheaded.
Additionally, fluctuations in blood glucose impact the use and metabolism of various neurotransmitters. High spikes raise serotonin and GABA to the point of sleepiness, and hormones such as cortisol, glucagon, and adrenalin are produced to try and mitigate the rapid drop in blood sugar – and cortisol and adrenalin can leave you feeling wired (even though you are tired).1
Reactions to foods can manifest in a myriad of ways – gut trouble, skin rashes, joint pain, or breathing difficulties. It can also heavily impact brain health and function. Considering our modern-day diet comprises a whole lot of wheat, corn, dairy, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts, our immune system could be in a hyper-reactive state, producing excessive inflammation.
Some research is pointing toward the excess of gluten as a trigger to brain dysfunction – especially for those with Coeliac disease.2 This may be related to increased incidence of sensitivity, its effect on gut permeability, or its impact on the blood-brain barrier – all of which could encourage inflammation.
I don’t imagine it would come as a surprise that foods made in a lab might not agree with us. MSG and artificial sweeteners have been linked to all manner of brain dysfunction, mood swings, headaches, coordination, and even brain damage in high amounts.3-5 So yeah, just don’t go there.
There are plenty of other possible causes of brain fog, including inadequate sleep, mould or toxin exposure, and medications, and it is also a symptom of reproductive hormone imbalance or fluctuations – namely estrogen and/or progesterone deficiency (which could explain why PMS/pregnancy/menopause are sometimes interspersed with blank moments).
The good news is what we do and eat can help or harm us, and that choice is yours today in the next meal you eat!
Let’s get some cognitive clarity.
Clear the clutter
Ultimately, if your diet comprises largely of a variety of real, whole food abundant in plants, then you are most of the way there.
Here are some ideas – to include in your life and your diet – to love your brain next level:
- Get 7-8 hours of deep, restful sleep every night.
- Make the bedroom a space for sleeping and rest only.
- Manage stress (chronic or acute) with deep, diaphragmatic breathing and meditation. There are great apps for guided meditation, and many are free to download!
- Balance blood sugar by eating small amounts often and ensuring meals contain fibre, good fats, and good quality, whole food protein.
- Boost berry intake, which are full of flavonoids to dampen brain fog. The richer the colour, the better.
- Dish up omega 3 fatty acid rich foods 2-3 times per week, including oily fish, walnuts, chia and flaxseed. DHA and EPA can lower cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease, & low intake is associated with depression.
- Eat a variety of veg, at least 5 serves a day. Veg are packed with antioxidants, magnesium & B vitamins, all integral to brain health.
- Enjoy eggs which contain choline needed for memory and muscle control.
- Flourish with fermented foods for gut health, helping protect the brain from inflammation.
- Feast on good fats, and your brain will love you. These can include first cold pressed extra virgin olive and coconut oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, oily fish, and butter.
- Hydrate with at least 2 litres of water a day. A guzzle of nature’s elixir can often clear a murky mind.
Finally, limit or avoid heavily processed foods, added refined sugars, genetically modified ingredients and herbicides like glyphosate (a.k.a Roundup), heavy metal exposure, overeating, and chronic stress.
So nourish you and your brain, and get those cognition wheels a-turning!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
- Kharrazian, D 2013, ‘Why isn’t my brain working?’, Elephant Press, Calsbad, CA, USA
- Jackson, JR, Eaton, WW, Cascella, NG, Fasano, A, & Kelly, DL 2012, ‘Neurologic and psychiatric manifestations of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity’, The Psychiatric Quarterly, vol. 83, no. 1, pp. 91-102.
- Prastiwi, D, Djunaidi, A, & Partadiredja, G 2015, ‘High dosage of monosodium glutamate causes deficits of the motor coordination and the number of cerebellar Purkinje cells of rats’, Human & Experimental Toxicology, vol. 34, no. 11, pp. 1171-1179.
- Tandel, KR 2011, ‘Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits’, Journal Of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 236-243.
- Xiong, JS, Branigan, D, & Li, M 2009, ‘Deciphering the MSG controversy’, International Journal Of Clinical And Experimental Medicine, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 329-336.