Brain Fog Part 2: Carbohydrates
This is the 2nd part of the Fixing Brain Fog blog series. Previously, we discussed what brain fog is and how an imbalance in brain chemistry can lead to brain fog and other symptoms. In this blog and the upcoming blogs in this series, we will dive deeper into the different strategies for restabilizing brain chemistry and eliminating brain fog. There are two core principles underlying the management and treatment for eliminating brain fog; giving the brain what it needs to function appropriately and eliminating the obstacles the block your brain from optimal function. The first area we will discuss in more detail is food quality and the interaction with brain chemistry. In this blog we will explore carbohydrates and the effects that it has on the brain, and upcoming blogs will focus on protein, dietary fat, and various nutrients that can help fix brain fog and other neurological symptoms.
Carbohydrates have a greater effect on the brain and nervous system than most people think. Blood sugar levels and insulin responses are well known in reference to obesity and inflammatory processes, but when it comes to neurological integrity there can be gap in understanding and appreciation. Blood sugar levels have a significant impact on brain chemistry; the foods we eat can help sustain steady levels of blood sugar or certain foods can induce sugar crashes or spikes that can cause feelings of fogginess, anxiousness, depression, lack of focus, or apathy. Most people understand that overeating or eating the “wrong” foods can contribute to weight gain, changes in body composition (increased fat percentage relative to lean muscle), and cardiovascular conditions. Recently, with new research, certain diet and nutritional choices have been linked to depression and other neurodegenerative diseases. The key to the nutritional impact on the nervous system is centered on inflammation, and how certain foods can have a pro-inflammatory effect on the brain while others have an anti-inflammatory effect. Sustained, long term inflammation can lead to short-term symptoms (such as brain fog) but also long-term changes (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia).
When it comes to carbohydrates and the impact on the brain, the bottom line revolves around the effect that the carbohydrate has on insulin levels. The human body needs insulin; it delivers nutrients into cells that is utilized as energy. However, too much glucose (carbohydrate) in the blood will in turn lead to an increased level of insulin in the blood, and the excess glucose is stored as fat. The typical American diet has an overabundance of carbohydrates (and commonly comprised refined, low quality carbohydrates) that leads to a condition of insulin resistance. When the body becomes less sensitive to insulin (more resistant), greater amounts of insulin is needed in the blood to work appropriately. Recent research and evidence have shown that insulin resistance can acutely affect the brain, leading to a cascade of inflammatory events that over time can lead to the so-called “type 3 diabetes”, also known as Alzheimer’s disease.
Neurons (brain cells) require twice as much energy as the cells in the rest of our body. Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for the brain; however, the brain cannot store glucose like other organs and muscles in the body. Therefore, your brain is dependent upon when you eat and what you eat to sustain it for energy. This is why higher glycemic index foods can have a detrimental impact on overall brain function; it causes a spike in blood sugar (which can be good for immediate functioning), but it inevitably leads to a blood sugar crash that can leave the brain starved for more energy than before, and make you feel foggy, fatigued, and forgetful. The simplest first step to regulating brain integrity in reference to carbohydrate intake is to limit the high glycemic index carbohydrates (refined sugars, flours, foods with “added sugar”, artificial sugars used as sweeteners, etc.) and replace them with more complex carbohydrates alternatives (sprouted, flourless bread, quinoa, sprouted barley, chickpeas, etc.).
There are also spices, beverages, and foods that can help minimize blood sugar spikes and therefore have an effect on the nervous system. We will look deeper in depth on those foods in upcoming blogs. I hope this information was helpful and will lead you to look into your diet with a deeper understanding that the food choices you make affects more than just how you look in the mirror!
1. Dow, Mike. The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim your focus, memory and joy in three weeks. Published and distributed by Hay House Inc. 2015.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER The content above is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. Great Lakes Functional Neurology does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. We recommend readers that are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications consult their physicians before starting any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.