Fixing Brain Fog: Part 1
Brain fog is an increasingly common symptom associated with many conditions and syndromes. Some people call this mysterious symptom brain fog…but others call it depression, difficulty with focus and concentration, or simply “I just don’t feel right”. In the healthcare community, it is easy to classify brain fog symptoms as chronic cognitive or mood problems. However, increasing research and understanding of the brain and its chemistry suggest that these symptoms are far from just being an “emotional” problem; there are biological imbalances involved as well. Many people that we see in our clinic that have brain fog also have imbalances in their brain chemistry; which in turn affects their ability to experience joy, motivation, discipline, sense of fulfillment, and social connections with others. Many of these people have poor nutrition, lifestyles, and circumstances that continue to destabilize their brain chemistry and lead them to increasingly bad cognitive states and feeling worse and worse.
Unfortunately, the lifestyle of many people include excessive amounts of caffeine, sugar, starches, electronics, distractions, and unnecessary stress that ultimately leads to a disruption in the balance of natural brain chemistry. The way that we eat, sleep, work, and live is flooding, starving, clogging and disrupting our brains by destabilizing the levels of three crucial brain chemicals; serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol. If these brain chemicals become imbalanced, the initial symptoms that people experience are brain fog, anxiety/depression, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with memory, sleeping issues, or fatigue. If left unchecked, over time these imbalances can lead to chronic insomnia, significant depression, persistent anxiety, and potentially degenerative conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (1). The good news is that these symptom and chemical imbalances are reversible and treatable, including some simple changes in your lifestyle that can be performed on your own without too much difficulty.
First, we will look a little deeper into each chemical that is important to your brain and its normal functioning. These are serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol.
Serotonin is primarily responsible for feelings of calm, serenity, optimism, and self-confidence. When you feel hopeful, optimistic about a job or interview going well, or a big effort paying off, serotonin is at work and controlling those feelings and emotions. If serotonin levels are low, people may begin to experience depression, anxiety, hopelessness, sleep issues, negativity toward others or in general, or a lack in self-confidence.
Dopamine is the chemical involved in feeling excited, motivated, energized, and feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine allows you to have fun and enjoy activities, feelings of reward after winning a race or competition, and the feeling of falling in love. When life seems engaging, interesting, and enjoyable, dopamine levels are most likely at a healthy and stable level. Low dopamine levels can result in listlessness, boredom, apathy, or a lack of interest in activities or people that used to be exciting or bring you happiness. Imbalanced dopamine levels can also cause difficulty with focus, concentration, and impulse control.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that the brain uses when it needs to get into “high gear”. For example, you need cortisol to meet the small and large demands that life throws at you. Any time you experience physical, emotional, mental, psychological, or spiritual stressors, cortisol is involved in the process. Cortisol is a special sort of hormone in which the brain and body need just the right amount; too much or too little can have significant detrimental effects on the body. Imbalanced cortisol levels can leave you feeling exhausted, wired and anxious, or both; listless and fatigued during the day, anxious and sleepless at night. When cortisol levels are imbalanced, people can sometimes feel so stressed that the smallest problem can set them off, or so unmotivated that they can barely get through the day. Commonly, people with imbalanced cortisol will cycle between these two states. Permanently high cortisol levels can also depress dopamine levels and detrimentally affect the binding ability of serotonin receptors in the brain.
If you are experiencing brain fog, the key to feeling better may rely on the rebalancing of one or more of these brain chemicals. Brain fog can sometimes involve a more rigorous training regimen – including brain rehabilitation therapy like vestibular therapy and cognitive therapy – but there are some changes that you can make in your day-yo-day lifestyle that can have a massive effect on the health and stability of brain chemistry and symptoms like brain fog. In upcoming blogs, we will dive deeper into the things that you can change and implement into your daily and weekly routine to balance brain chemistry and help alleviate brain fog.
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.