How brain fog can feel like you’re losing your mind

by Dec 13, 20163Plus, 3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Health and fitness, Stages of Life, Wellness

Lost in brain fog

Constantly losing your keys? Forgetting your words in the middle of a sentence (or someone’s name (so embarrassing!) Or finding it impossible to concentrate and focus, let alone solve a problem! It can be scary – we’ve all seen films like Still Alice. Or we might know or be caring for elderly relatives with Alzheimers or dementia. But more often than not, it’s common and garden BRAIN FOG that’s driving us crazy.


brain fog

Especially in this mad fast-paced world where women, in particular, are trying to multitask and juggle work, family and a load more commitments (we’re not very good at saying no). And on top of all the responsibilities, we tend to put self-care at the bottom of our to-do list – when was the last time you did something for yourself??

Read: Practice extreme self-care to increase confidence

So what causes brain fog?

Stress – cortisol is your stress hormone and is there to save you from danger. In modern times, danger to the brain looks like a demanding job, a difficult relationship, families, emotions, money worries, 24/7 technology, you name it! Cortisol’s job is to put the body on alert. This can mess with your other hormones, including damaging your brain neurotransmitters, causing mood swings and a lot of foggy thinking. Ever tried to solve a difficult problem when you’re stressed out? The trouble is it hardly ever gets switched off (that self-care I mentioned?).

Read: The 3 types of Workplace Burnout and how to avoid it

Nutrient deficiencies – you need a lot of nutrients for your brain to work well. It needs lots of energy to be produced, which needs B vitamins, iron and a host of other co-factors. It needs good levels of protein and essential fats, and anti-oxidants to protect it against damage. If your diet is low in these essential nutrients, your brain cells can slow right down and make you sluggish.

Food sensitivities – such as wheat, gluten, dairy, soy – can cause inflammation in the body (including the brain), and this can disrupt nerve signaling in the brain.

Dr William Davis talks about modern day wheat in his book ‘Wheat Belly’ as one of the main causes of brain fog and other cognitive issues.

Underlying gut infection – your gut is like your ‘2nd brain’ it has such an impact on your mental health. When your microbiome (those trillions of microbes in your gut) is out of balance (too many bad guys) you can get brain fog, mood swings, cravings and depression.

Read: Why gut health is central to well being. You and your gut

Brain fog

Lack of sleep is detrimental to your ability to function

Lack of sleep – there is so much research now to show how detrimental lack of sleep is on your ability to function. You know that if you’re an insomniac! But even a gradual buildup of less than 6 hours a night can have a big impact on your thinking, memory, focus, reaction time and co-ordination.

Read: Sleep better so you can work better

Blood sugar imbalance – too much insulin production (from eating too many carbs/sugar) can cause inflammation in the brain.

Low thyroid – Thyroid hormones are the switch on your metabolism – up and energy increases, down and everything slows down. For women over 40, thyroid hormones tend to be low and so the effect is that cells don’t quite get the energy they need. That means brain cells too – and typical low thyroid symptoms include memory loss, low mood, fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and low motivation.

Low oestrogen – there’s a reason that brain fog particularly hits women over the age of 40. This is when your oestrogen and progesterone levels start to fall. Both hormones seem to have a protective effect on the brain.

Heavy Metals – long term exposure to heavy metals such as lead, mercury, aluminium, cadmium, arsenic and fluoride can cause brain fog, headaches and cognitive decline.

Lack of exercise – physical activity helps to get your blood flowing, delivering oxygen and nutrients to your cells. Your brain needs a lot of both to function well, and if your body is too sedentary your circulation stagnates and so does your brain!

brain fog

Read: Time to Get Up and Move!

What can you do to clear out the fog?

  1. Get yourself tested Iron (ask for Ferritin) especially if you have heavy periods or you’ve had a recent operation. If you’re low, supplementation is vital.
  2. Thyroid – ask for a full thyroid panel (TSH, FT4, FT3, TPO antibodies)
  3. Oestrogen/Progesterone
  4. Eat brain food – including; Healthy fats – avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish, olive oil, coconut oil
  5. Protein – organic grass-fed meat, wild caught fish, organic dairy, quinoa, pulses, beans,
  6. Fish – especially wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies
  7. Organic veg – eat the rainbow!
  8. Go gluten free – try a gluten free diet (or at least wheat free) for 3-4 weeks, and see if your symptoms improve.
  9. Balance your blood sugar – eat low GL foods and avoid highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates/sugars.
  10. Support your adrenals!Limit your stressors
  11. Schedule daily relaxation time to balance your cortisol
  12. Reduce exposure to heavy metals;Filter your tap water
  13. Switch to aluminium free deodorants
  14. Avoid larger fish which may have mercury contamination
  15. Eat organic food
  16. Give up smoking
  17. Try spirulina, chlorella, turmeric, coriander and berries to help your liver detoxify excess metals
  18. Get some exercise! – try a mix of walking, weights, yoga or stretching and cardio for a balanced exercise routine (don’t over-exercise though, this can increase cortisol!).
  19. Get enough sleep – go to bed earlier and follow my sleep tips to make sure you’re getting enough.

So if your brain is foggy and your memory terrible, don’t despair, a few tweaks here and there could make a really big difference.

Originally posted in LinkedIn Pulse Sept 2016


If you need support managing your work/life balance Contact 3Plus for our Coaching & Mentoring Services

Nicki Williams Contributor
Nicki Williams is a qualified Nutritional Therapist, speaker and founder of Happy Hormones for Life, helping women to get back to their absolute best – slimmer, energized, more productive and in full control of their hormones!
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