Now that we are past the holidays, I want to get back to our discussion about brain health. I was reminded recently of a patient I treated years ago who complained of brain fog.
Let’s call her Connie.
Connie was in her 50s when she first came in. She was elegant, well-educated, and active in the community, but she was experiencing health issues for the first time in her life that were hampering her lifestyle, and it scared her.
She was in almost constant pain, with severe headaches, migraines, joint pain, and stiffness. She was going through crazy mood swings, bouts of depression, and insomnia. But the thing that concerned her most was the brain fog. She, like many people I have met, was deeply concerned that she was experiencing the first steps into dementia.
I recognized the signs of fibromyalgia right away – the pain and stiffness, insomnia, fatigue headaches – it was all there. It was also clear that Connie was moving into menopause, which explained some of the hormonal shifts and exacerbated the symptoms of fibromyalgia. But we didn’t know as much about dementia then as we do now, so her concern was reasonable.
More Than Fibromyalgia
As it turns out, brain fog is so common among fibromyalgia patients that they have a word for it: “fibro-fog.” In treating the fibromyalgia, we ended up improving the brain fog. And as she worked with a doctor to balance out her hormones, the brain fog improved further. Her life went back to normal, although she did keep a slower pace after that.
If you have ever had episodes of brain fog, you understand why Connie was concerned, especially at her age. It’s one thing to forget where you left your keys or get hung up on a word while you’re talking. (Writing these articles takes twice the time is probably should because I get hung up on words all the time). But brain fog can be debilitating. Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why? Maybe you’re like me and you placed a prescription at the pharmacy and then left the store and forgot about it. We all have moments like these.
Brain fog is something more troubling. For most people, the symptoms are unpredictable, inconsistent, and change intensity in a heartbeat. You can be having a great conversation and suddenly forget what you were talking about or find it difficult to get the words out of your mouth.
What Is Brain Fog?
So I did a little research on it. Brain fog isn’t a disease unto itself, but a symptom of many other diseases, including lupus, Celiac Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, diseases of the liver and thyroid, and many others. It can be a cause or a symptom of depression.
But what was so interesting to me is that the direct causes of brain fog are some of the things I harp on here on “Wellness Wednesday.” If you are suffering from regular brain fog, it is likely because you are not getting enough water, sleep, or B-complex vitamins from food. It is often linked to food sensitivities, like dairy or peanuts.
Then there are the foods that shouldn’t be in your diet at all:
- aspartame, which is basically FDA-approved poison;
- monosodium glutamate, which is a neurotoxin found in most restaurant food as a flavor enhancer
- sugar and (for some people) complex carbs like pasta
If you are frequently experiencing brain fog, the first thing you should look at is your diet. Your brain might be trying to tell you that you are eating something your body can’t handle. Get it out.
Remove The Offending Foods
For Connie, and many of my patients who suffer from chronic pain, inflammation, immune disorders, and digestive issues, we put her on a 28-day cleanse, which is a daily eating plan that removed all the trigger foods from her diet and gave her body a chance to heal. I’m always shocked, not at the immediate health results, but at the “unrelated” symptoms that suddenly clear up, including depression, anxiety, inability to focus, uncontrolled anger, and brain fog.
Everything in your body connects to everything else. Dysfunction in one area always affects the others in some way.
Is Brain Fog Linked to Dementia?
If you’re in your 50s, 60s, or higher, and suddenly start experiencing brain fog, it can be terrifying. But are they linked? Is brain fog the first step down the slippery slope to dementia?
It wasn’t until 2015 that I saw any research linking brain fog to dementia. It was a study from Rush Medical College in Chicago of fibromyalgia patients who were experiencing “fibro-fog” and were concerned about advancing into Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ll let them tell you about it:
“Some fibromyalgia patients become concerned that ‘brain fog’ might be an early symptom of a process leading to Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia today. For this reason, researchers from Rush Medical College, Chicago decided to look for a decline in cognitive ability in people with fibromyalgia. Using historical data from a repository containing more than 20 years of neuro-psychological information, they identified two groups of women with fibromyalgia: 94 with a short duration of cognitive problems (7.3 months on average), and 55 with longer-lasting cognitive problems (13.3 years on average). Both groups were well-matched as regards educational level, vocabulary scale score and depression – all of which can affect the results of cognitive testing. In total, there were 15 measures of neurocognitive functioning, which rested abilities ranging from word-naming and episodic memory to cognitive effort, sustained attention and mental speed.
Compared with people who had been ill for a short time, long-term fibromyalgia patients showed no evidence of cognitive decline in 14 of the 15 different measures of neurocognition, despite that fact that their cognitive problems had lasted 12.6 years longer. In fact, measures of episodic memory and processing speed (which are good markers of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease) were in the normal range in both groups.
The authors conclude that the brain fog of fibromyalgia (fibrofog) was not associated with progressive cognitive decline. As they explain, “People affected by memory problems for an additional 12.6 years might be expected to display well-advanced cognitive problems, but in reality, they were not significantly more cognitively disabled than those with a history of cognitive problems for 12 months or less.”
Importantly, their findings do not support the idea that there is a transition over time from fibrofog to Alzheimer’s disease. The authors point out that fibromyalgia patients with brain fog remember personal events at a normal rate in quiet, distraction-free conditions, whereas Alzheimer’s disease patients do not. In addition, the inability to appropriately ‘filter out relevant distractions’ is at the heart of memory loss in fibromyalgia, whereas in Alzheimer’s disease the brain mechanisms responsible for fixing events into memory are irreversibly impaired.”
So Now What Do We Do?
It’s always gratifying to me when the solution to a serious problem is simple. Especially when it aligns with what I’ve been telling you all along:
- Get most of your nutrition from vegetables and fruits high in B-vitamins.
- Get your amino acids and Vitamin B-12 from a small daily portion of healthy, grass-fed meats, poultry, and wild fish.
- Limit your sugar intake.
- Eliminate processed foods.
- Get your micronutrients (more on that in a minute).
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
- Exercise your brain with a puzzle or learn a new skill, like a musical instrument.
- Proactively manage your stress.
- Take as much care of your emotional, relational, and spiritual wellness as you do of your physical wellness. And if you currently take no care of your physical wellness, then you need to raise your game on all of them.
These are all good lifestyle management tips to manage your brain health, as well as your digestive health, heart health, and muscle health. If I sound like a broken record, it’s because everything in your health comes back to this core knowledge.
2019: The Year Of The Brain
I’m really serious about the importance of brain health, especially since so much of your wellness is completely within your control. I think 2019 is going to end up being my “Year of the Brain.” To prove my point, we’re hitting it right out of the gate with this month’s Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner, tomorrow night at 6:15 p.m. My guest will be Robert Weldon of Spectracell Labs and he is going to be sharing with us about the importance of micronutrients and the brain. Sound high-tech and futuristic? You need to come to hear what he has to say. I was knocked out by the information he shared. He’s a great communicator. Join us at my office, which is right behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road in Naples.
In the meantime, please take a few seconds to share this information on your favorite social media channel. There are so many people suffering from brain fog and are afraid that it’s dementia — you probably know someone like that. The problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to get good information out when so many channels are cracking down on articles that don’t align with their “approved” worldview. It’s maddening. Let’s work together to reach people.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas