Other Brain Conditions

Brain Fog

One manifestation of decreased cognitive ability is the general term, “brain fog”. Top descriptors of brain fog are ‘forgetful,’ ‘cloudy,’ and ‘difficulty focusing, thinking, and communicating’. Symptoms of brain fog can include: slow or hazy thinking, difficulty focusing, confusion, lack of concentration, low motivation, trouble remembering things, irritability, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and lack of incentive to exercise.

Causes of Brain Fog

Metabolic Factors

Hormonal changes. Changes to the three primary hormones dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol, determine your mood, energy, and focus. Cortisol helps keep you awake and alert and is often called the body’s primary “stress hormone”. Dopamine and serotonin help keep you joyful, motivated, and calm. Hormonal changes that occur with menopause can also cause brain fog as can imbalances in thyroid output.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a clinically defined set of symptoms of unknown etiology most notable for persistent fatigue lasting greater than six months, is of new onset, not related to exertion or improved with rest, and is debilitating to a person’s lifestyle.

Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Inflammation. On a cellular level, brain fog is often caused by chronic inflammation when molecules such as adipocytokines and histamine are released from mast cells, which further stimulate microglia activation.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic inflammatory disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas.

Diet and Nutrition

Nutrient deficiencies Energy levels can be depleted by nutrient deficiencies, sugar, or caffeine overload, overeating of refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, or other foods one may be reactive or allergic to including foods containing corn, wheat, and peanuts in particular. The brain relies on a steady stream of vitamins and minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and glucose from complex carbohydrates as well as getting enough rest and relaxation.

Celiac disease results from being highly reactive to gluten (such as found in wheat and other grains) resulting in gut-related symptoms like abdominal pain or bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Other symptoms can include fatigue, joint pain, or mouth sores, and brain fog. People also report feeling disoriented, unable to focus or pay attention, and claim forgetfulness.

Dehydration. We tend not to drink enough water each day. Recommended dosage is six to eight glasses of water per day, ideally separated in 4oz. dosages unless after exercise or other physical activity. Coffee, tea, and juice is not a replacement for water.

Food allergies includes gluten, corn, peanuts, milk, eggs, nuts, soy, and shellfish.

Iron deficiency. Brain fog is one of the early symptoms of iron deficiency.

Exposure to Toxins

Medications such as antidepressants, stimulants, sleep aids, antipsychotics, and even blood pressure medications can cause brain fog. Discuss your medications with your doctor if you have chronic brain fog.

Chemo brain is the term that refers to side effects from cancer treatments which include changes in cognitive function, memory, and attention. Such treatment can result in epigenetic changes and oxidative DNA damage.

Environmental pollutants, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, can cause brain fog. Children and young adults who live in areas with significant air pollution are much more likely to exhibit evidence of neurodegeneration. The same is true of industrial-, combustion-, and friction-derived nanoparticles.

Daily Life Factors

Lack of sleep, sedentary lifestyle and high amounts of stress may impact brain functioning and cognition.

Medical Conditions

Brain fog is a symptom or side effect of many other conditions, including bacterial infections such as Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, anemia, depression, diabetes, migraine headaches, arthritis, or high levels of fats in blood plasma. As many as fifty percent of people who have the autoimmune disease lupus also have “lupus fog,” with lapses in memory, difficulty concentrating, and confusion. Poor circulation can cause lack of nutrients and oxygen from reaching the brain.

Brain Inflammation

Inflammation in the brain can lead to anything from brain fog to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). In AD, damaged neurons and neurites and highly insoluble amyloid beta peptide deposits and neurofibrillary tangles provide stimuli for inflammation, which then exacerbates more deposits and tangles resulting in a degenerative cycle. Many studies have proposed that inflammatory dysfunctions are associated with psychiatric disorders and neurodegeneration in both animal models and human patients.


Microglia are a collective type of neuroglia (glial cell) located throughout the brain and spinal cord. Microglia accounts for ten to fifteen percent of all cells found within the brain. In normal conditions microglia performs significant functions in maintaining healthy brain functions, including disposing of dead neurons, breaking down amyloid beta plaque (a causative factor in AD), and disposing of other brain debris.

In a heightened inflammatory response, the microglia go into overtime and cause neuroinflammation. This affects neurons’ ability to function at a maximum level resulting in (the short-term) brain fog, poorer recall and mental speed, and slower reflexes. It may also result in depression, and poorer endurance for daily activities for reading, driving and mental tasks.

Microglial activation has also been linked with brain diseases. A hallmark of brain damage is an increased inflammatory response capable of activating microglial cells. In the long term, the negative effects include neuronal death, neurodegenerative disorders, and a compromised blood-brain barrier.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers have noted that chronic inflammation can affect the brain. MRI images taken of the brains of fifty-four people with RA showed a reduction in grey matter in an area of the brain known as the inferior parietal lobe. Researchers believe these alterations to brain tissues may have a role in converting inflammation signals to the rest of the central nervous system. RA is linked to an impaired ability to think, and may be related to the use of corticosteroids as an RA treatment.

Other medical conditions. Other conditions that can cause brain inflammation include diabetes, compromised circulation to the brain, inflammatory bowel conditions, and autoimmune diseases.

A poor diet with inadequate nutrition can give rise to brain fog and can mimic dementia.

Environmental pollutants have been linked to neuro-inflammation. Children and young adults who live in areas with significant air pollution are at far greater risk of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. The same is true of industrial-, combustion-, and friction-derived nanoparticles.

Compromised blood brain barrier The blood-brain barrier (BBB) prevents unwanted material such as debris, toxins, bacteria, and viruses from reaching the brain from the body, and is essential for maintaining brain health. BBB brain homeostasis, regulation of influx and efflux transport is essential for protecting the brain. A breakdown in BBB can result in neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, as well as cerebral small vessel disease.

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Note: additional sources of the above information are available in our guide to brain care, Natural Brain Care, or upon request.