How To Fix Your Brain Fog

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Fix Brain Fog

Joe Cohen is the CEO of SelfHacked, an evidence-based biohacking site with millions of monthly readers. He is also the founder of SelfDecode, which provides genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

Before Joe figured out how to upgrade his brain with a genetic-based diet and lifestyle, he struggled with unrelenting brain fog, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, and a range of other health issues. “I suffered from brain fog for as long as I can remember, and, I was not able to get any help from doctors or professionals. It got so bad that I flunked all of my college classes and couldn’t hold down a job. So, I felt like I had to figure out how the body and brain work, as well as what my issues were so I could fix them.”

After years of experimentation and research, Joe finally identified the causes of his brain fog, and, importantly, how to fix it. “Most of my brain fog and stunted cognitive function issues were due to inflammation and oxidative stress”. In the process he also identified the most common causes of brain fog, as well as helping many others heal themselves.

BrainFirst asked Joe about the causes of brain fog, and what people who are experiencing symptoms of brain fog could do to improve their condition.

What Is Brain Fog?

Brain fog or ‘mental fog’ refers to cognitive impairment, generally associated with brain inflammation. It has many possible underlying causes.

Some of the symptoms, as identified by Joe and his team at SelfHacked, include:

  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Irritability
  • Poor working memory and executive function
  • Impaired or delayed information processing
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Low motivation
  • Inability to concentrate or sustain a train of thought

JC: Brain fog is not a clear condition. It can present as any kind of altered thinking that is worse than your previous thinking. The way to know if you have brain fog is if you’re noticing alterations in your cognitive abilities - significant alterations from one moment in time to another.

So if you notice that your thinking is significantly worse at a particular time of the day, or when changing environment (eg. inside vs outside), or when doing something specific - if there’s a situation where there’s a very significant alteration in your thinking ability, for the worse, then that would be considered brain fog.

Causes of Brain Fog

JC: There are many different kinds of brain fog. Sometimes the brain fog is chronic, and that can be caused by some kind of alteration in brain chemistry. Sometimes it could be caused by disease. Sometimes it could be caused by an environmental agent, such as mold toxins.

There are also some conditions, some autoimmune conditions, where the immune system is unbalanced, leading to brain fog. It could also be from treatments with drugs, such as chemotherapy drugs. Other times, it can be more psychologically-related, like, for example, depression or anxiety.

So, sometimes it’s caused by diseases. Sometimes there are mental and emotional states that can cause it. And then sometimes it’s just a general health issue - and not caused by anything that we can specifically identify.

Despite the fact that brain fog may be attributed to many different underlying causes, Joe maintains that inflammation and oxidative stress play a direct role. Some of the common causes of chronic inflammation (and oxidative stress), that contribute to brain fog include:

  • Lectins
  • Chronic infections
  • Sleep problems
  • Low hormones
  • Obesity/Poor diet
  • ‘Gene-environment interactions’

How to Treat Brain Fog

JC: The first step to treating your brain fog is to go to the doctor. You need to rule out anything serious, such as any medical conditions or mental health or mood disorders. Sometimes you might be referred to a neurologist. However, if the doctor doesn’t know what to do and says 'Look, I can’t help you', at that point you need to take your health into your own hands.

General Approaches For Eliminating Brain Fog

Diet: Some of the most common dietary triggers of inflammation are lectins, gluten, and dairy products. High glucose levels are also a significant contributing factor. Joe recommends a lectin avoidance diet.

Sleep: Improving sleep quality is a must when it comes to addressing brain fog, particularly given that sleep loss increases oxidative stress in the hypothalamus - our brain’s inflammation “sensor”.

Sunlight, fresh air, exercise: Joe suggests spending more time outdoors and getting more sun exposure to strengthen the immune system, lower oxidative stress. There are a range of different activities that have also been shown to reduce brain inflammation, such as yoga, aerobic exercise, and interval exercise in moderation.

Supplements: Various supplements have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, such as magnesium, zinc, curcumin, vitamin B6, to name a few.

Two of the more extreme approaches that some people have adopted, are an elimination diet and changing their environment.

JC: The protocol for an elimination diet would be to only consume freshly-cooked meat - because beef has the lowest likelihood of triggering any kind of food allergies or sensitivities. After a week you can branch out into other foods like chicken, and notice how you respond.

Being in a clean, low toxin environment can reduce brain fog. You could go camping for a week and see how you feel. Or, pay attention to how you feel when you’re on vacation - that’s another way to see if you have some kind of indoor contamination.

The problem is, that there’s a lot of guess work with an elimination diet. When you do an elimination diet, you’re chasing rainbows in some way. Or, if you’re thinking about changing your environment, it’s something that requires a lot of work - it requires time and a lot of effort. However, with a genetic-based approach you can tailor your diet and lifestyle to help eliminate brain fog, and also enhance cognitive performance.

A Targeted Approach To Eliminating Brain Fog And Enhancing Brain Function

Joe advocates a genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement regime, for a more targeted approach to eliminating brain fog. This includes methods to improve mood and cognitive function.

JC: The truth is we all have genetic weaknesses. In my case, I have variations of NFKBIL1 and BCL2 that contribute to my overall inflammation and brain fog.

Take BCL2, for example. My variation of BCL2 contributes to a roughly average amount of neuron protection against inflammation and oxidative stress. This means that, during times of high inflammation or stress, my cells may be more likely to die before my body repairs them compared with someone with above average protection. Knowing this enables me to implement targeted interventions, such as taking specific supplements that decrease oxidative stress, without compromising some of the beneficial functions associated with this gene, such as helping prevent cancer.

In our mood and cognitive reports, we’re giving recommendations that improve the underlying genetic trait. Essentially, what we’re doing is helping take out a lot of the guess work.

Treating brain fog may require a number of different interventions, and some will likely work better than others. By making the necessary dietary changes, improving sleep quality, getting regular exercise, and spending more time outdoors getting more sunlight and fresh air, we can reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation that contributes to brain fog. By taking a genetic-based approach we can more precisely identify the dietary and lifestyle changes that we need to make, to fix our cognitive issues and improve our brain health and performance.

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