by Dr. Will Cole
Brain problems are growing by leaps and bounds. You can probably name at least one person, if not yourself, who is currently struggling with brain fog, anxiety, or depression. In fact, at least 20 percent of the population has a diagnosable mental disorder. In order to bring healing to this growing epidemic we must uncover the real reason behind society’s brain problems.
My job as a functional medicine practitioner is to clinically investigate and treat the underlying cause of chronic health problems. Instead of just managing symptoms my whole goal is to actually heal the body from the inside out. One of the biggest components to the “brain fog” that many of us experience is how healthy our gut is functioning. Let’s take a deeper look:
The gut-brain connection.
Science often refers to your gut as your “second brain.” Your gut and brain are actually formed from the same fetal tissue when you were growing in your mother’s womb, and continue their special bond throughout your whole life through what is known as the gut-brain axis. So, in order to heal the brain we need to look at the other end of this axis for clues.
For anyone in the wellness world, leaky gut syndrome is not a foreign health problem. Leaky gut happens when your gut lining is damaged and can lead to a whole slew of digestive and other health issues. Occludin and Zonulin are two proteins that govern gut permeability as well as the permeability of your blood-brain barrier. Elevated antibodies to these proteins can indicate that there has been damage to your gut and your brain. The gut-brain connection becomes all too real here by turning leaky gut into “leaky brain.” Pleasant sounding, huh?
In my clinic, it’s not uncommon that I have a patient come in looking for help with depression or brain fog and have further diagnostic testing reveal that they also have leaky gut syndrome. It just goes to show that digestive problems can still be a factor even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms.
Your brain on inflammation.
To make matters worse, with increased permeability comes increased inflammation in the gut. Inflammation is a necessary part of a healthy body to fight off infections or when you get a cut. However, chronic inflammation wreaks havoc on your health. So much so that a whole area of medical research known as “the cytokine model of cognitive function” is dedicated to researching how inflammation, specifically inflammation of the brain, is correlated with brain problems.
This increased inflammation doesn’t help your blood-brain barrier either. The microRNA-155 molecule is elevated with high inflammation and ends up creating gaps in the blood-brain barrier that lets bacteria and other toxins slip through. Your brain’s immune system has to work in overdrive to fight off these invaders and ends up creating a cascade of inflammation to your brain in order to try to protect it. This inflammatory oxidative stress in the hypothalamus of the brain is the underlying cause of brain fog and why you can’t figure out where you last left your keys.
Hormones and brain fog.
Imbalanced hormones, cortisol in particular, are another often overlooked contributor to brain fog. Your brain-adrenal (HPA) axis controls the secretion of cortisol through a chain of command. First, your hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which then instructs the pituitary gland to release the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This is responsible for telling your adrenal cortex to release cortisol. When there is a dysfunction of your brain’s communication with your adrenals, it leads to adrenal fatigue and can put stress on your immune system. Brain fog is both the cause and effect of adrenal fatigue in this case due to the brain-hormone connection.
1. Heal your gut.
A leaky gut takes anywhere from 12 to 24 months to fully heal. To start this healing journey, bring in food medicines like bone broth and probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut to sooth damaged gut lining and provide your microbiome with good bacteria.
2. Add in herbs.
There aren’t many things that adaptogens can’t help with. These herbal and plant medicines bring balance back to every system in the body, including the brain. Holy basil is one of my favorites for brain fog since it works to regulate cortisol and increase cognitive function. Lion’s mane mushrooms are also a top choice of mine due to their uber-powerful nerve growth factors (NGFs) that help to regenerate and protect brain tissue. Research has shown that cognitive function improves with the addition of this adaptogenic mushroom.
3. Indulge in a sauna session.
Infrared saunas are a great therapeutic way to bring down inflammation levels. A 30 minute sauna session a few times a week is a relaxing way to de-stress while bringing down inflammation.
4. Boost your vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to decreased memory as well as brain fog. Sunshine is your most bioavailable source but it’s not always possible to get outside often, especially if you live in a place with harsh winters. In that case, turn to food medicines like salmon, tuna, and mackerel and pair them with foods loaded with fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K2 to increase the bioavailability of vitamin D.
5. Make your life a cleanse.
There are many ways to avoid toxins in your everyday life. These can also help mitigate what’s passing through a damaged blood-brain barrier while you heal.
6. Don’t miss your Zz’s.
We live in a culture that doesn’t always put enough value on sleep as it should. But sleep is crucial to our mental clarity. It only makes sense that a lack of sleep leads to a foggy next day since it increases the oxidative stress in your brain’s hypothalamus.
7. Reduce inflammation.
There are many natural ways to soothe inflammation back down to baseline levels. Incorporating turmeric into your daily meal plan and swapping out inflammatory foods with nutrient dense substitutes are just a couple ways you can start healing today.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.