Everybody feels tired sometimes, but it isn’t normal to be in a constantly hazy mental state. Sure, coffee, sodas, or energy drinks can put a Band-Aid on the problem. But for those people who can’t seem to shake the feeling of cerebral sluggishness, it may be time to focus on internal causes – rather than external factors.
What the Heck is Brain Fog?
This condition is often referred to as brain fog. It differs from conventional sleepiness, because sufferers feel awake but mentally lethargic. Common symptoms of brain fog include difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, irritability, a lack of motivation, confusion, and fatigue.
There are several causes of brain fog (in addition to common explanations, like a lack of sleep). One common reason is failing to incorporate enough nutrient-rich, healthy foods into your diet, or consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates.1,2 Hormonal imbalances and increased inflammation elsewhere in the body can also lead to mental lethargy. 3 But scientists are discovering that the origin of brain fog may very well lie in another part of the body – specifically, the gut.
Gut Bacteria and Your Brain
The typical person’s stomach and intestinal tract contains billions of bacteria – which not only aid in food digestion, but also play a key role in many other bodily processes. If the collection of bacteria in the gut (known as the gut microbiome) is unbalanced, it can lead to a wide range of unhealthy conditions. But when the levels of bacteria are properly balanced, a person enjoys better health.
Researchers often refer to this relationship as the gut-brain axis. These two anatomical areas are connected by the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in the body. Along this nerve, which originates at the base of the brain, countless “signals” are sent between the brain and the gut.These signals help regulate body functions. If certain “unfriendly” types of bacteria are overrepresented in the gut, they can hinder the flow of neurochemicals that are trying to travel toward the brain.
The purpose of many of these neurochemicals is to regulate conditions associated with the brain, such as mood, memory, learning, and attentiveness. For example, scientists now know that about 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, the chemical that impacts sleepiness, is created in the gut.4 While the release of moderate levels of serotonin (like when you exercise) is necessary for good health, too much serotonin can lead to mental exhaustion.5 Also, certain strains of gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like dopamine, which affects sleep, cognition, and other brain activity, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA), which helps to regulate mood.6,7
Therefore, when unfriendly bacteria profligate in the gut, the microbiome is thrown out of balance, and these valuable neurochemicals are not produced in adequate quantities. As a result, the brain doesn’t receive sufficient levels of neurotransmitters, which can lead to a wide range of problems – including brain fog.
Yeast and Depression
One common manifestation of this phenomenon is when a dearth of healthy gut bacteria fails to inhibit the growth of yeast – and the infection that sometimes follows. This can happen due to excess amounts of refined carbohydrates in a diet, over-consumption of alcohol, long-term use of birth control, or the ingestion of antibiotics. Whatever the cause, the abundance of yeast serves to hinder the production of serotonin, which, in turn, can lead to brain fog or moodiness.8
Care For Your Gut, Clear Up Your Head
Here’s the bottom line: You don’t have to resign yourself to a lifetime of brain fog. Perhaps the simplest step to take is to reduce or eliminate refined sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, and eat more whole foods, fruits, and unprocessed grains. You can also begin taking probiotic supplements, which can help replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut and facilitate the movement of neurochemicals to and from the brain.
If your brain fog still persists, consider seeing a physician.
You don’t have to go through your days feeling hazy, or mentally lethargic. So, if brain fog is affecting your quality of life, be sure to take measures to combat the problem.
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