If you’re struggling with brain fog, it can be very tough and discouraging. Some people may tell you it’s all in your head. But there’s great news for people with brain fog: it’s a real thing and there are functional medicine solutions to help you get your brain function back. In fact, brain fog is your brain’s way of giving you a critically important message. It’s telling you that your brain is inflamed and it needs healing and repair. This is a message that you’ll want to act on quickly. After all, it’s your brain’s call for help. In a subsequent blog, “Brain Fog: Symptoms and Root Causes,” I will explain how we approach brain fog in functional medicine. But first, I would like to share my personal story and how addressing brain fog inspired me to become a functional medicine doctor.
School had always been easy for me. I was the person that always loved learning and never had to try very hard in school, always easily getting good grades. If I wrote something down, I would remember it, and I prided myself on my great memory. My ability to remember was part of my identity- my parents recall me being an undefeated Memory Game champ from the time I was two years old (and they swear they didn’t let me win). And there I was, suddenly finding myself struggling to comprehend the last paragraph I re-read five times. I was suddenly struggling to follow my professors in class, found myself falling asleep during a lecture, and even taking notes seemed like a daunting and overwhelming task. I found myself word searching and forgetting simple things. I went from a straight-A student to wondering what I had gotten myself into being in a doctorate program taking 35+ units a trimester. I became increasingly more aware of this change in myself and found myself slipping into a depression, feeling lost and confused and afraid. Where had my brain gone? I was experiencing “brain fog” not knowing at that point it had a name. I just knew that I wasn’t myself anymore and something was wrong.
I blamed stress. I blamed a lack of sleep. I blamed the classes for being “too hard.” I didn’t understand why I couldn’t think anymore. And it just kept getting worse until I found myself at rock bottom trying to talk myself down from my suicidal thoughts. And this kept happening. I had become so depressed and anxious and hopeless and withdrawn, not understanding how or why this was happening and feeling like it would never get better.
At that point, I realized I couldn’t keep going on like this and was finally convinced to seek help. I went to my primary who took one look at me and said I was perfectly healthy and that it was all “just depression” and handed me a prescription for an antidepressant and sent on my way. And while the medication minimized my suicidal thoughts, it did nothing for the terrible fog in my brain. I felt like a zombie- going through the motions day by day emotionless and hopeless.
That’s when I was introduced to the world of functional medicine. And my world forever changed. I found a doctor practicing functional medicine and made an appointment. Just from the stack of health history intake papers that took hours to fill out beforehand, I knew this was going to be different than the standard 5-minute doctor’s office visit. And boy was it. She spent over an hour talking to me- and listening to me- and explaining how what I was experiencing, this “brain fog” and depression weren’t “normal” or just “in my head.” They were symptoms of something much deeper. I wasn’t crazy, I was sick and my health was failing me (or as I realized later, I was failing my health). My brain was trying to get my attention to alert me to all the issues brewing under the surface and I had been ignoring the warning signs for too long.
All in all, she helped me understand how my dietary and lifestyle habits were creating these imbalances in my body which were showing up as symptoms of my brain being on fire. The brain fog was my body’s way of trying to get me to slow down and see the bigger picture of my failing health. Putting all the pieces together- the massive Candida infection in my gut, the hormone imbalances, the blood sugar dysfunction, the stress, and adrenal fatigue- we were able to put together a plan to help heal my brain from the gut up.
Brain fog can have different root causes in each person, as I’ll explain in my next blog, but here are some of the causes that led to my problems with brain fog. Candida is a type of fungus (or yeast) that is common in the human gut, but if it grows out of control, it can cause fatigue, brain fog, constipation, diarrhea, or skin rashes. Another piece of my puzzle was adrenal fatigue, which is a common name for hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction. Basically, I had been operating in a chronic state of stress, or “fight or flight,” which depleted the stress hormone, cortisol. When cortisol levels are low, it can cause exhaustion, brain fog, weight gain around the middle, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. My hormones were imbalanced which contributed to fatigue and difficulty thinking. Finally, I was feeding my body the wrong kinds of food, which was spiking my blood sugar while my cells were starving for nutrition. No wonder I was feeling so bad!
Within weeks of starting the protocol with my doctor, I was seeing glimpses of my brain coming back to life. Gradually the fog began to lift and I realized I no longer was depressed or dealing with constant anxiety and panic attacks. I could concentrate again and stay awake in class- I got my brain back.
That was one of the most challenging times in my life and while I never would want to go through that again, I am forever thankful for that experience because it opened my eyes to this whole new world and way of living. I came out of the fog stronger, wiser, and more grateful than ever before and I am honored to now help others as I was helped.
You, too, may be suffering from brain fog or autoimmune disease symptoms and wishing you could get to the bottom of it. While I truly understand how eager you are to receive help, it is a collaboration between you and a functional medicine doctor that will have you on the path to recovery. As I mentioned before, the intake for my initial visit was in-depth and this is because it was individualized to me alone. Your story may include some of my root causes or other triggers. You may be diagnosed with a food sensitivity or allergy you never knew you had. You may also be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. All of these steps are important to take with a knowledgeable functional medicine doctor who can put your whole puzzle together and get you on the road to recovery.
Whatever the case may be, I am dedicated to help you unravel your health mystery. That is why we offer a 15-minute complimentary discovery meeting to figure out how we can help you get your health back. We do telemedicine, so our patients come from all over. I know how detrimental brain fog can be and how it affects your lifestyle, including loss of memory, focus, and fuzzy thinking.
Stay tuned for “Brain Fog: Symptoms and Root Causes,” where I will explain the root causes, including inflammation in the brain, gluten sensitivity, and the gut-brain connection. SIBO, leaky gut, Candida infection, hormone imbalances, and food sensitivities are all causes of brain fog and they can also underlie autoimmune diseases. Finally, I will discuss the functional medicine approach and the kinds of testing we do as functional doctors to pinpoint why you are experiencing brain fog and how to resolve it.