New research shows what those of us who practice functional medicine have long known: Inflammation causes brain fog. In fact, brain fog is one of the most common symptoms reported in people with Hashimoto’s low thyroid and other autoimmune conditions.
The study recruited 20 healthy young male volunteers and gave them three different shots over three different days. One of the shots was a salmonella typhoid vaccine, which increases inflammation temporarily. On the other days the shots were saline. The subjects did not know which shot they were getting on which day.
After each shot they performed a test that evaluated alertness, the ability to prioritize sensory information, and the ability to make decisions from conflicting information.
On the days the subjects received the vaccine, the test results showed the inflammation made them less alert. The other two areas of the test did not change.
The researchers concluded that inflammation may affect neural networks involved in alertness.
How we address brain fog in functional medicine
Fortunately, functional medicine offers a number of ways to address the inflammation that causes brain fog. The first step is to find the source of inflammation.
Do you struggle with any of these symptoms associated with brain inflammation?
- Brain fog
- Unclear thoughts
- Low brain endurance
- Slow mental speed
- Loss of brain function after trauma
- Brain fog and fatigue and poor mental focus after meals
- Brain fog and fatigue from chemicals, scents, and pollutants
- Brain fog and fatigue from certain foods
We don’t necessarily know when our brain is inflamed because it doesn’t hurt the way an ankle would.
Instead, brain inflammation commonly manifests as brain fog. Depression and fatigue are other common symptoms.
Brain fog, fatigue, and depression happen in an inflammatory state because the inflammation slows down conduction between neurons. As a result, the brain slows down tires more easily when doing things like reading, working, concentrating, or driving for any length cause fatigue.
The brain’s immune system is made primarily of cells called microglia cells, which are important to brain function and outnumber neurons 10 to one.
Unlike the body’s immune cells, the brain’s immune cells do not have an off switch. This means brain inflammation can move through brain tissue like a slow fire, damaging tissue and gradually worsening brain function. We especially see this in those who have suffered a brain injury in the past.
The microglia cells have very important roles beyond fighting inflammation. They remove dead and dying neurons, beta amyloid plaque, and other debris that interfere with communication between neurons. They also support neuron metabolism and connections between neurons, called synapses.
When the brain is inflamed they are pulled away from these jobs.
Brain inflammation can cause brain development disorders in children. This is because microglia cells are necessary to “prune” developing neural pathways so that the brain grows and forms as it should. Brain inflammation throws glitches into these pathways and the brain does not develop appropriately.
Brain inflammation advances brain degeneration, raising the risk of conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and more.
In fact, brain aging is associated more with brain inflammation than aging itself.
What causes brain inflammation?
Inflammation in the body can inflame the brain. Joint pain, bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections, leaky gut, gut inflammation, or an undiagnosed and unmanaged autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism are examples of conditions that can inflame the brain.
If you have brain fog or mental sluggishness, see if any of these factors could be contributing:
- Diabetes and high blood sugar
- Poor circulation
- Lack of exercise
- Chronic stress
- Heart disease
- Respiratory issues
- Previous head trauma
- Neurological autoimmunity
- Gluten and dairy intolerance
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Environmental pollutants
- Systemic inflammation
- Autoimmune diseases
- Inflammatory bowel conditions
- Leaky blood-brain barrier
How to dampen brain inflammation
While working on the underlying causes of brain inflammation and using therapeutic dietary and lifestyle factors, the following nutritional compounds can also help dampen brain inflammation:
The dose you take depends on the degree of brain inflammation. Ask my office for more information.