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April 13, 2018
Here we are in the “information age” with more facts, knowledge, theories, and ideas at our disposable than ever before in human history. Perhaps because of this deluge, or perhaps in spite of it, many people I encounter complain about experiencing “brain fog” as a daily complaint that needs improvement.
Our brains are constantly sifting through the overload of sensory information that it picks up on every second to present to us what is essential and reject what is unnecessary. Yes, you need to hear the car that is approaching quickly so that you can react if required. No, you don’t need to pick up on the conversation two tables down in the restaurant. But what happens when your overall brain function slips from an A+ to a C-? How are you to survive, never mind succeed in this brave new world?
Brain fog is characterized by the feeling that your thinking is compromised. Words don’t come as easily as they should. Concepts take longer to grasp than they used to. You may find yourself walking into a room for something important only to stand there for a few minutes wondering what you needed to do there. Sound familiar?
Since humans are such complex creatures there are a number of factors that affect mental function and brain performance. For a brain, and the body that supports it, to be in top form they must be properly nourished, hydrated, trained, or exercised on a regular basis, and be chemically balanced in terms of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other biochemical agents.
There are a variety of foods and food supplements that have good evidence for supporting cognitive health and preventing cognitive decline (from a mild reduction in brain function right through to the various dementias including Alzheimer’s).
White matter in the brain is comprised of nerve cells that are insulated with a layer of specialized fat called myelin. In the same way that insulating electrical wires supports faster transmission of the signal, myelin allows messages to travel more quickly down the nerves in the brain to relay important information. Good fats such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in fish oil have all been studied to show benefits for the brain1, 2, 3.
Antioxidants are the other broad category that is essential for brain health. The brain is particularly vulnerable to toxins so anything that can either protect the cells from insult in the first place or help them to repair and recover more effectively is of benefit to mental function. A conscious effort to include antioxidant-rich foods at every meal will support the brain and the body that carries it around too! Look for colourful plant-based nutrient powerhouses such as red goji berries, golden whole turmeric, dark leafy greens or a greens supplement, as well as blueberries, blackberries, or other fruit rich in deep purple pigment.
The brain is a part of the physical body, and like the rest of us is mostly water. For nutrients to flow into the brain, for the cells to function optimally, and for waste products to be flushed away from the brain cells we need water. Drink up!
Some herbs are classified as “cerebral circulation stimulants” meaning that they have been shown to increase the flow of blood up to the brain. This physical effect is likely why such herbs are classed in the family of “smart drugs” (or “nootropics” for you linguists!) used for cognitive enhancement such as when studying for exams, wanting to prevent the memory loss associated with age, or just generally feel more on top of life. These herbs include Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis), Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri), and others. Nervine herbs such as Lemon Balm (Melissa officianalis), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) may not boost brain power directly but since stress can impair brain function – like having a hive of bees buzzing around your head – they can support clear thinking by calming the neurons in the brain.
If you fail to use a muscle then it can weaken or even atrophy (shrink and lose function). The brain is no different. Puzzles of any kind – crossword, word games, trivia challenges, jigsaws, and Sudokus– are all helpful ways to challenge and strengthen the brain. The more frequently a neuron or neural network fires the stronger it gets so that some information becomes automatic (i.e. the alphabet), while other information becomes difficult to retrieve (i.e. the name of your childhood neighbour’s dog).
Meditation and mindfulness are also “exercises” that get easier and more effective with practice. If I had a nickel for every person who has said “I don’t meditate because I’m no good at it.” I could retire tomorrow! If babies gave up on walking as easily as most adults give up on meditation we’d never have any toddlers! Athletes train regularly to beat their own prior bests or world records – they don’t get it on the first try. The benefit of meditation is not in the “achieving” so much as in the “practicing”…and that’s tough in today’s goal-based world.
Stress throws off the equilibrium of neurotransmitters in our brain whether it is an acute stress (PANIC!!) or a chronic one (“I’m unhappy about …”). Cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine all affect memory, learning, and focus so if brain fog is driving you nuts take a good look at your stress levels and maybe start there. Choose gratitude and see how your memory and brain function starts to change for the better!
When neurochemicals are in harmony there is happiness, tranquillity, clarity, focus, and appetite for life. It’s not a pipe dream – it is 100% within your grasp!4
So the next time you find yourself unable to think of “that word” or you’ve lost your keys…again…take a step in the right direction in one of the following areas:
 Walsh, William J.. Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.