Brain Fog. Yep it’s a real thing!
Getting your words muddled up, losing your train of thought mid sentence, forgetting peoples names…sound familiar?
Maybe you worry there’s something more sinister going on – perhaps dementia or Alzheimers.
In reality, if you’re a woman of a certain age it’s more likely your brain fog is just another way of your body telling you it’s not getting what it needs in order to function well.
Brain fog, hot flushes, mood swings, anxiety, disrupted sleep are all signals your body’s changing and you need to change too in order to feel like yourself again.
The good news is if your mind is muddled and your decision making sluggish there’s plenty you can do to kickstart your brain.
Eating and Drinking
Your gut health is directly linked to your brain health; in fact your gut acts as a 2nd brain. So if your gut is unhappy your mental faculties will suffer too. Cutting back on the usual suspects like sugar, caffeine and alcohol will help clear your mind.
Have you got enough good fat in your diet? Your brain is around 60% fat so if you’re following a low fat diet no wonder you can’t think straight!
Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even add pounds
As Cortisol* is your main stress hormone and if levels are too high too often you’ll be on permanent red alert and unable to make critical decisions. You can’t avoid stress in the 21st century but you can learn how to manage it and keep your cortisol levels balanced.
Can you find 10 minutes each day just for you to relax; and we not talking about red wine or Netflix type relaxing but the sort that really helps calm your mind. Try reading, listening to music or mediation.
Your body responds to all stress in exactly the same way. So every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps stored energy so you can fight or flee. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven’t used very many calories. This can make you hungry…very hungry. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.
Levels of cortisol, rise during tension-filled times. This can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of the hormone also help cause higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.
But few of us reach for carrots in these situations. Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension, This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you’re anxious, you want fattening foods.
Beware of the big 4 heavy metals: mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium. These metals are found naturally in the earth’s crust but they also find their way into our food chain and personal products.
One of the simplest changes your can make is to switch to an aluminum free deodorant.
Regular exercise doesn’t have to be about smashing it out at the gym 5 times a week. Just getting out for a brisk walk each day will increase your oxygen levels and boost your brain power.
How is cortisol controlled?
Cortisol (Hydrocortisone) is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress.
Cortisol is made in the cortex of the adrenal glands and then released into the blood, which transports it all round the body. Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and helping development of the foetus. In many species cortisol is also responsible for triggering the processes involved in giving birth.
Blood levels of cortisol vary dramatically, but generally are high in the morning when we wake up, and then fall throughout the day. This is called a diurnal rhythm. In people that work at night, this pattern is reversed, so the timing of cortisol release is clearly linked to daily activity patterns. In addition, in response to stress, extra cortisol is released to help the body to respond appropriately.
How to counter brain fog
1. Drop and do 10.
That’s right, power out some push-ups. “Moving your muscles is an effective, instant stress reliever. It actually fools your body into thinking you’re escaping the source of your stress,” says Talbott. “Exercise makes your blood circulate more quickly, transporting the cortisol to your kidneys and flushing it out of your system.” But if push-ups aren’t practical, just flexing your hands or calf muscles will help move cortisol along, he says. Even taking a stroll on your lunch break is beneficial. In one study, Talbott found that 18 minutes of walking 3 times per week can quickly lower the hormone’s levels by 15%
Under stress, we tend to scarf down even healthy food. In fact, research has linked this behavior to bigger portions and more belly fat. But slowing down, savoring each bite, and paying attention to feelings of fullness may lower cortisol levels along with decreasing the amount of food you eat, thereby shifting the distribution of fat away from the belly.
3. Stop strict dieting.
It’s ironic, but research shows that constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise as much as 18%. In addition, when your cortisol levels spike, your blood sugar goes haywire, first rising, then plummeting. This makes you cranky and (you guessed it) ravenous. When your brain is deprived of sugar—its main fuel—self-control takes a nosedive, and your willpower doesn’t stand a chance.
4. Give in to cravings‚ a little.
When stress drives you toward something sweet or salty, it’s okay to yield a little. “It’s much better to indulge in a small way and cut off your cortisol response before it gets out of control,” says Epel. “Have a piece of chocolate. You will feel better. Just stop at one.” If you have trouble restraining yourself, take precautions so you won’t binge. Buy a single cookie when you’re out instead of keeping a box at home; or keep them in the freezer so you have to wait for one to defrost.
5. Curtail caffeine.
Next time you’re under duress, choose decaf. When you combine stress with caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone. In one study by the University of Oklahoma, consuming the equivalent of 2½ to 3 cups of coffee while under mild stress boosted cortisol by about 25%—and kept it up for 3 hours. When subjects took 600 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 6 cups of java) throughout the day, the hormone went up by 30% and stayed high all day long. You’ll experience these effects even if your body is accustomed to a lot of lattes. And because high cortisol levels can contribute to stress eating, you might want to consider quitting caffeine altogether.
6. Power up breakfast.
Deficiencies in B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium are stressful to your body. And these deficiencies lead to increased cortisol levels and food cravings, says Talbott. But you can fight back by eating a breakfast that’s high in these nutrients. He suggests some OJ, a grapefruit, or a large handful of strawberries to supply vitamin C; 6 to 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, which contains calcium and magnesium; and a whole grain bagel or toast with a bit of peanut butter. Whole grains are bursting with B vitamins, while peanut butter contains fatty acids that can decrease the production of stress hormones.
7. Sleep it off.
The most effective stress-reduction strategy of all: Get enough shut-eye. “Your body perceives sleep deprivation as a major stressor,” says Talbott. A University of Chicago study found that getting an average of 6½ hours each night can increase cortisol, appetite, and weight gain. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours. As if that weren’t enough, other research shows that lack of sleep also raises levels of ghrelin, a hunger-boosting hormone. In one study, appetite—particularly for sweet and salty foods—increased by 23% in people who lacked sleep. The good news: A few nights of solid sleep can bring all this back into balance, and getting enough regularly helps keep it there. Says Talbott, “You’ll eat less, and you’ll feel better, too.”