How Brain Fog is Related to Gut Health and How to Banish it for Good
There is growing evidence suggesting a connection between gut health and brain fog. The gut and the brain are interconnected through a bidirectional communication pathway called the gut-brain axis. This means that changes in the gut can influence brain function and vice versa.
While the communication is bidirectional, most data supports that the majority of messaging goes from the gut to the brain, contrary to what most think.
Brain fog is a term used to describe a set of symptoms that affect:
- Cognitive function - your ability to learn
- Mental clarity.
People experiencing brain fog often describe feeling mentally sluggish, forgetful, or having difficulty thinking and processing information.
As hard as it might be to process understanding this connection ;), much of brain health can be looked at through the prism of our gut health or absence of it. Addressing your gut health can often give you key insights and, hopefully, help you rid yourself of brain fog.
Here are some factors related to gut health that can contribute to brain fog:
- Stress and anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can impair cognitive function and make it difficult to focus and think clearly. But it doesn’t end there. Chronic stress skews our cortisol levels. Initially, our cortisol levels are high to help us meet the demands of the stress and, while this is purposeful in helping us meet the stress head on, it can have some significant negative effects on the gut, especially if it is chronic and stress resolution is nowhere in sight. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol break down tissue and disturb the gut microbiome balance. They can also interrupt the optimal functioning of our vagus nerve, adversely impacting digestion. The effects of chronic stress increase brain inflammation via many routes which lead to brain fog.
- Gut microbiome imbalance: The gut is home to trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiota. An imbalance in the gut microbiota, such as improper levels of beneficial bacteria (too low or too high), the presence of a overt pathogen, or an increase in certain opportunistic bacteria that are pro-inflammatory, such as citrobacter or klebsiella, can lead to inflammation and affect brain function, potentially causing brain fog. This is because these bacteria produce certain compounds in their natural life cycles that are particularly toxic to our brain in high amounts, such as lipopolysaccharides - LPS. Our good bacteria aid in anti-inflammatory effects on the gut and the brain via the gut - brain axis. Both cascades, pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory are equally important. It’s about finding a balance for optimal functioning.
- Intestinal permeability (leaky gut): When the lining of the intestines becomes more permeable than normal, it can allow substances to leak into the bloodstream that should be confined to the gut. This intestinal lining breach is due to our modern day lifestyle, many medications and our toxin laden foods.The substances can be anything from partially digested foods - which can create food sensitivities, to pathogens or toxins. This can trigger an immune response and inflammation, which may affect the brain and contribute to brain fog. It’s often said that a leaky gut means a leaky brain. We have a blood brain barrier (BBB) that relies on much of the same principles of integrity as our intestinal barrier. Add to this issues with our vagus nerve and signals of proper digestion, such as bile and enzyme activation which help with antimicrobial efforts, and it’s a perfect recipe for brain fog.
While these are certainly not all contributory factors to brain fog they are very common; much more common than we think when it comes to the gut - brain connection. Up until very recently, society had accepted that one had nothing to do with the other. We now know that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Here are some tips, that you can employ, to help start to decrease inflammation associated with brain fog:
- Manage stress: Practice stress management techniques like mindfulness, intentional breathing, meditation, or regular exercise to help improve gut function and reduce brain fog. These interventions help to optimize the vagus nerve and promote anti-inflammatory substances which helps the body be able to rest, digest and repair.
- Eat a whole foods, nutrient dense diet: Consume a variety of whole foods - as much organic as you can afford so as to cut down on toxin exposure. This will include vegetables, fruits, good sourced animal or non-animal proteins, and healthy fats. Consider incorporating fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, or kefir, which contain beneficial bacteria. As with any change, allow your body to acclimate and notice how you feel after you or drink. It can get worse before it gets better. Your body will let you know how each of your choices is impacting it. You just have to listen. ;)
- Consult with a gut health practitioner - one who can help assess your gut function, identify the interconnectedness between your brain fog and gut dysfunction and help guide you and craft a personalized plan for you to heal.
Brain fog is a sign that there is indeed an imbalance within you. More often than not, the state of your gut plays a pivotal role. Being open to this and the healing mindset will put you on the path to banishing brain fog, optimizing your gut health and feeling your best!
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