Navigating the Labyrinth of Brain Fog


Article by Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S

Introduction

In the fast-paced setting of modern life, many individuals find themselves tackling a vague and ill-defined phenomenon known as “brain fog”.

While not a medical term, brain fog briefly summarizes a spectrum of symptoms that encompass mental fatigue, forgetfulness, and a general sense of cognitive haziness. The origins of this colloquial term can be traced back to the concept of “brain fag” introduced by the eminent British physician James Tunstall.

Initially this term was used to describe mental exhaustion among those immersed in intense cognitive pursuits, the term evolved over time, eventually finding a place in the DSM-4 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1960, associating it with the rigors of excessive academic demands.

Signs and Symptoms

The manifestations of brain fog are diverse and can significantly impact daily functioning. Individuals experiencing brain fog often report with one or more of the below mentioned conditions –

Difficulty in concentrating – This is when an individual struggles to focus on tasks and maintain mental clarity.

Impaired attentiveness – The person will experience reduced ability to stay engaged in conversations or activities.

Learning difficulties – He or she will face challenges in acquiring and processing new information.

Short-term memory issues – The person will have forgetfulness regarding recent events or details.

Trouble in grasping simple information – They will have severe difficulty comprehending straightforward concepts.

Struggles with multitasking – They will face inability to efficiently manage multiple tasks simultaneously.

Dissociative feelings – One will have a sense of detachment or disconnection from his or her surroundings.

Forgetfulness in recent conversations – They will find it difficult in recalling details from recent interactions.

Easy distractibility – People with brain fog are prone to get diverted from tasks or train of thoughts.

Difficulty recalling common words – There is a struggle to remember commonplace vocabulary.

Insomnia or trouble sleeping – These people will have disrupted sleep patterns that contribute to cognitive dysfunction.

Headaches – Recurrent headaches that may be associated with cognitive fog are quite common.

Mood Swings – Fluctuations in emotional well-being is not uncommon.

Low Energy or Mental Fatigue – These people experience persistent feelings of mental exhaustion.

Decreased Motivation – There will be a decline in the drive to both initiate and complete the tasks.

Mild Depression – Subtle feelings of sadness or despondency are present in most cases.

Common Causes

Understanding the potential triggers of brain fog is crucial for effective management. Several common factors include –

Chronic Stress – Prolonged exposure to stress can elevate blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and precipitate conditions like depression, anxiety and notably brain fog.

Hormonal Changes – Fluctuations in sex hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, play a pivotal role in emotional health. Variations during the menstrual cycle or in menopause can lead to symptoms like forgetfulness and poor concentration.

Lack of Sleep – Chronic sleep deprivation disrupts normal cognitive functioning and exacerbates symptoms of brain fog.

Dietary Habits – Recent research highlights the significance of optimal levels of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D for healthy brain function. Deficiencies in these vitamins, along with other essential minerals, can contribute to cognitive cloudiness.

Medication Side Effects – Certain medications may induce brain fog as a side effect. Adjusting dosages or discontinuing medications can alleviate symptoms.

Medical Conditions – Chronic inflammation, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and fluctuations in blood sugar and blood pressure levels are associated with mental fatigue and can contribute to brain fog.

Other Conditions – Anaemia, depression, diabetes, Sjogren syndrome, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, hypothyroidism, autoimmune disorders, dehydration and viral infections like COVID-19 are additional conditions linked to cognitive cloudiness.

Medical conditions where brain fog is one of the important symptoms

Chronic fatigue syndrome – It is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis tends to cause both cognitive and physical fatigue which lasts for more than six months. The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is not clearly understood but chronic inflammation of the brain is thought to be the main reason. As a result, people with chronic fatigue syndrome often complain of brain fogging symptoms like fuzzy thinking and difficulty in concentrating.

Fibromyalgia – It is a chronic health problem that causes widespread pain and fatigue. Individuals, who suffer from fibromyalgia, quite often complain about brain fog, sometimes called “fibro-fog”, which includes difficulty in thinking, concentrating and remembering.

Kidney failure – Kidney failure happens when kidney functions are disturbed and there is accumulation of fluid and toxins. When kidney failure progress and medications fail to relieve the symptoms then haemodialysis is the treatment choice. Studies have found that brain fog may be a side effect of patients on haemodialysis.

Lupus – Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease which causes pain and inflammation. Systemic lupus erythematosus is one of the most common types of lupus. Lupus cause brain fog which includes confusion, lapses in memory, problems with processing information

Lyme disease – It transmits through tick bites, which often starts with classic “bulls-eye” rash. Brain fog can be observed in patients anytime after infection. Brain fog symptoms include memory problems and trouble concentrating.

Mood disorders – Depression and anxiety to chronic stress causes loss of interest in day today activities and brain fog related symptoms.

Sjogren’s syndrome – It is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease. Dry eyes and mouth are the main symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome. It has brain fog symptoms such as poor concentration and memory lapses.

Sleep disorders – Individuals suffering from chronic sleep disorders like insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnoea leads to chronic fatigue. This chronic fatigue caused due to sleep disorders result in brain fog related symptoms like difficulty completing works, feeling confused.

Thyroid issues – Thyroid gland is responsible for many vital functions of the body. Underactive thyroid [Hypothyroidism] may lead to depression, confusion, memory issues, and trouble concentrating.

Multiple sclerosis – It is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes lesions in the central nervous system. These lesions often affect cognition, emotions, thinking process and motor functions.

COVID 19 – Brain fog was the commonly reported symptom of COVID 19. Some evidence suggests that nearly one-third of people who suffered from COVID for a long time had cognitive difficulties for weeks to months even after COVID infection subsided.

Prevention and Management Strategies

Effectively managing brain fog involves a multifaceted approach that addresses lifestyle, diet, and underlying causative factors. Here are the comprehensive strategies for managing and mitigating brain fog:

Positive Thought Process – Cultivate a mindset that promotes optimism and resilience in the face of cognitive challenges.

Stress Reduction – Implement stress management techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and regular breaks to alleviate mental strain.

Adequate Sleep – Prioritize 7-8 hours of nightly sleep to support optimal cognitive function and overall well-being.

Physical Activities- Engage in a variety of physical activities, including walking, yoga, high-intensity exercise, stretching, and gardening to enhance overall health.

Balanced Diet – Consume a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein. Incorporate fruits and vegetables abundant in antioxidants to support brain health.

Avoidance – Limit or eliminate alcohol, cigarette smoking and excessive coffee consumption as these substances can contribute to cognitive fog.

Engaging Activities – Pursue hobbies and activities that bring fulfilment and happiness, promoting a positive mental state.

Screen Time Management – Reduce prolonged computer and mobile device use. Take regular breaks during extended periods of screen time to rejuvenate.

Outdoor Activities – Spend time outdoors, as exposure to nature has been shown to positively impact mental health.

Power Naps – Incorporate short naps into the daily routine to enhance memory retention and cognitive function.

Research and studies

Study shows link between long COVID related brain-fog with reduced circulating serotonin.

Study – Molecule Tau can be the molecule behind COVID-19 brain-fog.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the labyrinth of brain fog is complex and multifaceted, requiring a nuanced and individualized approach for effective management. It is essential for individuals experiencing persistent or severe symptoms to seek professional guidance to identify and address the underlying causes of cognitive cloudiness. By adopting a holistic lifestyle that prioritizes mental and physical well-being, individuals can navigate through the fog and reclaim mental clarity.

Brain Fog – Ayurveda Perspective

Though any one condition explained in Ayurveda cannot be directly correlated with brain-fog, looking at the definition and symptoms it appears to be a condition involving manas – mind and manovaha srotas – mind related channels, though the physical components are also there.

Brain fog can be attributed to imbalance in rajas or tamas or both attributes of the mind, which are also called as manasika doshas.

Brain fog may also involve the imbalances in the doshas located in the head i.e. Prana Vata, Sadhaka and Alochaka Pitta and Tarpaka Kapha. The involvement of Udana Vata cannot be ruled out since it controls the speech, efforts, energy and enthusiasm, strength and immunity, complexion and memory, most of which are afflicted in the brain fog. Pitta and Vata can get aggravated and cause inflammation and degeneration in the body, including brain and nervous system and cause brain fog. Kapha is involved when symptoms like depression predominate the picture of brain fog.

Excessive intake of viruddha ahara – mutually incompatible foods, excessive satiation / nutrition or deficit nutrition, wrong food choices, imbalance in the trayopastambha – food, sleep and celibacy, asatmya indriyartha sannikarsha – excessive, deficit or erratic conjunction of sense organs and their objects, prajnaparadha – actions done against consciousness, kala parinama – effect of time, dharaniya vegas – like jealousy, despair, fear, anger, vanity and hatred, all causes of vitiation of channels related to mind functions and Chintaka – people who are brainy / works which need lot of thinking – are the causes of brain fog according to Ayurveda.

Treatment principles – in a nutshell include, avoidance of causative factors, sattvavajaya – psychotherapy, dhee – intellectual training, dhrti – seeding courage, smrti – improving memory skills, atmadi vijnanam – making one realize the importance of self, panchakarma therapies, external therapies like dhara, abhyanga, murdni taila – oil therapies done on head, treatment and medicines advised in unmade, apasmara and murcha, medhya rasayanas, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, disciplined approach towards dinacharya, rtucharya and achara rasayana, following sadvrutta and regular consumption of medicines to treat the primary diseases responsible for brain-fog are the most important ones.

Related Reading – ‘Brain Fog – Ayurveda Understanding’.



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