Tired of forgetting where you put your keys? Can’t remember the name of your co-worker who has worked next to you for five years? Frustrated because you can’t seem to find the solution to a problem you have been working on for weeks? Mental fog is something we have all experienced at one time or another. Fortunately, it is something that we have more control over than we think.
Greater mental clarity and increased energy can be achieved within a few short days simply by making a few changes to your diet and lifestyle. Let’s look at some of the primary culprits that decrease our mental capacity and the steps that we can take to avoid that dreaded brain fog.
Step #1— Reduce or eliminate stress in your life.
When you move about your day-to-day activities, your brain uses glucose for energy. When you are under stress, however, the brain calls upon cortisol for more instantaneously accessible energy in order to face the looming "danger". Let's just say that your body has not evolved to tell the difference between the life or death encounter with a saber-toothed tiger and a stressful argument with your boss; the chemicals and hormones released in both situations are the same. Since most of us feel stressed out on the regular, our repeated exposure to these high cortisol levels reduces our ability to think clearly and efficiently. It even begins to damage our brain neurons. Not a good situation! While lifestyle changes can be difficult to make, especially if the stress is coming from work, they are well worth the increased mental clarity and greater physical wellbeing.
If you truly have a difficult time eliminating or at least reducing the situations or people in your life that cause you stress, try incorporating meditation, deep-breathing exercises, massage, yoga, or other activities that calm your body and soothe your mind. These types of peaceful activities will greatly help to offset the damaging effects of stress.
Step #2— Ensure that you get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
If you work into the wee hours of the morning, or if you drink alcohol to help you relax before bed, eat sugar regularly, and drink lots of coffee, you may not be getting enough REM sleep. When you are in REM sleep, you process the valuable information you encountered during the day, so if you are not reaching that deep sleep stage nightly, it is more likely that you will not be able to think straight, and your cognitive functions will be more likely to slip.
Here are some tips for a deeper, higher quality sleep:
- Eliminate refined sugar from your diet.
- Eat a little protein every two hours or as a snack before bedtime.
- Avoid computer screens and TV one hour before bedtime.
- Take a bath, listen to soothing music or read before bedtime.
- Incorporate herbal remedies such as warm milk with nutmeg and ground poppy seeds before you hit the hay.
Step #3— Reduce your exposure to heavy metals and aluminum.
Heavy metal toxicity has been linked to neurological disorders. From mercury, to lead, to arsenic, one thing heavy metals seem to have in common is their association with cognitive decline. Although aluminum is not a heavy metal, it too is linked to cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia [I].
Tips for reducing heavy metal and aluminum exposure:
- Avoid aluminum cookware, aluminum foil, cosmetics with an aluminum base, antiperspirants, amalgam dental fillings, and conventional cleaning products.
- Avoid smoking.
- Filter your drinking water. (The Berkey is my filtration system of choice)
- Avoid pesticides. Choose organic produce and use alternative, natural-ingredient treatments on your lawn.
For severe heavy metal toxicity, working with a trusted healthcare provider is essential. However, if you simply want to cleanse yourself from limited exposure over the years there are a few easy things to implement. Chlorella has a tendency to bind with heavy metals to detoxify them from the body and can be taken as a supplement or added to green smoothies. Healthy probiotic bacteria have also been shown to have an affinity for binding to, and in some cases, detoxifying heavy metals. Consuming certain probiotic supplemental strains can even prevent metals from being absorbed.
Step #4— Remove all refined sugar from your diet.
Sugar found in soft drinks, candy, crackers, cookies, and pastries affects us adversely and leads to brain fog more than any other food. Not to mention it can contribute to low energy, moodiness and as many of us well know, can be very addictive! In fact, many believe this mind-numbing sweet substance should be classified as a drug.
Not only does sugar make us feel “high” and “spacey” when we eat it, but repeated consumption of high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, can create a condition in which the body becomes insulin resistant. Insulin resistance prevents brain cells from accessing glucose for energy, so in turn, we can’t think straight. If you have ever experienced being "hangry" (the oh-so-wonderful combination of anger and hunger that arises when one hasn’t eaten), then you know what it's like to have unbalanced blood sugar! Your brain just refuses to function until it gets proper fuel.
Remember that removing sugar from your diet isn't just about the sweets like cookies and donuts. Refined flour products such as bread, pasta, and crackers are just as bad since processed carbohydrates get converted to sugar in the body as quick as a wink. Replace these brain fuel robbers with more quality protein, fat, and vegetables. Protein, legumes, nuts, seeds, natural fat, and vegetables release glucose slowly, so they help to balance blood sugar levels and can get your energy more stabilized within a couple of weeks. This change can be challenging, but it will give you more sustained energy and increase your mental clarity more than you ever dreamed!
Step #5— The sugar... ditch it. Seriously though.
Another step to eliminate sugar? Didn't we just go over that? Why yes, but it's so important that it calls for a double step! This time we're getting more serious though. Sugar doesn't just negatively affect our blood sugar balance, it also feeds bacterial infections like Candida. Candida is yeast that specifically feeds on sugar and normally lives in the digestive tract and vagina. In certain conditions, it can grow unchecked and cause a wide range of health problems. Plus, an overgrowth is much more common than you may realize. Subtle symptoms include headaches, moodiness, digestive issues, weight gain, and yes, a significant decrease in mental clarity. More blatant symptoms of an overgrowth can manifest as redness or itching in skin crevices, a foul odor, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge, and a white coating on the tongue. The metabolic byproducts of yeast can even damage neurons and further contribute to poor mental health and brain functioning. So stop letting those little buggers feast like royalty!
When you eliminate or at least greatly reduce your sugar intake (even of naturally sweet fruits), this eliminates Candida's food source and causes a "die off" of these bacteria. You might become extra moody, irritable or headache-y but stick it out! Probiotics can speed up the “dying off” process and can get you through a rough patch quicker so it is essential to incorporate probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, unsweetened yogurt, kimchee, kombucha, and miso. These will also help to re-colonize the intestine with healthy bacteria. Taking a high quality probiotic supplement like Prescript Assist is also a great idea.
(For more assistance with sugar detoxing, check out our awesome No Sugar Challenge.)
Now you know that we can do many things to increase mental clarity and gain more control over how we function in day to day life. Even if you do nothing else but decrease the amount of sugar in your diet, the many cells in your brain will thank you, and that good old noggin will function in ways that you never imagined!
Why not give it a try and witness the difference for yourself?
[I] Tomljenovic L. "Aluminum and Alzheimer's disease: after a century of controversy, is there a plausible link?". J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;23(4):567-98. Web. August. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21157018>.