Is One Of These 4 Hormone Imbalances Causing Your Brain Fog?

Integrative Medicine Doctor By Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Integrative Medicine Doctor
Sara Gottfried, M.D., is three-time New York Times bestselling author and a graduate of Harvard Medical School and MIT.

Image by Inti St. Clair / Stocksy

Four key hormones, when they are in balance, prevent brain fog. However, when these hormones are out of balance, the brain may not properly sense and adjust your hormone levels (as described in the last chapter with the thyroid), and the body may suffer. The fog may roll in with any or all of them; the weight climbs, memory sputters, and energy drops.

1. Low thyroid.

When your thyroid function is low, your brain function is low, often causing brain fog, slow processing speed and reflexes, cognitive impairment, weight gain, fatigue, depression, irritability, constipation, and intolerance to cold, among other symptoms. Increasingly I find in my patients that they don't convert enough active thyroid hormone (T3) from inactive thyroid hormone (T4). One reason is poor conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver, but another common reason is that you have a gene that's not working well, as I mentioned in chapter 3. I have two common genetic variations that limit my ability to convert T4 to T3 in the brain. So even though I have normal-appearing thyroid blood test results (thyroid-stimulating hormone, free T3, and free T4), I feel far from normal and experience many thyroid symptoms, from brain fog to fatigue to weight gain. Most clinicians have no idea about this genetic variation, how it affects brain T3 levels, and how to test for it. I'll show you how next in the protocol.

2. Low estrogen or estrogen resistance.

Starting at around age 40, the female brain slows down in metabolic rate, known as cerebral metabolism, and symptoms of brain fog may develop. Estrogen is one of the most important nutrients that protects your brain from decline. Estrogen is also involved in libido and sexuality for women.

3. Cortisol problems.

When cortisol is too high or too low, or both within the day, you may experience brain fog. The root cause is high perceived stress. The control system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, gets out of whack when allostatic (stress) load exceeds reserves, causing brain fog, anxiety, depression, addiction, and memory problems. Additionally, high stress can harm mitochondria, leading to low energy, reduced stamina, and less mental flexibility. You may not feel stressed, but a move, a demanding schedule, or sick parents have a way of sneaking up on your mitochondria and slowing down your brain body.

4. Insulin block.

When you eat too many refined carbohydrates for your system, your insulin may spike, which makes blood sugar go from high to low, causing brain fog. As a result, you store fat no matter what you try. The key is to keep blood sugar relatively stable at around 70 to 85 mg/dL when fasting, and an average of about 85 to 92 all the time. For my patients and me, that means defining the best carb threshold so that you're not getting too little (linked to mood problems and hair loss) or too much (linked to insulin resistance). The best way I've found to reset insulin is with intermittent fasting, described in chapters 2 and 3.

The brain-body protocol: clearing brain fog.

Brain fog happens to everyone on occasion. However, persistent brain fog is what we're addressing in this part of the brain-body diet. The key areas we will address to keep you clearheaded are neurogenesis, reduction of neuroinflammation, and protection of the blood-brain barrier. Specifically, we will build upon the foundation from the last chapter.

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Step 1: Eat for clarity.

Toxins can make you foggy, and it can take one or two weeks before you start to clear the fog once you remove toxins, depending on your toxic burden. The best way to start is with your food. You don't need to be overweight to develop brain fog and experience other health detriments, just be undernourished. The focus in clearing brain fog is to decrease inflammation and increase neurogenesis by eating anti-inflammatory foods and the right type and doses of healthy carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (see chapter 3), then boost the production of BDNF through lifestyle choices.

As I say elsewhere in this book, I can't give you rigid proportions of carbs or fats or proteins because so much depends on the interplay between your genes and the environment. You are your best guide, so choose foods that you determine your body is most likely to process well. When in doubt, check your blood sugar two hours after eating food that you think may cause brain fog.

Eat sea vegetables like hijiki, which may block the damage to the brain from air pollution.

Consume good fats such as coconut oil, MCT oil, olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts.

Cook with turmeric because it is anti-inflammatory.

Consume healthy fiber to feed your good bugs and prevent dysbiosis.

Eat probiotic food like sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi.

Avoid sugar. Search for it in all of your foods. Beware that it hides in ketchup and salad dressings. Eliminate artificial sweeteners. Still drinking diet soda? Stop that right now. It's not a treat; it's a setup for imbalanced microbiota and brain fog.

Avoid alcohol.

Cut out dairy and grains. Eliminate them for 40 days total, then add them back and see how you react. Other common food intolerances include soy and corn, so if you're still feeling foggy after eliminating dairy and grains, try eliminating them as well.

Turn off all electronic screens at least one hour before you go to bed. Limit cellphone use. Consider removing Wi-Fi throughout your house and use a hard-wired internet connection.

From Brain Body Diet: 40 Days to a Lean, Calm, Energized, and Happy Self by Sara Gottfried, M.D. Copyright © 2019. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Sara Gottfried, M.D. is three-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure, The...
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Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Sara Gottfried, M.D. is three-time New York Times bestselling author...
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