Brain Fog Biohacking: Whether or not you are dealing with brain fog, addressing brain health should be a significant value to anyone interested in living a long and healthy life. Brain-related disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s are on the rise, and today we tackle all things brain health! Let’s clear the fog of today and pave the way for a thriving brain tomorrow.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
What is Brain Fog?
Although it is not a medical term, brain fog is the layman’s term for virtually anything that interferes with your ability to think clearly. Brain fog can show up as an array of symptoms, including confusion, poor memory, disorientation, forgetfulness, irritability, inability to concentrate, lack of clarity, and wandering thoughts.1
Research indicates 60% of Americans suffer from moderate to severe cognitive dysfunction, a number that is rapidly growing. An estimated 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s (2019) with numbers expected to triple over the next ten years.2 Whether you are facing severe neurodegenerative disease or are experiencing the daily struggle of brain fog—cognitive dysfunction is common, but it’s not normal.
By better understanding the various root causes of cognitive dysfunction, we can start making better lifestyle choices to support brain health. Paired with some bio-hacks to supercharge your brain health, there is no reason why you or anyone you love should be facing the daily struggles of cognitive impairment.
What Causes Brain Fog?
We’re facing an epidemic of broken brains. The dysfunction in the issues causing brain fog is generally multifaceted: the perfect storm of inputs that creates the symptoms you are facing. Several factors can lead someone down the path of cognitive dysfunction. By addressing these, we can start, to piece the brain back together and regain clarity.
The brain weighs about three pounds or 2% of your body weight. It’s the most energy-intensive organ in the body, consuming 20-30% of your caloric consumption, 20% of the oxygen you breathe, and 25% of the body’s blood flow.3 What you feed your body (and brain) matters, so let’s explore the in’s and out’s of what to eat and when to eat it to maximize cognitive function.
- Diet Quality (with quality fats): brain health requires cholesterol-rich saturated fats from animal fats like tallow, lard, butter, and ghee. These types of fats help rebuild cellular membranes. On the other hand, highly processed (heated) vegetable oils and trans fats are rancid and cause chronic inflammation. Stick to organic whenever possible and pasture-raised anytime you’re consuming animal products (grass-fed and finished). On top of the good fats, a quality diet with plenty of high-quality animal proteins, lots of properly prepared vegetables (sprouted, fermented, and cooked) to rid food of its anti-nutrients like lectins.4
- Addressing intolerances and allergies: this is where bio-individuality comes in. Understanding your individual body’s needs is vital, requiring knowing which foods do and don’t work for your body. Common allergies include gluten, soy, and wheat, but merely taking on allergies because they’re common isn’t useful. Get to know how your body reacts to foods, with an awareness that just because something is common doesn’t mean that you have it. Just because a food is commonly considered healthy doesn’t mean it is so for your body. Always tune in to your individual needs!
- Diet Variation: Although ketosis is a great tool to produce quick-burn and clean fuel for the brain, it’s essential to vary the diet (some higher carb days, some keto days, some fasting days) to keep the body continually adapting. Forced adaptation is the key to metabolic flexibility, and it prevents hitting dietary plateaus. Chronic keto can result in the downregulation of your metabolism, so don’t forget to vary your diet.
- Intermittent fasting: Intermittent fasting (IF) is a daily restricted feeding window, whereby you mindfully incorporate a significant fasting window each night. IF should last at least 12 hours (12 hours of fasting and 12 of feeding), but ideally, you want to restrict it even more to only 4-6 hours of feeding daily. This allows your brain’s glymphatic system to operate every night, which is your brain’s self-cleaning mechanism. An impaired glymphatic system has been linked to various cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, so getting enough high quality sleep in a fasted state is key to brain health.5
- Fasting: Like an intermittent fasting window, fasting amplifies all the benefits of brain-boosting ketones and can allow the brain to do even deeper cellular clean-up via the glymphatic system. Having semi-annual or even seasonal 5-day water fasts is a profound tool to improve cognitive health and reduce whole-body inflammation.6
Sleep plays a significant role in your cognitive abilities and overall brain health. The brain remains very active during sleep. New studies suggest this is one of the only times the brain undergoes a self-detoxification mechanism through the glymphatic system of the toxins that build up during waking hours. This is one of the most imperative processes that help prevent age-related cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.2-5
Sleep deprivation plays a detrimental role in short term cognitive abilities like memory and reaction time. Studies show that driving while tired can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.7
- Sleep Quantity: most people are aware that sleep quantity matters and timing refers not only to how many hours but also which hours you get to sleep. Our circadian rhythm works with daylight in that our body’s sleep rhythms require total darkness to sleep. Ideally, you want to wind down when the sun starts to set, and naturally, humans sleep longer hours in winter (when nights are longer). Aiming for 7+ hours is ideal, and if you can wake up without an alarm clock, even better.8
- Sleep Quality: quality matters perhaps even more than quantity because the deep regenerative brain healing sleep requires quality sleep. Quality sleep is the deep and REM phase of sleep, which goes beyond light sleep. This requires sleep hygiene like taking electronics out of the bedroom, avoiding artificial blue light 2+ hours before bed, having a regular sleep/ wake cycle, avoiding too much stimulation before bed (like heavy exercise), and avoiding too much caffeine (especially in the afternoon).9
Neurons in the brain are responsible for communicating and processing information. Keeping up with this task requires the constant turnover and renewal of your brain cells, which happens when you exercise.
Exercise helps with the prevention of brain atrophy and improved cognitive functions like learning capabilities. One of the body’s signaling mechanisms for neuronal growth is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is triggered during vigorous exercise.9
- 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise triggers a 32% increase in BDNF
- One of the best forms of exercise for cognitive health is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which optimizes an array of hormones, including IGF1
- Short bursts of intense exercise have also been associated with longevity and a lowered biological age
- Endurance training is less beneficial for brain health and can take a toll on the physical body too in the long run, lowering your biological age
Head trauma is increasingly recognized as a primary source of brain issues. Cognitive impairment is a common consequence of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI has a range of symptoms that impact brain wellness, including attention, processing speed, episodic memory, and executive function.2,11
Apart from brain fog, head trauma caused by injury can severely influence a wide range of ways someone operates in the world. Those with TBI often lack self-control and self-awareness, leading them to behave inappropriately or impulsively (without thinking it through). Individuals can have difficulty paying attention, remembering things, processing and understanding information, planning and assembling, and reasoning or solving problems.12
Studies suggest that following a brain injury, there is a larger cerebral uptake of ketones. Ketones can provide a much more efficient source of fuel for the brain than glucose (sugar), so solutions for TBI-related symptoms, including brain fog, are heavily centered on the production of ketones.13,14
- Fasting: fasting has been studied extensively as a neuroprotective mechanism following a traumatic brain injury. Neuroprotection from fasting is due to ketone production and use, which results in increased tissue sparing. [14+ 4] Benefits have been shown for moderate TBI with as little as a 24-hour fast, but opting for a 5-day water fast is ideal for maximizing autophagy and ketone production.
- Ketosis-centered diet: Like the ketone-boosting benefits of fasting on TBI, a ketogenic diet is ketone rich and offers anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective benefits Ketones are an easy fuel source for the brain.
Bio-Hack Your Brain
Bio-hacks won’t be long-term solutions without addressing the (potentially multiple) root cause(s). Dealing with the abovementioned causes, like head trauma, toxicity, exercise, sleep, and nutrition, should be prioritized. However, biohacks play a profound role in speeding up the track to healing and getting your brain back.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a non-invasive treatment that involves breathing 100% pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The body can take up to 300% more oxygen than breathing air at normal pressure.
HBOT has demonstrated various benefits for the brain. It provides improved blood flow to the brain, which is vital for cognitive health. Studies show that regular HBOT use provides benefits in various areas, including physical, psychological, and cognitive tests.15
Also known as ‘smart drugs,’ nootropics are any targeted supplement that enhances brain function, either acutely or assists in the long-term repair and health of your brain. Targeted improvement areas include improved cognitive function, mainly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation.
- CBD: Cannabinoid extracts are associated with many benefits for the brain, including profound anti-inflammation. CBD is used to prevent and potentially reverse severe cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s by removing plaque-forming proteins that promote the disease.16
- Exogenous ketones: although you can’t necessarily out-supplement your natural production of ketones (through a ketogenic diet and fasting), using exogenous ketones, such as ketone salts or ketone esters, is one way to support your body’s ketone production and ease the transition into ketosis.17
- L-Theanine: found in tea, this naturally occurring amino acid has an anti-inflammatory effect known to promote cognitive clarity with a calming effect (but no drowsiness).18
- Ginkgo biloba: is known for its ability to improve memory and mental processing, improving blood flow to the brain and reducing cortisol (a significant source of inflammation)19
Brain fog and cognitive conditions are incredibly common in the modern day. The cause is multifaceted, as is the healing approach. Brain health requires addressing a few key areas, including diet, sleep, cellular toxicity, exercise, and head trauma. There are various ways you can help speed up the healing process, too, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy and taking nootropic supplements.
Beat Brain Fog with B-Brain
These days, most of us are juggling remote work, childcare, and household chores. But hustling to the point of exhaustion isn’t new in our go-go-go culture. There’s a reason burnout became an occupational phenomenon in 2019, as doctors and researchers begin to understand the repercussions of stress on the body fully. One of the biggest consequences of stress? Loss of brain function. Brain fog, headaches, mood fluctuations, and memory loss are just a FEW symptoms that come with chronic stress. It may be because stress is robbing your body of some essential nutrients.
Your body releases several critical vitamins and minerals to fight the inflammation and free radicals your system creates in response to stress. One of the first nutrients to go? B vitamins. B vitamins are crucial for brain function, stress management, and immune system function. So, stress and nutrient depletion create a dangerous feedback loop of chronic stress, brain fog, mood fluctuations, and… more stress. Plus, B vitamins are water-soluble, and your body doesn’t produce them on its own, so it’s important to replenish your stores regularly.
B-Brain by Systemic Formulas is packed with targeted B vitamins and other nutrients to support brain health and your natural stress response. With B-Brain, you’ll get nutrients that promote concentration, clarity, alertness, and better memory function. Added nutrients help bridge the gap between your brain’s left and right hemispheres for even more mental power.
- Dow, Mike. The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks Time. Hay House, Inc., 2015.
- “2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s Association, 2019, www.alz.org/media/documents/alzheimers-facts-and-figures-2019-r.pdf.
- Amen, Daniel. “12 Prescriptions for Creating a Brain Healthy Life .” Amen Clinics 12 Prescriptions for Creating a Brain Healthy Life Part 1 Comments, 15 Jan. 2018, www.amenclinics.com/blog/12-prescriptions-for-creating-a-brain-healthy-life-part-1/.
- Guzmán, Manuel, and Cristina Blázquez. “Ketone Body Synthesis in the Brain: Possible Neuroprotective Effects.” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids, vol. 70, no. 3, 2004, pp. 287–292., doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2003.05.001.
- Jessen, Nadia Aalling et al. “The Glymphatic System: A Beginner’s Guide.” Neurochemical research vol. 40,12 (2015): 2583-99. doi:10.1007/s11064-015-1581-6
- Phillips, Matthew C L. “Fasting as a Therapy in Neurological Disease.” Nutrients vol. 11,10 2501. 17 Oct. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11102501
- Otmani, Sarah, et al. “Effect of Driving Duration and Partial Sleep Deprivation on Subsequent Alertness and Performance of Car Drivers.” Physiology & Behavior, vol. 84, no. 5, 2005, pp. 715–724., doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.02.021.
- Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams. Penguin Books, 2018.
- Schmolesky, Matthew T et al. “The effects of aerobic exercise intensity and duration on levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy men.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 12,3 502-11. 1 Sep. 2013
- Genuis, Stephen J, and Kasie L Kelln. “Toxicant exposure and bioaccumulation: a common and potentially reversible cause of cognitive dysfunction and dementia.” Behavioural neurology vol. 2015 (2015): 620143. doi:10.1155/2015/620143
- Wortzel, Hal S, and David B Arciniegas. “Treatment of post-traumatic cognitive impairments.” Current treatment options in neurology vol. 14,5 (2012): 493-508. doi:10.1007/s11940-012-0193-6
- “Cognitive Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury.” Cognitive Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury | Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC), msktc.org/tbi/factsheets/Cognitive-Problems-After-Traumatic-Brain-Injury.
- White, Hayden, and Balasubramanian Venkatesh. “Clinical review: ketones and brain injury.” Critical care (London, England) vol. 15,2 219. 6 Apr. 2011, doi:10.1186/cc10020
- Davis, Laurie M et al. “Fasting is neuroprotective following traumatic brain injury.” Journal of neuroscience research vol. 86,8 (2008): 1812-22. doi:10.1002/jnr.21628
- Harch, Paul G et al. “Case control study: hyperbaric oxygen treatment of mild traumatic brain injury persistent post-concussion syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Medical gas research vol. 7,3 156-174. 17 Oct. 2017, doi:10.4103/2045-9912.215745
- Currais, A., Quehenberger, O., M Armando, A. et al. Amyloid proteotoxicity initiates an inflammatory response blocked by cannabinoids. npj Aging Mech Dis 2, 16012 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/npjamd.2016.12
- Kovács, Zsolt et al. “Therapeutic Potential of Exogenous Ketone Supplement Induced Ketosis in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: Review of Current Literature.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 10 363. 23 May. 2019, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00363
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for the accuracy of the information provided. Still, we encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.