Why am I writing about ways to mitigate the effects of MS brain fog? If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) you will find many obstacles that you will need to overcome.
You may become very familiar with one of these obstacles., MS Brain Fog. You may also hear this MS symptom referred to as Cog Fog.
We should look at:
I recall my very first experience of Cog Fog from many years ago. At the time, I described it as feeling woolly-headed.
Furthermore, I all but discounted this as an MS symptom. I had been working in my little home office, an outbuilding behind our home. It was summer and it was a warm day. I was often uncomfortable in the heat and gave it absolutely no thought.
But, like on so many other occasions, I was wrong. The annoying woolly-headedness and the sensitivity to heat were signs of what was to come with Multiple Sclerosis.
I now know the woolly-headedness to be Cog Fog and the sensitivity to heat is Uhthoffs Sign. Both are well-established indicators of Multiple Sclerosis.
What is MS Brain Fog?
A feeling of being disconnected, foggy, disorganised or unfocused. I am sure that everyone who experiences MS Brain Fog will have their own word for describing it. As I have stated earlier, I feel woolly-headed. If you struggle to think, your brain is sending an important signal that there is an imbalance in your life.
The causes of brain fog usually fall into two categories – lifestyle-related or a side effect of an existing medical condition.
Below are eight of the main causes of brain fog and what you can do to prevent each one.
- Eating the Wrong Foods
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Lack of Quality Sleep
- Chronic Stress
- Physical Inactivity
- Toxins in your Home
- Underlying Health Conditions
- Prescription Drugs and OTC Medications
Eating the Wrong Foods
Food is fuel and the right food provides the nutrients that power your mitochondria. Mitochondria are the batteries of life. They are the sub-organelles that power all of our life processes.
A poor diet is, by far, the most common cause of brain fog. But, fortunately, it is the easiest problem to resolve.
The fuel for your brain is glucose (sugar). But, refined foods like sugar are not good brain food. The fructose in corn syrup is also a very poor brain fuel.
Highly processed sugar leads to spikes in the glucose levels in your brain. Low glucose levels in your brain lead to brain fog, mood swings, irritability, tiredness, mental confusion, and impaired judgment.
However, high blood glucose levels lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, both of which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
If your memory is failing or you are in a constant state of mental delirium, you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Despite being quite common, Vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious matter. Ignore it at your peril because it could lead to a number of mental and neurological disorders.
There are two, particularly, high-risk groups of people:
- The elderly, who often have poor nutrient absorption
- Vegetarians or vegans, because vitamin B12 is found only in animal products
Furthermore, stomach acid is needed to break down and absorb vitamin B12.
So, the use of acid-suppressing medications, for other digestive disorders, may increase your risk of vitamin deficiency.
Therefore, antacids like Nexium, Pepcid, and Zantac have a strong link to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. It is formed naturally by your skin when the skin is exposed to daylight. Vitamin D can overcome brain fog, lift your mood, lower depression, increase memory and improve your problem-solving ability.
However, many people in the world don’t get enough vitamin D.
Having your skin exposed to natural daylight is the best form of vitamin D production.
But, few people living in North America, or in large swathes of Europe, see enough sun all year round.
So, most people will benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are found, in high concentrations, in the brain. Your brain health and memory function are highly dependent on this fatty acid. Yet, we are widely lacking it in our diet.
Our best source of omega-3 fatty acid is from wild-caught fatty fish, like salmon, sardines and trout. If this type of fish is not on your regular diet, you may need to take an omega-3 supplement.
When your brain fog is especially bad, choose a supplement with a high concentration of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
DHA is the most beneficial form of omega-3 for your brain. This DHA is a major structural component in the manufacture of brain cells, especially of those in the cerebral cortex.
The area of the brain associated with memory, language, abstraction, creativity, judgment, emotion and attention, is the cerebral cortex.
It is estimated that as many as 40 million American people suffer from one or more of 70 sleep disorders. If you have brain fog, it is possible that you are one of them.
Sleep, good sleep, is critical to our wellbeing. Sleep is the time when your brain does the tidying and the housekeeping. When you sleep, your brain consolidates your memories. This is what allows you to remember what you did the previous day.
Every day you lose brain cells. This is a normal part of cell regeneration, which is a function of the mitochondria in your cells. But, every night, while you sleep, your brain has the opportunity to create new, healthy brain cells. One night of poor quality sleep can affect your memory and cognitive ability.
The director of the Hershey Sleep Research and Treatment Center at Penn State University, Dr Alexandros Vgontzas, tells us that losing one night of sleep affects your mental performance as much as being legally drunk.
Getting enough good sleep will go a long way towards curing your brain fog.
There are several ways you can improve your sleep:
- Reduce your caffeine intake. We all like a nice cup of coffee. But, drinking coffee late in the evening will not help your sleep. Caffeine is a wake-promoter which is great first thing in the morning when you need to get ready for work.
- Don’t snack right before bed. It is generally advisable not to eat 2 to 3 hours before bed-time. Doing so will upset your sleep and your weight.
- Stick to a routine. As far as possible, bed-time should be the same time every night. You may need to consider melatonin supplements to help regulate your biological clock.
You can improve your sleep habits by making a few simple changes to your lifestyle. Little changes can make a big difference to your brain fog.
Stress causes MS Brain Fog
Stress is not something to seek out. Ignore the hype from high-powered business types who, allegedly, thrive on stress. Stress is wrongly equated with being productive and successful.
While stress can help you focus and get your adrenaline flowing, it does put you at risk of developing many different diseases including brain disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
However, chronic stress can bring about depression and anxiety. This can lead to insomnia, memory loss, poor decision making and brain fog.
When you are stressed, your adrenal gland produces the hormone Cortisol. The production of Cortisol is controlled by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland.
In small quantities, Cortisol is a good thing. But, too much Cortisol can increase the level of free radicals (unattached oxygen molecules) which can damage brain cell membranes.
If the brain cell membrane is damaged the cells can lose function and die. Stress can interfere with the production of new brain cells by signalling to the cells to prematurely “commit suicide”.
Stress Management Techniques
There is one stress management technique that can work quickly, doesn’t need expensive equipment and delivers immediate and lasting benefits. Meditation.
No, meditation is not a return to the flower-power days of the 60s. It is a recognised brain exercise and relaxation method, used by millions of people throughout the world.
The US Marines use meditation to help troops deal with the stress of military conflict.
Corporate executives in the US maximise their brain health and fitness using meditation principles. Companies like Proctor & Gamble, Nike, Apple and Google encourage their staff to practise regular meditation.
Adherents of regular meditation have improved focus, better concentration and greater creativity. They also sleep better and don’t get stressed.
Mind and Body Relaxation
It can take years, to fully master the traditional meditation techniques.
But, brainwave entrainment technology could be a shorter route to mind tranquillity and body relaxation.
Training the brain to enter a specific state using puling sound, light or electromagnetic field is known as brain entrainment. The pulses, at a pre-determined frequency, elicit the brain’s “frequency following” response, to encourage the brainwaves to align to the frequency of the pulsing.
Other proven relaxation techniques to consider include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Autogenic training
You could also try one of the latest personal biofeedback devices such as the emWave2, Muse, NeuroSky, or Thync. Most of these techniques can deliver noticeable stress relief within a few minutes.
Physical Inactivity can exacerbate MS Brain Fog
When you have limited mobility you may think that it would be unlikely that physical activity would be the answer.
However, physical activity actually burns off the stress hormone Cortisol. It increases the endorphins and gets more glucose and oxygen to the brain. You will be aware that glucose and oxygen are vital fuel for your mitochondria.
In fact, physical exercise could be the single most important factor in improving the health and function of your brain. So, if you aren’t getting enough physical exercise, your brain fog may become significantly worse.
But, you don’t need to renew your gym membership. You don’t need to be exercising strenuously to improve your brain fog. There are several simple forms of exercise that can give an energy boost to your brain.
Easy Ways To Boost Your Physical Activity
- Walk around. Gentle walking is one of the best forms of exercise for your brain. Walking helps to improve the flow of glucose and oxygen to the brain. This helps stimulate brain cell formation.
- Stand up frequently. You may have heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking”. All you need to do, to stimulate brain function, is stand up every few moments when you are sitting at your desk.
Toxins in your Home
Unfortunately, we have a lot of untested and unregulated chemicals in our homes. And you will find these nasty toxins in the most innocent-looking household products.
Toxins exist in our drinking water and in the air in and around our houses. They are in the household cleaning products and even in our food. Scarily, over the past 100 years, we have placed roughly 80,000 chemicals into our environment. But, only a few hundred of these chemicals, have been tested for safety.
While pollution outside our homes can cause cognitive problems. Think of the choking smell of diesel exhaust fumes on a busy high street. The pollution inside our homes is often ten times higher.
Your carpets, furniture and mattress can all release toxins like formaldehyde and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Even household cleaners can be bad for your health because of the toxic chemicals they contain.
Moulds, dust and pet hair can get everywhere. Air fresheners, perfume and cigarette smoke pervade every corner of the house creating a very unhealthy atmosphere. And this mix of toxic chemicals has a very detrimental effect on your brain function.
While you can’t control the atmosphere outside your home, you can make changes to improve the air quality inside your house.
Reducing Toxins in your Home
- Opt for natural cleaning products
- Don’t smoke indoors. Actually, don’t smoke!
- Unplug your automatic air fresheners
- Use a HEPA air filter/purifier in the room you sleep in.
Underlying Health Conditions
While unhealthy lifestyle choices can cause brain fog, many other health conditions also have brain fog as a consequence.
Because there is no clinical definition of brain fog, Your GP will not be able to offer you any helpful advice.
However, your doctor will be able to test for and, hopefully, treat your underlying health problem.
We MSers do not have a monopoly on cog fog suffering. Many health conditions cause brain fog and cognitive problems. To the extent that the patients of each condition, have coined their own “pet names” for the disability.
Chemo Brain A common side effect of chemotherapy used to treat cancer is a type of brain fog dubbed “chemo fog” or “chemo brain.”The American Cancer Society’s official stance is that chemo brain is caused by a combination of the disease itself, treatments, sleep problems, hormonal changes, depression, and stress. When researchers scanned patients’ brain activity before and after chemo treatments, they found chemotherapy caused observable changes in brain function indicating that chemotherapy itself plays at least some role in mental decline.
Fibro Fog Brain fog is one of the most common complaints of people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Many say their “fibro fog” is more of a disability than their pain and fatigue. People with CFS are sometimes dismissed as being hypochondriacs and told that their problems are “all in their head.” However, Stanford University researchers recently found distinct differences between the brains of patients with CFS and those of healthy people which should help put these unfortunate ideas to rest.
Lupus Fog Lupus fog is a term used to describe the cognitive impairments that almost always appear with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).In some people, lupus fog is constant but more often it waxes and wanes along with other lupus symptoms.
Thyroid Disorders The brain fog that accompanies thyroid disorders hasn’t been labelled as “thyroid fog”.According to Harvard Medical School, more than 12 million Americans have thyroid disease, many of whom still remain undiagnosed. Both hypothyroid (low) and hyperthyroid (high) conditions can cause brain fog.
Other Health Conditions The Cause MS Brain Fog
- adrenal fatigue
- brain injuries
- Candida albicans
- chronic pain
- heavy metal toxicity
- hepatitis C
- hormonal imbalances
- irritable bowel syndrome
- Lyme disease
- multiple sclerosis
- neurodegenerative disorders
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- seasonal allergies
- substance abuse
- substance withdrawal
Prescription & OTC Medications
No drug is perfect or can target an illness precisely. Every drug has side effects. And one of the most commonly reported side-effects of prescription of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs is brain fog.
Statins and cholesterol-lowering drugs are notorious for causing memory loss. All anticholinergic drugs block the action of acetylcholine, the brain learning chemical.
The most often reported side-effect of anticholinergic drugs include brain fog, forgetfulness, and inability to concentrate.
A number of popular over-the-counter (OTC) drugs also work by blocking acetylcholine including Benadryl (for allergies), Pepcid AC (for acid reflux), and Tylenol PM (for pain and insomnia).
Finding Your Personal MS Brain Fog Solution
It should be clear that there are many possible causes of brain fog. Finding the solution that works for you will be a matter of trial and error. But, restoring your ability to think with lucidity will be worth the effort.
- Experiment with your diet to try and identify foods or additives that might be exacerbating your cognitive problems
- Introduce plenty of healthy fats into your diet like olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocado and fatty fish. Fats are important nutritional building blocks for a healthy brain.
- Get regular, high-quality sleep which is often a problem with an unsettled mind.
- Exercise. It increases the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your brain and will improve the function of your mitochondria.
- Take proactive measures to reduce stress. Chronic stress often leads to brain fog and a variety of cognitive and mood disorders.
- Take an omega-3 supplement. Will benefit your overall health and your brain.
Brain fog is a catch-all phrase used to describe feelings of fuzzy thinking, mental confusion, and lack of focus.
Sometimes brain fog is caused by lifestyle factors like diet, stress, or lack of sleep and exercise.
Other times, it’s caused by an underlying health condition or is a side effect of a medication.
Be proactive about adopting a brain-healthy lifestyle and managing your health and medications.No one cares about your brain as much as you!
And remember your brain is YOU. Your body, everything in your body, your heart, your lungs and your liver is there to support your BRAIN.
New Challenge for the Mind
So far, in this post, we have looked at ways to maintain your brain health.
But, your brain is growing and improving. Every experience you have, every memory you create is enhancing the capability of your brain.
And while your brain is not a muscle, it can still benefit from a regular workout.
So how do you exercise your mind?
So how do you exercise your mind?
The infant’s brain is prepared for learning. A juvenile brain has trillions of neural connections just waiting to be used and preserved for future life. Children are born with a brain that is a sponge for new knowledge. The learning a child achieves during the early years of brain development is critical to later health and development.
How the brain grows is strongly affected by the child’s experiences with other people and the world. Responsive teaching and careful nurture are key to the healthy development of a child’s brain. Stress and trauma can have long-term negative consequences for a child exposed to these childhood pressures.
But personal interaction with a parent or caregiver encouraging talking, reading, and playing can stimulate brain growth.
Mental Health Brain Exercises
When we are born, our brain has trillions of neural connections. In the first few years of our life, many of these connections will be lost. Primarily, because we didn’t use them.
To improve our brain health we must begin to rebuild these neural connections. We do this by stretching our minds, by doing something new or by learning a new skill.
In order to improve your brain health you could try:
- Doing puzzles
- Play cards
- Build vocabulary
- Use your senses
- Learn a new skill
- Teach a skill
- Listen to music
- Try a new route
- Learn a new language
- Do tai chi
- Sum Up
There are many tools for honing your mental agility. No matter what your age, you can keep your brain healthy with challenging brain workouts. You can boost your memory, improve your focus and concentration, and speed you logical thinking. Brain exercises can make your daily tasks quicker and easier to accomplish, if you keep your brain sharp.
Get Creative with a Jigsaw Puzzle
You may only use jigsaw puzzles to keep the kids occupied but, solving a jigsaw puzzle has many brain health benefits.
Doing jigsaw puzzles recruits multiple cognitive abilities and is a protective factor for visuospatial cognitive ageing.FIAN
In other words, when putting together a jigsaw puzzle, you have to look at different pieces and figure out where they fit within the larger picture. This can be a great way to challenge and exercise your brain.
Try your hand at cards
Was the last time you had a game of cards at a family dinner party?
Research has shown that a game of cards is a marvellous brain exercise.
a quick card game can lead to greater brain volume in several regions of the brain. The same study also found that a game of cards could improve memory and thinking skills.NIMH
Brush up your card-sharp skills with:
- gin rummy
- crazy eights
But, be warned! Some of them are very, very addictive. I have lost many an afternoon to a few games of Hearts.
Build your vocabulary
Reading some of the classic works of literature will make you realise how limited your everyday vocabulary really is.
Research shows that many regions of the brain are involved in vocabulary tasks, particularly in areas that are important for visual and auditory processing.
An interesting challenge could be to:
- Keep a notebook with you when you read.
- Write down one unfamiliar word, then look up the definition.
- Try to use that word five times the next day.
My latest new word to try and squeeze into everyday chat is pecuniary. (Look it up)
Dance the Night Away
The Centers for Disease Prevention State that regaining your dance floor moves could help you get your Mojo back. Learning to dance can improve your brain health by accelerating your brain processing speed and improving your memory.
- Sign up for a salsa, tap, hip-hop, or contemporary dance class.
- A Zumba or jazz exercise class is all the rage.
- Watch an online video with fun dance moves. It could lead to better things.
- Take your partner and learn to ballroom dance.
- A social gathering for line dancing is fun exercise
Use all your Senses
A 2015 research report suggests that the simultaneous use of your senses may help strengthen your brain.
To exercise your senses, try an exercise that will simultaneously engage all five of your senses. Visit a new restaurant and focus on the smell, feel and taste of the food while absorbing the ambience and noise of the diners.
Learn a New Skill to reduce MS Brain Fog
When you learn a new skill you are not only improving your knowledge but you are strengthening your brain. Research from 2014 also shows that learning a new skill can help improve memory function in the older population.
What you learn is not so important as it is the learning process that builds new connections in your brain.
Teach a New Skill
One of the best ways to expand your learning is to teach what you have learned to someone else.
After you learn a new skill, you need to practice it. And the best way to practice it is to explain it to a friend or family member.
Listen to or play music
An easy way to increase your creative brainpower is to learn music. Listening and playing music uses a completely different part of your brain. Listening to a happy song will improve your mood. This will improve your creative thinking.
You are never too old to learn something new. Your brain is capable of learning new skills at any point in your life. The old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is wrong. It may take more effort, it may take a little longer but, you have the ability to learn at any age.
Take a New Route to MS Brain Fog Freedom
It is comforting to have a routine. Many people with a chronic illness follow a set routine because this is what they know.
But, doing things differently can actually be a benefit. Change the order of your daily tasks, take your lunch at a different time.
Take the scenic road home from work. New roads have new signposts and new landmarks. Expand your mind by extending your travel horizons.
Taking a few moments of daily meditation can calm your body, slow your breathing, and reduce stress and anxiety.
Take a few moments to relax, close your eyes, clear your mind and CHILL!
Learn a New Language
This is my favourite brain exercise and it is one that I practice nearly every day. I am learning to speak Spanish and, slowly but surely my linguistic abilities are improving.
However, the biggest benefit is the improvement in the clarity of my thinking ability.
Many studies have shown that bilingualism can improve memory, visual-spatial skills and creativity.
Importantly, being fluent in a language can delay the onset of dementia and other age-related diseases.
Start Practicing Tai Chi
Regular Tai Chi can reduce stress, enhance the quality of sleep and improve memory. Frequent users of Tao Chi can reshape the structure of their brain resulting in increased brain volume. This will be a real boon for the MSers who are worried that their brains are shrinking.
Focus on another Person
As well as improving your empathy, taking the time to note a friend’s dress sense or the colour and style of thier hair, will improve your memory and spatial awareness.
The Bottom Line of MS Brain Fog
Your mental health is important. Remember, your brain is YOU. Learning how to care for your mind will improve your health in numerous ways.
Strengthen your Mind
Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity refers to the ability of your brain to adapt to your environment and to your experiences. When you learn new skills you create neural pathways and networks in your brain. This helps you strengthen your brain making it more flexible and adaptable to change.
One extensive study involved more than 2,800 participants over the age of 65. Each engaged in one of three different forms of cognitive training:
- Speed of processing
- Memory training
- Reasoning training
The participants who received the speed of processing training showed the greatest benefit, possibly because the training involved broader brain activation patterns.
However, all three groups showed increased resistance to age-related cognitive declines. This protection was seen to last for at least five years.
Clearly, certain mental activities can have important brain benefits.
Take Care of Your Body to Take Care of Your Mind
If you want to take care of your mind, you need to start by taking care of your body.
Research has repeatedly shown that people who engage in healthy behaviours, exercise and good nutrition, are far less likely to succumb to cognitive decline of the ageing process.
It is even inferred by studies from 2006, that exercise can make you both smarter and protect you from brain shrinkage as you age.
One study found that men who follow a healthy lifestyle were 60% less likely to suffer from cognitive impairment and dementia as they get older.
A healthy lifestyle was considered, for the study, as regular exercise, maintaining a steady BMI, consuming ample vegetables and fruit and consuming little or no alcohol.
So if you want to build a better mind, go for a walk, eat plenty of fruit and kick the booze and the fags.
Brain Exercises you could try:
Draw a map of your town, from memory
This is a test of memory and spatial awareness. You may think that you know your neighbourhood like the back of your hand, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
It is almost certain that there will be holes in your memory.
Learn something new about Brain Fog
This task will require a lot of commitment but, the rewards will definitely impress you.
The best thing you can learn is something that you find difficult. The harder the challenge, the greater the benefit.
Try Using Your Non-Dominant Hand
This is very much harder than you might think. I am right-handed and I tried this exercise for a few days and it was difficult to write with my left hand, as I expected. But, it was the simpler tasks that I found the hardest. Like stirring my tea, or brushing my teeth.
Give it a try. You will be using completely virgin parts of your brain.
Be more sociable
Surprisingly, getting out to meet old friends can have a huge effect on your mental wellness.
Studies have shown that people who are more socially active have a much lower chance of developing age-related brain diseases.
Meditate to control Brain Fog
Meditation has been used for thousands of years to calm the mind and ease anxiety and stress.
Mindfulness meditation is the in-thing at the moment. This excellent brain exercise is espoused by positive psychologists, business leaders, and alternative health practitioners.
Are Brain Training Games Beneficial
Many brain training games claim that these computerized brain exercises can increase your mental flexibility, keep you mentally sharper as you age and even make you more intelligent.
While there is much debate about the veracity of these claims, brain training, in general, is a very good exercise.
However, if you already spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, it might be better to find more conventional brain training exercises.
Take-up Food Blogging to Reduce MS Brain Fog
I want to learn something completely new. Food blogging is a very competitive sphere of blogging and I relish a challenge. This will be transformative for my brain health because it will involve learning many new skills.
- Food Science
I want to learn something completely new. Food blogging is a very competitive sphere of blogging and I relish a challenge. This will be transformative for my brain health because it will involve learning many new skills.
As a way of testing the food blogging waters, I have created a new site: https://lookielikeycook.com which is not actually a food blog at this stage. But, as a food portal, I can begin to learn how to use Pinterest to drive traffic.
Pinterest is a social media platform/search engine used by millions of food bloggers. Many of the more successful food bloggers can drive thousands of visitors to their blogs using Pinterest.
Food Blogging MSer
As an example of the type of post I am able to create with this new blog, I have linked a couple of random Posts.
These are but a fraction of the number of posts I can create using a simple portal philosophy. Search Engines are reputed to love RoundUp posts and that is exactly what I am producing.
This type of post has the advantage that I can never, in theory, run out of new post ideas.
Furthermore, it will keep me gainfully employed for as long as I want it to. It will not only keep my brain active, warding off dementia. But, it will definitely stretch my mind while I come to grips with all the new challenges I know I am going to encounter.
Understanding and Managing Uhthoffs Phenomenon
The Gut Brain Connection: How the Microbiome Affects Emotional and Brain Health
4 Tips For Living With Chronic Pain, From Someone With Multiple Sclerosis
Cognitive Slip Blog