A new study has shown what we have known for some time in functional medicine: Chronic inflammation causes brain fog and mental sluggishness — many people with chronic health conditions report these symptoms.
In the study, 20 healthy young male volunteers received a salmonella typhoid vaccine, which temporarily spikes inflammation. On separate days they received a placebo shot of saline and did not know on which day they received the vaccine.
They were then given cognitive testing in areas challenging alertness, prioritizing sensory information, and the ability to make executive decisions when presented with conflicting information.
The results showed that the area affected by the inflammation from the vaccine was alertness. The other two areas did not change.
The researchers suggested that inflammation impacts brain networks involved in mental alertness and that anti-inflammatory drugs may be warranted.
Functional medicine approaches to brain inflammation and brain fog
Fortunately, functional medicine offers solutions for brain fog and mental sluggishness. The key is to find and address the source of chronic inflammation.
But first, do you suffer from these symptoms associated with brain inflammation?
- Brain fog
- Unclear thoughts
- Low brain endurance
- Slow mental speed
- Loss of brain function after trauma
- Brain fog and fatigue and poor mental focus after meals
- Brain fog and fatigue from chemicals, scents, and pollutants
- Brain fog and fatigue from certain foods
While the brain can become inflamed, we may not necessarily know it as we don’t feel pain from brain inflammation (headaches are caused by other mechanisms although brain inflammation can play a role).
Instead, brain inflammation most often manifests as brain fog and sluggish brain function.
This is because brain inflammation hinders energy production in neurons, making it harder for them to communicate with one another. This causes the brain to slow down and fatigue more easily. Things like reading, working, concentrating, or driving for any length cause fatigue.
The brain has its own immune system made primarily of microglia cells. In the past they were considered nothing more than glue that held brain cells together, but now we know they are very important and outnumber neurons ten to one.
The brain’s immune cells do not have a built-in off switch like the body’s immune cells. As a result, brain inflammation can burn through brain tissue like a slow-moving fire, worsening brain function over time. We see this often in people suffering from symptoms from a brain injury they had years ago.
Also, when not fighting inflammation, the microglia cells carry out very important and necessary “housekeeping” work that keeps the brain healthy and functioning.
Healthy microglia get rid of dead neurons, beta amyloid plaque, and other debris that interfere with nerve communication. They also support neuron metabolism and synapses.
This is especially true in children, whose brain immune cells help “prune” developing neural pathways so that the brain develops as it should. Children whose brains are besieged by inflammation suffer from glitches in these pathways and their brain does not follow healthy developmental patterns.
Brain inflammation not only causes brain fog and mental sluggishness, it also accelerates the degeneration of the brain. This raises the risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and more.
In fact, brain aging is linked more to brain inflammation than simply getting older.
What leads to brain inflammation and brain fog?
Basically, chronic inflammation anywhere in the body can inflame the brain. This can include chronic joint pain, infections from bacteria, viruses, or parasites, leaky gut or gut inflammation, or an undiagnosed and unmanaged autoimmune condition.
Inflammation in the body releases immune cells called cytokines. These cytokines can trigger inflammation in the brain.
Brain inflammation is now being recognized as a primary cause of chronic, unresponsive depression. After all, antidepressants do not address brain inflammation.
If you have brain fog or mental sluggishness, see if any of these factors could be contributing:
- Diabetes and high blood sugar
- Poor circulation
- Lack of exercise
- Chronic stress
- Heart disease
- Respiratory issues
- Previous head trauma
- Neurological autoimmunity
- Gluten and dairy intolerance
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Environmental pollutants
- Systemic inflammation
- Autoimmune diseases
- Inflammatory bowel conditions
- Leaky blood-brain barrier
Taming brain inflammation
If you start to feel more mental clarity when addressing underlying causes of brain fog, that means you’re on the right track.
While working on the dietary and lifestyle factors that trigger brain fog, the following compounds can also help dampen brain inflammation:
The amount you take depends on the degree of brain inflammation. Ask my office for more information.
Exercise may seem like a bad idea when you feel run down, in pain, or fatigued from an autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity, a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, can make exercise feel like an impossible feat when you’re not feeling good.
However, studies show daily physical activity improves outcomes and helps manage symptoms compared to not exercising at all. This even extends to patients who may stop exercising due to pain, such as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. No matter how small the effort, something is better than nothing when it comes to regular physical activity and autoimmunity.
Exercise guidelines for autoimmunity
Exercise has many general benefits, the best perhaps being that it simply makes you feel better. People who engage in regular physical activity report less depression and better self-esteem, and are happier. These benefits alone support autoimmune management as a positive mindset is more anti-inflammatory compared to a negative one.
However, when it comes to autoimmunity, exercise delivers specific immune benefits. In fact, you’ll never reach your full potential at managing an autoimmune condition unless regular physical activity is part of your protocol.
In studies, regular exercise has been shown to help dampen autoimmunity in patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other conditions. Studies have also shown that sedentary patients have higher incidences of autoimmune diseases than more active patients.
Research also shows that as a trend, patients with autoimmune disease tend to be more sedentary. This is understandable — autoimmune disease can make you feel poorly much of the time and our cultural depictions of exercise make it seem unattainable. The pressure to be a hard-bodied athlete who flips tractor tires and runs up stadium stairs can lead to resignation instead of physical activity.
But the benefits of physical activity for autoimmunity don’t have to come from intense workouts at a CrossFit gym, long runs, or two-hour weightlifting sessions to deliver benefits. Your fitness level, symptoms, and energy levels will determine what is appropriate for you.
To be effective in managing autoimmunity, exercise can be as simple as a short walk around the block if you’re just getting started. If chronic pain is an issue, exercising in water or on a recumbent stationary cycle may be more appropriate. If you’re feeling good and have been building your fitness, daily high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which activates a wide number of anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating mechanisms, can super charge the autoimmune-dampening benefits of your workouts.
While it’s important to exercise regularly, equally important is to not overdo it. Overtraining increases inflammation and can and lead to exercise intolerance, a condition in which exercise makes you feel worse, takes an unusual amount of time to recover from, or triggers a relapse or flare.
Exercise intolerance stems from compromised mitochondria related to chronic inflammation associated with autoimmunity.
Also, for some people with autoimmunity, there are days where they are bedridden with flu-like symptoms and barely able to function, much less exercise. Approach your physical activity habit with common sense and self-compassion — some days it just won’t be appropriate and that’s ok. Ease back into it when you feel better.
If you would like help understanding the Benefits of Exercise for Autoimmunity, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Why exercise is good for autoimmunity
The primary benefit of exercise with autoimmunity is that it lowers inflammation and stabilizes immune function. Because inflammatory flare ups provoke autoimmune relapses and tissue destruction, keeping inflammation down and immune function stable is paramount.
Physical activity increases the activity of regulatory T cells. These cells are critical when it comes to managing autoimmunity. As their name implies, they help regulate the immune system when it comes to increasing or dampening inflammation. Exercise has a profound impact on regulatory T cells.
Exercise also shifts the balance between the pro-inflammatory Th1 system and the anti-inflammatory Th2 system to be less inflammatory and more balanced.
It also promotes the release of messenger immune cells called IL-6, which help dampen inflammation.
A study on the effects of exercise on women with lupus showed that three months of regular aerobic exercise modulated immunity and did not trigger inflammation.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis show milder symptoms and improved joint mobility with regular exercise.
In patients with multiple sclerosis, physical activity enhanced mood and mobility. Exercise lowers the risk of neuropathy in type 1 diabetes patients.
Many people feel they can’t exercise due to pain, but research has shown it reduces pain in patients with fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions that cause pain.
If you feel too unwell to exercise, ask yourself what you feel you can reasonably do and start there. Ask my office for more advice on using physical activity to address autoimmunity.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
As if managing an autoimmune condition isn’t hard enough, traveling and holiday schedules can make it downright daunting. Staying with relatives, life on the road and in airports, trying to prepare a good meal in a hotel room, and constantly being offered foods that will throw your autoimmune symptoms into a tailspin all present constant challenges. However, sticking to your autoimmune protocol and diet as much as possible will help prevent flares and relapses so you don’t spend the holidays crashed in bed.
So how do you manage? First, check in with your stress levels. Stress is one of the most potent triggers for flare ups, so commit to a no-stress, can-do attitude. You simply need to invest in a little advance planning and strategic thinking.
Following are tips to stick to your autoimmune protocol and diet while traveling.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry! Letting yourself get overly hungry is the biggest saboteur of the best laid plans. It’s only natural to want to eat when your energy is flagging and you’re starving. This will make you more likely to eat trigger foods, such as gluten or dairy.
If you would like help understanding Autoimmune flares during travels, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Map out your options at your destination before you arrive. Is there a Whole Foods or other health food market in the area? Will your hotel room have a fridge?
You can also travel with frozen food you have insulated to heat up at your destination. Some people even bring their own hot plate and cookware.
Also, make sure you have plenty to eat on long flights, such as beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, coconut meat, and other filling snacks.
Pack plenty of anti-inflammatory support. Traveling during the holidays is stressful. As much as we love them, sometimes our family members can be stressful. Make sure to save space in your check-in luggage for your go-to anti-inflammatory supplements, such as liposomal glutathione, resveratrol, and turmeric. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant and essential for preventing and taming autoimmune flares. Liposomal resveratrol and turmeric in high doses are also great.
Early morning flights, long travel days, overstuffed flights, Aunt June’s air freshener, uncomfortable guest beds, and so on — these stressors can deplete glutathione and raise inflammation, so have your arsenal handy.
Effective anti-inflammatory supplements include glutathione precursors such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle. You can also take s-acetyl-glutathione, or an oral liposomal glutathione. Note that taking straight glutathione is not effective. You also may want to bring a bottle each of a powerful liquid liposomal resveratrol and turmeric — ask my office for more info.
Search ahead for unscented hotel rooms. Sadly, some hotel rooms can knock you over with the sickly perfume stench as soon as you walk through the door. Or the rooms are dusty and stale. Look for hotels that offer scent-free, allergy-friendly rooms with hypoallergenic bedding, air purifiers, and windows that open. Or at least ask them to air out the room for you before you arrive.
Carry a mask to avoid inhaling triggers. Sometimes you’re simply trapped in an environment that is overly scented, smoky, or potentially triggering in some other way. Just in case the woman next to you on the plane reeks of perfume, keep a face mask with you so you can breathe safely. Invest in a quality face mask that allows you to breathe comfortably. If you wear glasses look for one that won’t fog them up. Some companies also make face masks for children.
Schedule in alone time, time away, and time to rest. It’s too easy for a vacation to feel like an overbearing job. Make sure you take naps, read, meditate, or go for peaceful walks. Stress is one of the most powerful inflammatory toxins, so create and enforce boundaries to keep yours as low as you can.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Have you been googling for ways to improve your hypothyroid or brain condition and come across suggestions to test MTHFR. What is MTHFR and what does it have to do with hypothyroidism or the brain? If you are one of the 60 percent of people with a genetic defect in the MTHFR gene, it could affect your ability to successfully manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or brain-based symptoms.
MTHFR is the acronym for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme involved in processing folate, or vitamin B9, into a usable form the body can assimilate. It’s also necessary to metabolize folic acid, a synthetic form of folate used in supplements.
Thanks to the popularity of gene testing, people can now learn whether they have a mutation in the MTHFR gene. If so, it means their methylation pathways are impacted and contributing to health challenges.
Methylation pathways govern detoxification and many important metabolic processes in the body, which makes a MTHFR defect something worth paying attention to. If you are struggling to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or brain-based symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, or depression, you may find the MTHFR test valuable.
If you would like help understanding MTHFR, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Methylation is a process of adding a methyl group to a molecule. Methylation’s roles jobs include the following:
- Turning genes on and off
- Detoxifying chemicals and toxins from the body
- Building brain neurotransmitters
- Metabolizing hormones to maintain hormonal balance
- Building immune cells
- Synthesizing DNA and RNA
- Creating cellular energy
- Producing a protective coating that sheathes the nerves
- Metabolizing histamine
- Supporting eye health
- Burning fat
- Supporting liver health
Proper methylation means one can efficiently make proteins, use antioxidants, metabolize hormones, enjoy more balanced brain chemistry, detoxify toxins and heavy metals, and dampen inflammation. All of these factors are vital to managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and brain-based symptoms.
However, if you’re one of the 60 percent of people with a MTHFR genetic defect, you may not be able to properly break down folate in foods or folic acid in supplements.
An inability to properly process folate can raise levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the bloodstream that can be dangerous when levels are too high. High homocysteine is linked to an elevated risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Poor methylation also impacts another vital process — the production of glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant. When we become deficient in glutathione, we lose our natural defenses and are at higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases, food sensitivities, and chemical sensitivities.
An MTHFR defect can also impair the body’s ability to synthesize important brain neurotransmitters, so that brain-based disorders may arise. An MTHFR defect has been linked to depression, anxiety, brain fog, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.
Because methylation is involved in so many important processes in the body, an MTHFR gene defect has been associated with many health conditions, including:
- Heart attack
- Venous thrombosis
- Birth defects
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Mental and mood disorders
- Autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
If you are trying to manage a condition like Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or brain-based symptoms, it’s imperative that you be able to dampen inflammation and raise glutathione levels. An MTHFR defect can work against you.
Fortunately, it can be easy to address.
First of all, you can test for MTHFR gene mutations through genetic testing companies such as Spectracell or 23andme.com, and get an interpretation at geneticgenie.org.
More than 50 MTHFR genetic mutations exist, but the two considered the most problematic are C677T and A1298C (written as just 677 and 1298).
Also, keep in mind gene defects don’t always become activated. If you show those genes on a test it doesn’t necessarily mean they have been expressed and are causing symptoms.
To address a MTHFR enzyme defect, support your methylation pathways with methylfolate and methylcobalamin (methyl B12). Avoid supplements with folic acid, boost your glutathione levels with high quality oral liposomal glutathione, and minimize your exposure to toxins. These are also beneficial strategies to aid in the management of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and brain-based symptoms.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
If you are working to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other chronic or autoimmune disorder, you may have heard a positive attitude is good for your health. And it’s true — positive thinking, gratitude, and healthy socialization have all been linked to better health outcomes. However, chasing a positive attitude can have a dark side.
It’s common to hear “just think positive,” “focus on the good,” “don’t dwell on the negative,” and so forth. But the truth is, sometimes life circumstances are awful and sometimes people do horrible things to others.
The demand for a positive attitude when it’s not appropriate is known as toxic positivity. Avoiding or denying negative emotions only makes them bigger and more persistent — and hence more inflammatory for your system if you have an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Also, negativity exists as a survival trait. It alerts you to danger, or if something isn’t right.
In fact, telling someone who is suffering that they just need to be positive is referred to as spiritual bypassing or gaslighting. Spiritual bypassing is an attempt to use false positivity to bypass a difficult issue, and gaslighting occurs when someone tries to make you feel like you’re crazy when you express uncomfortable thoughts or feelings.
Many autoimmune patients have felt gaslighted by doctors who insinuated they were making up their symptoms or just seeking attention.
If you would like help to understand more Positivity in life connected to health, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Practice mindfulness, not just positivity
It’s normal to want to avoid negative and unpleasant emotions because they are uncomfortable and distressing. As such, we think of them as “bad.” But they are not there to be banished us but rather to guide us through life and help us make decisions that protect and support us.
Instead of denying them through forced positivity or drowning them out through whatever addiction or bad habit is our go-to, psychologists say we should listen to what they reflect about a current situation.
For instance, if you’re frustrated and angry about your health, it means you care about yourself and being able to participate in life. Allowing and accepting our negative thoughts and feelings can help us understand who we are and make good choices.
Resilience and self-care are the bedrocks of positivity
In self-help circles some tout the theory that bad things happen if you think negative thoughts, but the truth is bad things happen to everyone on a regular basis. Positivity isn’t about feeling good all the time, but rather about practicing resilience and positive self-talk in the face of adversity.
Do you practice these negative self-talk habits?
- You filter out the good parts of an experience and dwell on the bad.
- You think you are to blame for when things go wrong, or that it’s only happening to you and other people are luckier.
- You catastrophize and make problems out to be much bigger than they really are.
- You polarize things into very good or very bad and fail to see that most things in life have a grey area.
Practicing positivity through bad things means avoiding the temptation of despair and hopelessness and instead becoming your own cheerleader and coach.
Positivity is a practice, not a destination
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that positivity is something that takes ongoing practice and application. It is like playing an instrument or a sport — you have to keep up with it to be proficient.
This is the concept of neuroplasticity in how the brain works. By applying yourself regularly to the practice of positivity, you hardwire new neural pathways into your brain, which makes you more efficient at positivity over time. And if you have a chronic autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, every time you practice positivity you also release anti-inflammatory chemicals in your body that help tame inflammation and modulate immunity.
Try these tricks at learning how to be a more resilient, positive thinker who can also handle the negative aspects of life:
- If an area of your life is constant major stressor, whether it’s a job or relationship, start strategizing on how to change it.
- Check yourself throughout the day to see if your thoughts are negative or positive.
- Seek out humor. Laughing at life reduces its weight and lowers stress.
- Follow a healthy diet to lower inflammation. Many studies now prove what we eat affects how we feel. Eat food that feeds a good mood.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Generating feel-good endorphins through exercise beats any addictive substance or habit. It makes it easier to practice positivity and weather the storms.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Although we all have down days and need to vent, incessantly negative people can make it hard to stay positive. Seek out and cultivate friendships with other people who also practice positivity.
- Pay attention to how you frame things. We all say things that can be reframed more positively. For instance, if you make a mistake, instead of saying, “I’m such an idiot,” reframe it to something like, “Whoops, I’ll see if I can get it right next time.”
- Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you care about. Chances are you would never talk to someone you love the way you talk to yourself. Make self-respect and self-care a priority in your self-talk.
Some people were taught healthy positive self-talk in childhood by their parents and teachers. Others have to learn it later in life. Either way, it’s a skill that simply takes awareness and practice in order to develop the resilience to see you through the tough times of dealing with an autoimmune or chronic health disorder such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Anyone who has learned how to manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or another autoimmune condition will tell you they had to learn it on their own. The vast majority of doctors either do not test for or do not adequately treat Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and damages the thyroid gland, causing weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, depression, and other symptoms. Now, the ability to find health advice backed by peer-reviewed, scientific literature is seriously compromised due to censorship, or blacklisting, by Google. Google is increasingly censoring legitimate information and instead sends people to conventional medical, pharmaceutical-oriented sources of information such as WebMd.
Most doctors do not adequately test for or treat autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism because there is no drug for autoimmunity. True, people are prescribed thyroid hormone replacement medication, which is frequently necessary. However, it does not address the ongoing and progressively worsening immune attack on the thyroid gland. That is why many people do not feel better when they begin taking thyroid hormone.
If you would like help understanding Autoimmunity, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
The lack of adequate autoimmune care in conventional medicine means millions of people go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. In most cases, autoimmune destruction has to be advanced and severe before an autoimmune disease can be diagnosed and treated with steroids, surgery, or other methods that are invasive and riddled with side effects and problems. For instance, nerve damage has to be significantly advanced before conditions such as multiple sclerosis or type 1 diabetes are caught, while patients suffer for years.
Add to this studies that show the inherent sexism in conventional medicine. Women account for more than three-quarters of autoimmune patients. Yet when women go their doctors with complaints of autoimmune symptoms, most are not adequately tested. Instead, they are told they have depression or anxiety, that they need to lose weight and exercise, that they are making it up, or that it’s just aging.
Until now, millions of people have been able to successfully learn how to manage their Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and other autoimmune conditions through online sources based on peer-reviewed science. They have also been able to find healthcare practitioners who are knowledgeable in how to apply this science to help manage chronic conditions.
Please note that just because something is in the published scientific literature, that does not mean your local medical doctor is either aware of it or supports it. There is a huge gulf between the scientific literature and the doctor’s office, with pharmaceutical companies wielding significant influence over doctors’ practices and education.
Now, Google is limiting our access to legitimate information and redirecting searches toward conventional sources, which are extremely limited when it comes to chronic illness.
True, opportunists and snake oil salesmen abound on the internet and consumers must do their due diligence in rooting out valid sources of information and good communities to help them on their health journey.
Vitriolic corporate-driven public controversies lend a hand in the Google censorship. Rather than looking at the peer-reviewed literature on the links between environmental toxins and brain inflammation in the developing child’s brain for instance, complex neuroimmune topics have been reduced to crude black-and-white arguments that have no basis in relevant neurophysiological mechanisms.
While Google is penalizing many science-backed integrative health sites so they no longer show up on the first page, other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and Ecosia (a search engine that plants trees based on searches) still rank sites legitimately.
About one billion health questions a day come through Google. Now, they are routing those searches away from such well-known sites as Mercola, PaleoHacks, Bulletproof, GreenMedInfo, Self-Hacked, Kelly Brogan, and many more.
Instead, seekers are routed to sites such as WebMD, Healthline, Mayo Clinic, and other institutional sites. While these sites offer worthwhile information, they are not yet caught up to the science surrounding the many chronic illnesses that have become so common today. They even provide false information in some instances, especially in regards to nutritional compounds.
Google is unfairly throwing its weight around in other industries as well, and the EU levied its third antitrust fine against Google earlier this year.
Don’t let Google bully you into Big Pharma’s pipelines. If you are looking for sources of legitimate health information that have been blacklisted by Google, try alternative sites such as Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and Ecosia.
In the meantime, we attend educational conferences to stay up to date on the latest research and clinical protocols to help manage autoimmune and chronic conditions such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. As the field is ever evolving, it’s important to stay abreast of developments. Contact my office if you need help managing your chronic health condition.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.