BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – If you’ve ever felt like you’ve been extremely forgetful and unable to concentrate for several days in a row, you’re not alone.
According to Dr. Sabina Brennan, a neuroscientist who wrote a book called ‘Beating brain fog,’ it’s estimated that around 600 million people suffer from the effects of brain fog.
Brennan’s book defines brain fog as “a collection of symptoms which give rise to loss of mental clarity or foggy thinking.”
While brain fog is not in itself viewed as a medical condition, the term ‘cognitive dysfunction’ is often used as a clinical description of the issue.
So, what are the possible causes of cognitive dysfunction or brain fog?
Experts suggest a number of possible culprits behind the foggy state of mind, and four such suspects are listed below.
#1 A lack of routine
During an interview with CNBC, Dr. Brennan explained that the human brain loves patterns and when the basic routine (or pattern) of our day-to-day lives are upset, this can impede our brain’s ability to function effectively.
The CNBC article says, “The brain is constantly scanning for patterns. This is so it can carry out “automated behavior using far less resources”… The thinking part of the brain is really only engaged at the beginning and end of an activity, “like a bookend,” with the emotional, or limbic, section of the brain taking care of the rest.”
According to Brennan, “it’s effortless, it’s autopilot. You hear a lot about people saying we spend too much time on autopilot — that may be true — but we must spend some time on autopilot, otherwise our brain is overwhelmed completely.”
So, when our day-to-day routine is upset, it isn’t uncommon for the brain to have difficulty identifying a pattern, which results in the brain becoming overwhelmed. And this is when brain fog takes center stage.
According to one report, up to 81 percent of pregnant women reported experiencing brain fog. It’s such a common occurrence that a number of people refer to the state of mind as ‘pregnancy brain.’
A related article on the website, What to Expect explains that the forgetfulness and inability to concentrate that occur during pregnancy are the result of hormonal changes and sometimes, a lack of sleep.
The article states, “research has actually shown that your brain really does function differently during pregnancy, increasing activity in the side associated with emotional skills (in theory to ensure you’re neurologically attuned to your baby’s facial emotions at birth, so you bond more easily).”
To be more specific about one of the changes that happens in the brain during pregnancy, a point of research mentioned in a related article from Very Well Family states, “One study found that gray matter actually shrinks in areas of the brain associated with processing and responding to social signals. The study’s lead author, Elseline Hoekzema, noted that this does not mean that ‘pregnancy makes you lose your brain.'”
It continues, “Instead, Hoekzema suggests, the loss of brain volume in these areas may indicate a process of maturation and specialization, allowing parents to become more focused and attuned to the needs of their infants. These alterations in gray matter volume endure for at least two years after childbirth, and they are linked to a stronger parent-child bond.”
So, the changes in hormonal functioning and alterations in brain processing that occur during pregnancy may result in temporary brain fog, but most experts agree that it all appears to be for a good cause.
#3 Chronic illness
Sometimes chronic illness such as lupus, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Sjögren syndrome, and celiac disease can trigger brain fog.
For example, when a person has multiple sclerosis (MS), WebMD says this illness affects the central nervous system in a way that changes “the way your brain ‘talks’ to the rest of your body.”
WebMD goes on to explain that this change often impacts memory, attention, ability to plan, and to communicate, hence brain fog.
Similar issues can occur in patients with chronic illnesses that impact the immune system, such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, Sjögren syndrome, and celiac disease.
Though there is no known cure for any of the conditions mentioned above, maintenance of each illness with the assistance of a healthcare professional and even with a licensed therapist may be incredibly helpful in decreasing the impacts of brain fog.
Women in their 40’s and 50’s are often impacted by the effects of menopause for about four years, and one of the symptoms is usually brain fog.
According to Healthline, when these women experience brain fog, it “may also be connected with sleep issues and vascular symptoms associated with menopause, like hot flashes.”
The article goes on to explain that the foggy thinking is likely also triggered by changes in the body’s production of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone. Healthline says that during menopause, “hormone levels may fluctuate wildly and cause a range of symptoms as the body and mind adjust.”
Women who suffer from severe brain fog during menopause might chose to explore Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) with the assistance of their healthcare professional.
In addition to the four possible reasons for brain fog listed above, scientists say that sometimes cloudy thinking can be caused by a lack of sleep, depression, or by certain medications.
If brain fog seems to frequently upset your daily activities, it might be helpful to schedule an appointment with a trusted doctor and explain what’s happening. With their assistance, it’s likely you’ll get to the root of the problem and figure out how to address it.