Brain Fog and Your Immune System: What’s the Connection?

Studies show that improving your immune system health may help treat brain fog symptoms.

Life throws enough curve balls to keep most people on their toes, but add brain fog and fatigue to the mix and daily challenges can become overwhelming.

What Cause Brain Fog?

There are several known causes of brain fog. According to Natural Solutions Magazine, February 24, 2009, five major causes are:

  • Stress. Chronic stress overstimulates the brain. Turning down the volume helps repair damage done to brain and nerve cells.
  • Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Both of these are relatively recently recognized disorders that can cause impaired mental function. Magnesium might alleviate symptoms of both disorders.[i] Light to moderate exercise can boost the immune system and improve mood and sleep. Brain fog is also a hallmark symptom of Hepatitis C.
  • Fatigue.  As obvious as it sounds, tiredness and fatigue affects the gray matter. Lack of sleep can cause symptoms mimicking mental illness. We need from seven to nine hours of sleep per night—and quality counts. Don’t check email or do work right before going to bed. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks late in the day. Practice calming techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing.
  • Nutrient deficiencies. Your brain is cranking through nutrients at a furious pace. Make sure a steady supply is at hand. Vitamins C and E have been shown to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The B vitamins can help improve memory. Zinc, Co-Q10, and essential fatty acids also help maintain healthy brain function.[ii]
  • Depression. Almost 10 percent of Americans suffer from depression, which can cause difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions .[iii]

Neurotransmitter-boosting supplements, such as SAMe and 5-HTP help lift levels of dopamine and serotonin. St. John’s Wort may be a great option for minor depression.[iv] “For many,  brain fog can be severe and can have just as big an impact on their lives as pain or fatigue. In fact, some people say brain fog is more of a disability than their physical symptoms.”[v]

Brain Fog Symptoms: What are They?

Symptoms of brain fog can range from mild to severe, and frequently vary from day to day and not everyone has all of them. Brain fog symptoms include:

  • Word use and recall: Difficulty recalling known words, use of incorrect words, slow recall of names.
  • Short-term memory problems: Forgetfulness, inability to remember what’s read or heard.
  • Directional disorientation: Not recognizing familiar surroundings, easily becoming lost, having trouble recalling where things are.
  • Multitasking difficulties: Inability to pay attention to more than one thing, forgetfulness of original task when distracted.
  • Confusion and trouble concentrating: Trouble processing information easily distracted.
  • Math/number difficulties: Difficulty performing simple math, remembering sequences, transposing numbers, trouble remembering numbers.[vi]

Some people may also have other types of cognitive dysfunction.

Treating Brain Fog

Supplements are a common choice. Some doctors and people with these conditions say they’ve seen supplements help with cognitive function. Common brain-fog supplements include:

  • 5-HTP
  • B vitamins
  • Carnitine
  • Choline
  • Omega-3 (Fish Oil)
  • Rhodiola
  • St. John’s Wort
  • SAM-e
  • Theanine

Some doctors recommend making changes to your diet to include “brain-friendly” foods to boost overall brain health, which include:

  • Fish (Omega-3)
  • Canola or walnut oil (Omega-3)
  • Eggs (Choline)
  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Carbohydrates

Research shows that engaging in moderate exercise can also help improve cognitive function and contribute to better brain health.

Brain Fog and Hepatitis C

“Where are my keys?” What did I do with that book?” What time was I supposed to meet John?” Almost everyone – including people living with hepatitis C – forgets where they place things or has missed a meeting because they forgot the day or time of the appointment,” writes Alan Franciscus, Editor-in-Chief of

Mr. Franciscus adds that the exact cause of brain fog in people with hepatitis C is poorly understood but there have been some recent studies that may explain the higher incidence of brain fog in the hepatitis C population. “One study found that since the hepatitis C virus crosses the blood-brain barrier there is some low level inflammation in the brain that would affect cognitive function.

A study in 2010 found that the hepatitis C virus destroys brain neurons and inhibits the removal of debris from the brain. Other experts speculate that the cause of brain fog may be due to the fact that the immune system is overstimulated trying to fight the hepatitis C virus. This process involves the immune system’s activation of the body’s innate defense system that produces killer cells, and a certain protein called interferon. The result of the natural production of interferon is that the body goes into an attack mode and this process produces side effects such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain as well as general cognitive dysfunction – this is the same process that occurs when someone catches the common cold or the flu.”[vii]

“Brain fog is different than the gradual memory loss that comes with aging – it is a sign of another underlying problem that may involve the immune system,” says Dr. Roger Mazlen M.D. of Long Island, N.Y. “Whether it appears gradually or suddenly, see a doctor to try to determine if there is an immunity or disease causing the symptom. Try to find relief through natural supplementation, if possible,” he said.

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