Here’s How to Overcome Brain Fog and Chronic Fatigue
Here at the BioDesign Wellness Center, new patients often come to us reporting that they are always tired and cannot focus — not at home, work, or school. Many have already sought help from one or more conventional medical practitioners. Some have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment but experiencing little to no relief.
Many of these patients they’ve been told that they have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or some other condition commonly linked to fatigue. Worse, some are led to believe that nothing physically is wrong — that fatigue and brain fog are normal in the high-stress world in which we live.
Nearly all these patients are frustrated; many are on the verge of despair.
We are writing this post to inform you that although chronic fatigue is common, it is not normal. Many people living in this same hectic world and often working long hours in highly stressful jobs manage to remain energetic and clear-headed. What’s their secret? They don’t have an underlying medical condition that is making them feel tired all the time and impairing their brain function.
A healthy body does not naturally feel worn out, even when dealing with a hectic lifestyle. In fact, unless you have a clear reason to feel tired all the time — for example, you’re working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and your baby or your neighbor’s dog keeps you up all night — you shouldn’t be feeling that way. If you’re eating right, you’re physically active, you’re getting 6–8 hours of sleep per night, and you still feel tired or unfocused during the day, something’s wrong — you have a medical condition that requires treatment.
In this blog, we cover how to move away from fatigue and brain fog and toward increasing energy focus and vitality. You and your doctor need to take it seriously, acknowledge the problem, and work together to identify the root cause(s) and come up with a plan of care to restore your health, including your mental acuity. The bottom line is this: Solutions exist. Be persistent until you receive treatment that restores your energy and focus.
The Conventional Medicine Approach
Conventional medicine effectively treats acute medical conditions — broken bones, bacterial infections, appendicitis, heart attack, stroke, and other conditions that have a clear cause and that respond well to medication, surgery, or other traditional medical interventions. It is far less effective in treating chronic health conditions such as thyroid disease, chronic fatigue, depression, menopause, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
These illnesses, and many others, are complex, and their root cause(s) are often difficult to pin down. Treatments typically target only symptoms, leaving the root causes untouched — reasons such as poor nutrition; poor sleep; lack of exercise (or excessive or counterproductive exercise regimens); exposure to environmental toxins; leaky gut; and so on.
Identifying the Root Causes of Chronic Fatigue and Brain Fog
Brain fog and fatigue fog are symptoms that healthcare practitioners — especially those without formal training in functional medicine — have difficulty attributing to any of the illnesses they commonly treat. As a result, they often attribute these symptoms to anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or other imprecise diagnoses. They simply cannot explain what makes you feel the way you do.
Fatigue and brain fog are early warning signs of inflammation, which can occur anywhere in the body, including the brain. Here’s a short list of conditions associated with fatigue, many of which also involve inflammation:
- Chronic infection — COVID, Epstein Barr virus (EBV), Lyme disease
- Chronic stress
- Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroid disease)
- Heart disease
- Hypothyroid or hyperthyroid (underactive or overactive thyroid)
- Irritable bowel disease
- Liver disease
- Lupus and other autoimmune conditions
- Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- Traumatic brain injury/concussion
Fatigue can be associated with almost any health condition, which is not surprising. When the body is stressed, fatigue is one way of telling you that your body is lacking something it needs or is working overtime to address an imbalance, such as a hidden infection, a toxic overload, or a nutritional deficiency.
Some people are able to avoid fatigue even though they work hard, have families, and deal with stressful events in life. This happens when all systems in the body are in balance or homeostasis (the medical term for balance).
Learn more here: The Functional Medicine Approach to Recovering from Burnout
Homeostasis is the process by which your body maintains balance and health. To better understand this concept, imagine your body has a complex thermostat sensitive to infection. When infectious bacteria enter your system, your internal thermostat raises your body temperature to a too high level for the bacteria to survive. As the bacteria die off, your body’s thermostat returns your temperature to normal.
However, when homeostatic mechanisms malfunction, it becomes difficult for your body to restore balance, leading to fatigue and a loss of energy and focus. To correct chronic fatigue, it is important to identify and address any factors that may be disrupting your body’s natural homeostatic processes.
Exploring Causes and Solutions for Chronic Fatigue
Here are some of the more common causes and solutions for chronic fatigue:
Low ferritin (iron storage) levels in the blood.
Low ferritin is associated with a variety of anemias (hemoglobin deficiencies). We need iron for the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in our cells. Many doctors check iron, red blood cells, and hematocrit, all of which can appear normal even when ferritin is low. Low ferritin is common in women who are menstruating, and while the answer for fatigue is not always found in supplementing with iron, it certainly can be.
Elevated ferritin is a sign of a genetic disorder or chronic inflammation. Either way, it needs to be addressed, and a simple test can reveal a deficiency or elevation. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t order the test.
B vitamin deficiency.
A variety of B vitamin deficiencies can cause anemia, the most common being B12, B9, and B6. Checking blood levels of B vitamins can sometimes reveal the problem, but most providers are not routinely checking for deficiencies. Additionally, checking B12 and folate in the blood is not a reliable way of knowing for sure whether these vitamins are working optimally in your body.
Patients need to be checked for their ability to convert these vitamins into usable form. About 20 percent of the population has a problem with the methylation of B vitamins.
Your doctor should order comprehensive thyroid tests — not only traditional tests that check thyroid function but also tests to check for thyroid antibodies. Many patients we see have been chronically tired and did not know they had an autoimmune condition affecting the thyroid (Hashimoto’s). Antibodies can be present years before the traditional thyroid labs show disease.
Exposure to toxic mold.
Have your home and workplace (or the school you attend) tested for mold? Mold exposure is more common than you or your doctor may think and often causes multiple health problems, with fatigue and brain fog leading the pack.
As we age, our hormone levels naturally decline, which can contribute to feeling fatigued. However, hormone decline is not the only cause of fatigue, and there may be other underlying issues, such as anemia, B-vitamin deficiency, thyroid dysfunction, or environmental factors, that also need to be addressed. Once these issues have been resolved, hormone replacement therapy may be a helpful treatment option for managing fatigue.
Cellular damage and dysfunction.
A variety of peptides (small proteins derived in a lab) targeted to various body systems can help reduce brain inflammation, support tissue repair and healing, modulate immunity, improve circadian rhythm, and energize mitochondria (the energy-production facilities inside cells). Peptides can help boost energy while slowing the aging process at the cellular level. Peptides include KPV, BPC, Ipamorelin CJC, Thymulin, Epitalon, and others.
Lifestyle includes diet, exercise, stress levels, relationship building, counseling, and so on. What we do influences our health more than most of us think it does. Here at the BioDesign Wellness Center, we collaborate closely with patients to make lifestyle choices that are manageable and positively impact their health.
If you are experiencing chronic fatigue, brain fog, depression, low energy, or other vague symptoms, just be aware that it’s not just “in your head.” These are early symptoms of an imbalance in your body. Your body is telling you that something is out of balance.
Don’t let anyone, including a doctor, lead you to believe otherwise. Listen to your body. Solutions are available. You need to find the right doctor — a healthcare provider who knows how to uncover and treat the underlying causes of chronic illness. We recommend consulting a healthcare practice with extensive training and experience in functional and integrative medicine. If you are in or near Tampa, Florida, contact us to schedule a consultation.