Dr. Sarah Myhill, MD, is a UK-based fatigue specialist focused on nutrition and preventive medicine, well known for her groundbreaking research on the role and management of mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. This information is reproduced with kind permission from her educational website (DrMyhill.co.uk).*
Brain Fog – Poor Memory, Difficulty Thinking Clearly, etc.
“Throughout life the brain creates a million new connections every second! This means there is huge potential for healing and repair – it is simply a case of moving things in the right direction. But the brain has to have the energy supply to allow this process to happen.”
What allows the brain to work quickly and efficiently is energy supply. If this is impaired in any way, then the brain will go slow. Initially the symptoms would be of foggy brain, but if it progresses one will end up with dementia.
We all see this in our everyday lives, with alcohol being the best example – short term exposures give us a deliciously foggy brain – we stop caring, we stop worrying, it alleviates anxiety. However, it also removes one’s drive to do things, one’s ability to remember, impairs judgment and impairs ability to think clearly.
Medium term exposure results in mood swings and anxiety (only alleviated by more alcohol), longer term use could result in severe depression and the dementia – examples include Korsakoff’s psychosis and Wernike’s encephalopathy. See Wikipedia:Korsakoff’s syndrome and Wikipedia:Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Incidentally these two examples also illustrate how most drug side effects result from nutritional deficiencies!
Good Energy Supply to the Brain
A normal synapse will pass a nerve impulse in 75 microseconds. The slower the time, the more we “lose it.” Reaction times are slowed with alcohol. If this interval extends to 140 microseconds, one has dementia. Longer than that and we go unconscious as exemplified by a general anesthetic.
What allows good energy supply to the brain is:
Good fuel and oxygen supply
• Good blood supply [may be diminished with atherosclerosis – scarring resulting from damage to arterial lining]
• Adequate amount of blood – Anemia – not enough blood, symptoms & diagnosis
• Sufficient blood pressure
• Sufficient oxygen
• Sufficient fuel – Hypoglycemia – the full story.
Good mitochondrial function
One then has to be able to convert this fuel and oxygen supply into energy that the brain can use, namely ATP. See CFS – The Central Cause: Mitochondrial Failure, but this is only part of the story!
Myelin sheath function
There is a further interesting peculiarity with respect to energy supply to the brain which is different from the rest of the body.
Although the brain weighs just 2% of total body weight, in use it absorbs 20% of the body’s oxygen requirement and 25% of its glucose needs! This cannot be explained by numbers of mitochondria in the brain (there are not enough), which means there must be another energy generating source.
Brain cells are also very different from normal cells. They have a cell body, and very long tails, or dendrites, which communicate with other cells. Indeed, if a nerve cell body from the spinal cord that supplied one’s toes was sitting on my desk and was the size of a football, the tail would be in New York!
These tails or dendrites are too small to contain mitochondria, but it has been suggested that energy supply comes directly from the myelin sheaths themselves. They too can produce ATP and it is this that supplies the energy for neuro-transmission.
Myelin sheaths are made up almost entirely of fats – so we need to look to oils and fats for improved energy supply to brain cells.
Some fascinating work by Dr. Mary Newport shows that coconut oils can cure dementia – see “What If There Was a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease… and No One Knew?” The key ingredient is medium chain triglycerides. This suggests to me that these are an essential part of this process. MCTs are an excellent energy supply to the brain, which likes also to work with short chain fatty acids or ketones. You can see an interview with Dr. Newport on You Tube Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.
My guess is that the myelin sheath membranes have to be just the right fluidity to allow ATP to be synthesized. If this were the case it would explain how general anesthetics work – presently no-one really knows! If general anesthetics upset membrane fluidity enough, then energy supply to nerve cells would be switched off, the nerves would cease to work and… bingo! Not just foggy brained but unconscious!
Do not be concerned about dietary fat and cholesterol causing arterial disease! The results of some studies of Polynesian peoples for whom coconut is the chief source of energy should put your mind at rest.(1) My guess is that statins, by reducing the cholesterol that the brain loves, are contributing to our current epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease. Certainly it is rare for my CFS patients to tolerate statins – nearly always they are made ill by them.
So adding coconut oil to the regime of anyone with symptoms of foggy brain to dementia is likely to be helpful, partly by improving fuel supply and partly improving membrane function.
Brain Fats and Oils
Humans evolved on the East Coast of Africa eating a diet rich in sea food. It is suggested that the high levels of oils, particularly DHA, allowed the brain to develop fast, thus out-stripping other mammals. So Homo Sapiens came to have bigger brains allowing intelligence to develop. There is lots of research showing that essential fatty acids are essential for normal brain function, so oils that would be helpful in addition to coconut oil would be:
• Omega 3 (fish oil or krill oil),
• Omega 6 (evening primrose oil)
• And omega 9 (olive oil),
• Together with lecithin (which is phosphatidylcholine – i.e., the main component of all cell membranes).
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Oils to treat foggy brain and dementia
A suggested regime to start off would be:
• Coconut oil 20ml (tablespoons) twice daily
• Eskimo oil [fish oil or krill oil (where the fish get it)] 5ml (teaspoon) twice daily – this must be filtered to remove mercury and pesticides
• Olive oil for cooking
• Lecithin – dessert spoon twice daily.
Ideally all these oils should be organic. When you get the hang of it, just slurp it out the bottle! Please, note these are just my educated guesses – there may be other useful tweakings!
Throughout life the brain creates a million new connections every second! This means there is huge potential for healing and repair – it is simply a case of moving things in the right direction! But the brain has to have the energy supply to allow this process to happen!
CFS, Alcohol and Foggy Brains
Alcohol intolerance is almost universal in CFS. This has always puzzled me! It could be partly explained by poor detox, but clinically there seems to be some direct effect on the brain, like a hypersensitivity. The above explains all!
Alcohol dissolves readily in fats and would be excellent at changing the fluidity of membranes. It works just like a general anesthetic – and, indeed, many with CFS are intolerant of anesthetics. My guess is that the more fat soluble a chemical, the greater its ability to produce foggy brain in CFS. This would apply to a range of prescription medications.
This knowledge is very useful clinically – those people who are intolerant of alcohol need brain fats and oils, as above. Indeed as we age, intolerance increases, illustrating the increased need for the correct fats and oils as we become metabolically less efficient with time!
What I Mean by Brain Fog
• Poor short term memory
• Difficulty learning new things
• Poor mental stamina and concentration – there may be difficulty reading a book or following a film story or following a line of argument
• Difficulty finding the right word
• Thinking one word, but saying another.
Treatment of the Foggy Brain
• The best test for generalized atherosclerosis is fitness.
• Can this supply of fuel and oxygen be translated into ATP – the energy for brain cells to work? See CFS – The Central Cause: Mitochondrial Failure
• Is there a steady supply of sugar to the brain – See Hypoglycaemia – the full story.
• Coconut oils likely to be very helpful – the brain works well on short chain fatty acids and ketones which are in abundance in coconut oil. These must be pure cold pressed organic virgin oils which are semisolid at room temperature – not hydrogenated oils which are hard at room temperature.
• Allergy can certainly cause foggy brain. Wheat is a common cause of brain fog. Many religious groups will fast for several days in order to “clear the brain.” Food allergy usually causes more than one symptom – often several.
• Sleep – are you getting enough good quality sleep? During sleep healing and repair takes place and without this one gradually ratchets downhill. See Sleep is vital for good health – especially in CFS.
• Hormonal disturbances – see Hypothyroidism – diagnosis of and Adrenal Gland – the gear box of the car (DHEA and cortisol) – underactive.
• Physical and mental activity is vital. If you don’t use it, you lose it! There is a desirable balance between physical and mental activity. Often the best “treatment” for mental stress is physical activity (rather than watching TV!).
Are You Being Poisoned?
From within the body:
• Gut fermentation – fermented foods result in alcohol, D-lactate, hydrogen sulphide and other toxins being produced. Any tendency to constipation will make this worse. This may explain why colonic irrigation allows a “clearing” of the brain.
• Caffeine in the short term is a mental stimulant. This can be helpful if you have to “perform”, so long as you can rest and recover afterwards. If you are having more than 3 cups a day (tea, coffee, coca cola), then it is probably having an overall deleterious effect.
• As a result of a detox regime – which mobilizes toxins which have been previously dumped in fat.
From outside the body:
• As a result of diet – again, alcohol is also a neurotoxin. If you are drinking more than one glass of wine daily, then you will be thiamine deficient. Thiamine is essential for normal brain function.
• Prescription drugs often have profound effects on the brain, especially in older and younger people
Look at a check list of possibilities! Chemical poisons and toxins – the more you look for it, the more you see!
Is There Pathology?
Progressive brain symptoms always need investigating with an MRI scan to exclude tumours and other such anatomical lesions. See:
This is an excellent treatment for foggy brain! There are many possible ways in which it may be helpful – see CFS and B12 – rationale for using vitamin B12. Indeed I was interested to hear that when the top chess Grand Masters are competing they inject themselves daily with B12 for improved performance. My organophosphate poisoned farmers love B12, as do many with CFS!
[Note: Clinical trials also now support use of new oral/sublingually delivered B12 as a therapy in clinical practice, according to Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, Feb 2010 – “Efficacy of oral cobalamin (vitamin B12) therapy”]
1. Prior IA, Davidson F, Salmond CE, Czochanska Z. “Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1981, Vol 34 (8): 1552-61
* Dr. Sarah Myhill, MD, is a UK-based fatigue specialist focused on nutrition and preventive medicine, and management of mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. This information is excerpted with kind permission from the ‘Neurological Problems’ section of Dr. Myhill’s educational website (DrMyhill.co.uk) ® Sarah Myhill Limited, Registered in England and Wales: Reg. No. 4545198.
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease. Nor is it meant to take the place of the personal attention of your physician. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.