Brain fog is one of the most common complaints among Lyme patients. It is so common that us Lymies have even coined our own terminology for this condition, “Lyme brain”. Just about all of us have been there at one point in time. Staring into outer space while writing an e-mail, losing words, forgetting just about everything. Putting your fork and plate in the fridge and the jar of peanut butter in the sink. Losing your keys (I am convinced Dave moves them for kicks). At one point I had to put sticky notes in my car to remember where I was driving! When it is an everyday, constant occurrence, it can be quite frustrating, and even debilitating.
What is brain fog? Brain fog is a generalized term for a variety of symptoms. It is often described as feelings of mental confusion or a lack of mental clarity that leaves you feeling like your head is in the clouds.
What are some of the symptoms of having brain fog? Some of the symptoms associated with brain fog include difficulty concentrating, lapses in short-term memory, confusion, disorientation, difficulty finding the right words while speaking or writing, and a loss of creativity.
Experiencing brain fog is highly suggestive of having an active and ongoing infection of Lyme disease. Dr. Allen C. Steere of Tufts – New England Medical Center in Boston was the first to recognize Lyme disease as a distinct disorder in 1975 and soon realized that it could cause an array of neurological problems.
In the instance of chronic Lyme, the bacteria eventually invades your central nervous system. The Borrelia burdorferi bacteria can cause a war in your body once it is in your nervous system, causing memory problems, mood changes, psychiatric conditions, seizures, and dementia. Some patients with chronic Lyme can also develop lesions in their brain, that can also cause cognitive difficulties as well as many other issues.
Although Lyme disease can cause the fog on its own, there are a lot of other contributing factors that one should consider that suffers from brain fog. Most can indeed be stemmed from Lyme disease, but there is a lot more pieces of the puzzle that are often overlooked. Some of the other causes include:
Brain inflammation, infection, or malfunction – Encephalitis is the term for brain inflammation that isn’t uncommon for those with neurological Lyme. This inflammation can cause an array of neurological issues from numbness, to cognitive impairment. The most common sign of having a brain infection are memory problems! Encephalopathy, a term used for malfunction of the brain, can cause brain fog as well. 9/10 neurological Lyme patients suffer from this. Encephalopathy can cause fatigue, seizures, involuntary movement, and of course, brain fog.
Other Co-infections and viruses – Parasites such as Babesia, BLO’s (Bartonella-like-organisms), and Mycoplasma are common co-infections that can play a role in brain fog. Testing for things such as Epstein-Barre and HHV-6 can also be beneficial.
Atypical Seizures – Many people think of seizures as grand-mal seizures. We all know what they look like either from seeing one in person, or seeing them on TV, or on sources such as YouTube. What many are unaware of, is that there are many different types of seizures. One example is called an absence seizure.. and it is just that. I have had many absence seizures throughout my Lyme journey, and believe upon reflection that I have had these occurrences long before my treatment. It is essentially a shift of consciousness that can often appear as a blank stare. To many observing, they can appear like you are just nodding off to the television or in conversation, but it makes you unaware of what is going on around you. Afterwards, speaking from experience, it leaves you feeling more exhausted and also carries on that foggy feeling.
Toxicity – There are a ton of toxicities that come into play when it comes to brain fog. Heavy metal toxicities, particularly mercury or lead, can cause an array of neurological issues. Candida and it’s die-off can cause brain fog. Chemical sensitivities can also build up toxicities in your body. Mold toxicity! The die-off from Lyme and your co-infections can accumulate in your brain and cause an array of symptoms. We all know about herx reactions, one is the foggy feeling that we can experience.
Vitamin, Mineral, and Nutrient Deficiencies – All of these are very important to address as your body needs them to keep your immune system going strong to be able to fight while undergoing treatment. Some commonly deficient vitamins that can cause fog are C, your B’s (particularly B6 and B12), and vitamin D. It is important to have your magnesium levels checked throughout your treatment as Lyme likes to feed off of it, and without magnesium, you can feel many of the symptoms that can be confused with Lyme symptoms. Certain foods may not be processed the way they should, and you might not be getting all the beneficial nutrients from them. Taurine, ALA, carnitine, and fatty acids are all important to keep your brain functioning at its best capacity.
Metabolic Changes – Lyme can cause a lot of blood sugar issues. Hypoglycemia can cause confusion, forgetfulness, irritability, and blackouts.
Thyroid – Lyme and co’s can cause thyroid issues. Hypothyroid and hyperthyroid conditions can come to play.
Psychiatric Conditions – Depression, anxiety, ADD, among other conditions, brought on by Lyme disease or a previous infliction, can be responsible for brain fog.
Sleep Conditions – Sleep apnea, insomnia, and other sleep related conditions can all cause brain fog. We all know how important it is to get a restorative sleep, and it will help! Small naps, sleep aids, whether natural or prescription, and allotting enough time to get a full night’s rest can help you get the rest you need to keep you on the top of your game! Please read my blog “Sleep Conditions and Lyme” if you would like more information!
Food Sensitivities – Food items that cause inflammation in the body, such as gluten, can cause a response of tiredness and brain fog. I didn’t realize for about a year, that I was consuming gluten at my favorite wing place, and I always felt terrible.. airy, foggy, sore, exhausted. Be aware that some gluten foods are hidden, like in sauces. Many other intolerances, such as dairy and soy can also have this same effect.
Neurodegenerative Causes – Dr. McDonald, the pathologist featured in “Under Our Skin”, had done research on Lyme and other illnesses with belief that many of the cases were actually Lyme. He tested 10 deceased’s Alzheimer brains and 7 tested positive for the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. Dr. Klinghart also had 100% of his patients test positive for Lyme with other neurodegenerative diseases. Dementia, and Parkinson’s with Lewy body also can be degenerative causes. (I do believe these are Lyme as well, but could explain the symptoms more in depth)
Medications – Okay. Now this one I had to throw out there, although I hated to do it. It seems offensive, as I have been accused by the ER nurse of being a drug addict and it really pissed me off. I know I am not. I know you aren’t either. These medications are needed to be able to ease our symptoms so we aren’t completely debilitated and can do our best to get well. But some of the medications DO cause brain fog. It happens. With my personal experience, I would rather be foggy than have constant seizures and tics, so it is worth the risk to me. Just something to take into consideration.
What are some of the ways to test to see if one or more of these are an underlying cause? There are many ways of testing to see if these are some possible underlying causes of your brain fog. MRI’s and CAT scans can show if you have lesions in your brain. SPECT scans show how your brain is working, and if there is inflammation. Many of these tests can be done via blood to see if you have deficiencies, swabs, or urine tests. Thyroid can also be checked via ultrasound. Your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction as many of these are general tests.
What can I do in the meantime to help lessen my brain fog? Well… there are a lot of things you can do to help lessen your brain fog! I’ve said it a million times, detoxing is a major thing to help lessen the fog. Epsom salt soaks, lemon water, lymphatic massage, infrared saunas, and teas and foods with antioxidants are some tools that can help you detox.
Watching your diet by eating nutritious, Lyme friendly food can help. Avoiding places where you know you might have mold exposure or toxic chemicals is also beneficial.
Supplements to consider include: ALA, Vitamins C, D, B6 and B-12, CoQ10, Acetyl-L-carnitine, Omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, NAC, methyl-folate, and taurine can be beneficial to help with brain fog. Naturopaths can generally make tinctures or have supplements that have combined vitamins and nutrients that can suit your needs.
Research also says that if you keep an active mind, it will help. The last thing I want to do when I feel fogged is anything I need to put thought into, but if you engage yourself in work, puzzles, or problem solving can help preserve cognitive function. Pick up that crossword and engage yourself!
So folks… it is information. It is important to rule out these other causes although many can be traced back to Lyme disease. Don’t forget, ease the symptoms, kill the bastards! xoxo
Please consult your doctor for professional advice and do not start any medications or supplement without speaking to them first. 🙂 🙂
psychiatrictimes.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encephalopathy, http://doosesyndrome.org/mae-explained/atypical-absence-seizures, sheknows.com, celiacdisease.about.com, nutrexhawaii.com, drwilson.com, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/15/us/personal-health-when-lyme-invades-the-brain-and-spinal-system, http://rissenberg/lyme-disease/ , http://lymemd.blogspot.com/2009/01/brain-fog-and-memory-loss-not-lyme.html, envita.com Photo fred: butyoudontlooksick.com