If you don’t feel sharp from time to time, you’re not alone.
Maybe you are able to connect a feeling of mental fatigue to a night of less than ideal sleep. If this happens more than occasionally, maybe you chalk it up to stress. But if it happens more often, you may become curious, or even concerned. After all, fuzzy thinking, words not coming to mind, difficulty concentrating, and being confused can all feel unsettling.
These symptoms of mental fatigue are sometimes referred to as ‘brain fog’. They do not always indicate age-related cognitive decline or impending Alzheimer’s disease, but they can. How can you tell if they do?
Evaluate your symptoms
Some symptoms that could be either brain fog or Alzheimer’s/dementia include:
- Trouble finding words
- Inability to think something through
- Problems with focus or concentration
- Trouble with spatial skills
- Impaired memory
- Moments of confusion
- Feeling disoriented
- Difficulty processing information
- Trouble problem-solving
- Decreased visual ability
If you’ve noticed several of these, or at least one that is noticeably affecting your life, you may have asked yourself if you have a case of brain fog, or whether it is a more serious issue, even the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia. With many overlapping symptoms, how can you tell the difference between cognitive deficits or mental fatigue from impending Alzheimer’s or other dementia and something less permanent, such as just being tired?
While we cannot give you a diagnosis, there are some clues that may provide you some clarity around the topics of brain fog, brain atrophy (shrinkage), and dementia.
Brain fog is generally considered a transient state, one that is likely secondary to another issue and unlikely to progress. An example would be weeks of mental fatigue brought on by a bout of insomnia or poor quality sleep, or from bad allergies, or regular drinking of alcohol. Another would be fuzzy thinking as a response to dietary imbalances or when the immune system is weak when recovering from an illness.
Other examples might include mental lapses over a period of months or years, such as during a major hormonal transition like perimenopause or andropause. Another example might be instances of disorientation due to thyroid dysfunction, or even a faulty memory caused by the use of a medication in an ongoing manner, like a statin for lowering cholesterol. When brain fog is linked to bad habits, such as eating badly or smoking, symptoms could be chronic.
Brain fog can be caused by external assaults. That would include having mental fatigue or difficulty processing information secondary to working nights for the first time, or being exposed to a chemical or a bloom of mold in your home or workplace environment. Brain fog can also be from internal imbalances or illnesses, like major depression or Lyme Disease.
Triggers, like lack of sleep, stress and worn nerves, can lead to cognitive symptoms, because elevation of stress hormones can lead to inflammation of the brain. These examples show the importance of protecting our energy to maintain our resilience and health. Inflammation, in turn, affects brain function and mood. Being mindful to take care of ourselves may reduce our chances of neuroinflammation, brain fog and depression.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia
Alzheimer’s, which is a form of dementia, has long been considered primary (not caused by anything else), and progressive (meaning it gets worse), and permanent (fatal). Despite the persistence of this old view, recent news is much more positive. The prognosis is still bad, but knowing it goes beyond the genes we are born with gives us hope.
Like with brain fog, symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia typically include mental fatigue (sometimes described as low brain energy), memory problems and losing words, but can go beyond that, to also include mood and personality changes, poor judgement and even hallucinations. This is mostly attributed to abnormal build-up of proteins, like amyloid beta and tau, in and around brain cells, affecting their function.
One of the most accepted known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease is a genetic predisposition to getting it. But there may be a lot more to it. Multiple factors seem to be related to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, not just genetics or the presence of amyloid plaques or tau tangles, as once thought.
Some leading researchers have discovered lifestyle interventions that have allowed many people to halt or to reverse progression of their illness. By breaking down all the different components, we can take action to change our diet and lifestyle, in the hope that we can prevent it or slow its progression.
Brain Shrinkage (atrophy) and Brain Cell (neuron) Death
Symptoms common to both brain fog and Alzheimer’s dementia, like poor memory and inability to understand the meaning of words, can also be caused by brain cell death or brain shrinkage (atrophy). When brain cells (neurons) die, the brain can shrink, causing problems with memory and thinking and leading eventually to dementia. Unsurprisingly, diseases linked to this scary-sounding situation include those of a neurological nature, like Huntington’s disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, Multiple sclerosis and leukodystrophy disorders.
Brain shrinkage has been linked to many other factors, many of which are behavioural, and therefore more easily controlled. Some bad habits that can lead to brain shrinkage include things we might do too much (overuse of electronic devices), to things we really need to do more of (including getting exercise and a degree of mental challenge). Remember when you had to store phone numbers and driving directions in your mind? Not using those skills can, over time, lead to losing the ability.
What Causes these Issues, and What Can We Do? Factors Thought to Contribute to Brain Fog
- Poor sleep
- Hormone imbalance
- Statin medications
- Bad habits (Smoking, Drinking)
- Diet/Blood sugar imbalance
- Brain shrinkage
Can Mushroom Coffee address these concerns?
Mushroom coffee is a great antidote to brain fog. Of course, the majority of the world’s people are aware of the benefits of coffee, especially for mental fatigue. However, a new type of coffee is gaining popularity in recent years and may be ideal in this kind of circumstance because it can assist with the issues just listed, by improving immune resilience, and balancing inflammation response, while avoiding the worn nerves, jitters, and crashes other coffee can cause.
Mushroom Coffee and Stress
High perceived stress can affect our sleep, hormones, and inflammation levels, lead us to become ill, accelerates brain shrinkage, and is well known to increase the desire to smoke, drink and to “stress eat” to self-soothe. In order words, you can clearly see that stress impacts nearly all of the factors related to brain fog! This makes addressing our levels of perceived stress a number-one priority.
Medicinal mushrooms are known as adaptogens, meaning they help our bodies adapt to or handle stress better, naturally. Biomedical researchers have been studying adaptogenic mushrooms since the 1960s. Pharmacological and clinical studies on chaga, reishi, and other mushrooms confirm their benefits. With 1000 mg of medicinal mushrooms in every portion of Dodjivi Mushroom Coffee, you know it is a good way to enhance your mood and reduce stress levels.
Mushroom Coffee and Sleep
Caffeine lasts longer in your body than you might think. If you have a cup of regular coffee in the afternoon as a pick-me-up, there is enough caffeine in your system to get in the way of deep, restful phases of sleep later that night. Even though you fall asleep, you may not benefit from as deep of a recovery as you might like.
On the other hand, Ganoderma, known as reishi mushroom, has been proven in placebo-controlled clinical studies to reduce physical and mental fatigue, but unlike caffeine, it does not interfere with brain chemicals such as adenosine. Mushroom coffee can give you that lift and comfort that you like, using a much lower total amount of caffeine, benefitting your sleep quality later in the day.
Mushroom Coffee and Illness
When cognitive issues like memory loss and mental fatigue follow an illness, this is what we call post-infectious cognitive dysfunction. For example, the relationship between acute or long COVID-19 symptoms and cognitive symptoms have been noted by many patients. When infected with COVID-19, the types of changes that happen to the brain, such as shrinkage, oxidative stress and inflammation resemble what occurs in those with are key neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
It has been shown that even a mild case of COVID-19 can result in poor performance on tests assessing thinking and memory. Some people complain of difficulties with concentration, especially during reading, having to read the same passage multiple times and feeling like they did not retain the information. Since this type of cognitive impairment is linked to infection, the very best defence is to keep one’s immunity up as best one can in the healthiest way one can sustain.
Mushroom Coffee and Hormone imbalance
Estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormone stimulate the brain, keep neurons firing, support cell growth and connection formation, strengthen nerves in the brain, and contribute to mental sharpness, clarity and energy. They also fortify arteries supplying blood to the brain. In midlife when you approach perimenopause or andropause, falling hormone levels affect neurotransmitters. If they underperform or malfunction, concentration and memory difficulties increase.
At a cellular level, brain cells lose some ability to use glucose for fuel, and your brain enters a low energy state where you feel mentally fatigued. This state, often called diabetes of the brain, can cause cognitive symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty focusing, word-finding issues, losing your train of thought, and confusion.
Luckily, nature promises to come to the rescue again. In mouse studies, a supplement of chaga mushroom extract was able to alleviate the blood glucose and insulin resistance of obese diabetic mice. The chaga extract reduced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. While researchers carry out human studies, you do not have to wait to try chaga yourself. It is easy to get when you drink Dodjivi’s Immunity blend mushroom coffee.
Mushroom Coffee and Inflammation
Brain fog can be the result of inflammation and oxidative stress. While you probably are not sure if this is a factor in your own body (it can be hard to know your inflammation or oxidation status without a lot of testing), mood disturbances, declines in mental health or cognitive and motor performance have all been linked to these issues. Lion’s Mane Mushroom, one of the four mushrooms found in Dodjivi’s Immunity blend, has been shown to be protective of neurons and glia in the brain due in part to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Lion’s Mane, also called hou tou gu or yamabushitake, or by the Latin or scientific name Hericium erinaceus, works by suppressing the oxidative damage and inflammation triggered by circulating toxins like LPS, which can often be high in people who have had a bad gut infection or who have intestinal inflammation.
Mushroom Coffee and Blood Sugar
Both too little or too much blood sugar is dangerous for the brain. While some people have heard that the brain loves glucose, too much sugar is very bad for the brain, especially over time. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels in the brain. That can impact the amount of oxygen getting to the brain. When the brain receives too little blood, neurons can die, leading to brain atrophy.
Being too low in brain fuel (from hypoglycemia or dieting) also produces neurological damage. It is important to understand the difference between a low calorie diet and being in a fasted state or in ketosis. Low calorie diets deny fuel to the brain. On the other hand, when one is fasting and in ketosis, the brain is happily fueled and running off of plentiful energy. Though no glucose is consumed, the body is burning fat reserves or ketone bodies.
For people who are training their bodies to fast successfully, or to become more metabolically flexible (meaning they can burn both glucose or ketones for fuel safely and easily as needed) they will love using mushroom coffee as an everyday beverage, one that allows them to stay in the state of ketosis. Both the turkey tail and the reishi mushrooms found in Immunity blend have promise to improve blood sugar balance.
What about Mushroom Coffee and Brain Shrinkage or Atrophy?
Weakened connections and shrinkage of the brain are thought to explain many cases of brain fog or fuzzy thinking and can eventually progress toward dementia. Lion’s Mane mushroom may be one of the best hopes we have for a natural and healthy defense against brain shrinking. Lion’s Mane has been shown to improve memory and concentration, and is great for mental fatigue.
When combined with coffee, Lion’s Mane can help you focus and stay alert. What’s more, it is abundant in compounds including beta glucans and special myco-nutrients (nutrients unique to mushrooms). These unique and exciting metabolically active compounds demonstrate brain-protective and even brain cell regeneration properties!
One really neat thing these mushroom nutrients do is promote nerve growth factor (NGF), which is important for the health of your brain and nervous system. NGF is something you naturally make that helps your brain neurites (axons and dendrites) to grow, so you continue to learn as you age. Because of the ability to stimulate NGF, and potentially another important compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, it is being researched for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Factors Thought to Contribute to Alzheimer’s
Many factors can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia, including age, cardiovascular disease, family history/genetics, untreated hearing loss (get and wear a hearing aid, if you need one), loneliness, social isolation, and as mentioned before brain shrinkage or volume loss.
Others factors include:
- Decreased myelination
- Increased amyloid beta
- Tau tangles
- Loss of Plasticity, decreases in NGF and BDNF
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
Can Mushroom Coffee address the Factors that Contribute to Alzheimer’s?
Mushroom Coffee and Decreased Myelination
A coating called myelin surrounds and protects your nerves, which means they are myelinated. Decreased myelination means we are losing the myelin coating. This can be caused by inflammation and can lead to slowing or stopping of nerve impulses and neuropathy (lack of feeling or function in the nerves of the body). In mouse and in vitro studies, Lion’s Mane has been shown to improve myelination. When given Lion’s Mane extracts, mice whose brains were damaged and had neuropathy regained their function and their brains remyelinated.
Mushroom Coffee and Increased Amyloid beta
Amyloid beta is a kind of protein that can create or form plaques in the brain that can block transmission of communication. In mice, extracts from Lion’s Mane decreased amyloid beta plaques. Oral treatment with erinacine A, a compound from Lion’s Mane, increased the breakdown of amyloid beta and reduced its plaques in both size and number. Therefore, mushroom coffee with Lion’s Mane mushroom extract could be a smart choice to help maintain nerve communication and reduce the risk of amyloid beta build up.
Mushroom Coffee and Tau tangles
Tau is another protein that is bad for the brain. It is found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The tau protein can be measured in the spinal fluid. The more tau there is, the worse it is for your brain. Two things to know about Tau is it can form tangles, and when it gets phosphorylated it is more damaging. Luckily, in animal studies, medicinal mushrooms reduced levels of tau phosphorylation.
In particular, treatment with Lion’s Mane mushroom improved behavioral deficits, and enhanced new brain cells growth, and decreased inflammation. The study also found that Lion’s Mane mushroom treatment improved the ability of the mice to learn and remember. The researchers concluded that Lion’s Mane mushroom may offer potential as a prevention for Alzheimer’s disease, and you can easily consume it every day in Dodjivi’s Immunity coffee!
Mushroom Coffee and Loss of Brain Plasticity
The brain’s ability to grow and form new connections is called plasticity. This tendency typically declines with age, and as we lose the ability to create new connections, we stop learning and growing and can experience worse mental functioning. This might be linked to changes in the way genes related to nerve growth change their expression over time. Studies of water based extracts of the Lion’s mane mushroom suggest that it promotes nerve growth factor gene expression, growth and regeneration of damaged nerves, and promotes healthy neuron differentiation and survival.
Mushroom Coffee and Depression and Neuroinflammation
Development of dementia can be more likely and the onset more rapid in folks who have major depression. You also read that many illnesses and infections can increase the chance of Alzheimer’s. A link between all of this is increased inflammation, which is common to those with a malfunctioning immune system and to those with depression.
Several antidepressants possess immuno-modulatory and neuro-protective abilities, as does
Ganoderma (reishi mushroom). Reishi’s ability to stimulate and protect the brain may explain its antidepressant-like effects. Reishi combined with Lion’s Mane and coffee sure sounds like a winning combination!
Mushroom Coffee and Blood Sugar imbalance
Diabetes or really any blood sugar problems or loss of glucose tolerance can foreshadow mental deficits to come. That’s why Alzheimer’s is named ‘Diabetes type III’ or “diabetes of the brain” by functional medicine practitioners. Mushroom beta glucans can not only help with high glycemic levels, but can also boost the body’s resistance to diabetic complications.
Studies have shown that administering beta-glucans during diabetes can lead to a systemic improvement. Beta glucans are found in chaga, reishi, lion’s mane and turkey tail mushrooms, all of which are found in significant quantities in Dodjivi Immunity blend mushroom coffee.
There have been some human studies into these effects. In one small double-blind, placebo-controlled study reishi mushrooms were found to decrease blood sugar, possibly by blocking an enzyme that produces glucose. Additionally, terpenoids, which are also found in these mushrooms have been clinically studied to lower blood glucose. The combination of terpenoids and beta glucans is likely why in a preclinical trial, turkey tail increased glucose tolerance.
As you can see, there are many common reasons you may feel mentally fatigued. Several, such as blood sugar imbalance or resistance to glucose or insulin, a shrinking brain and inflammation are found in both the more temporary brain fog and the more progressive dementia. Studies show that medicinal and functional mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga, Turkey Tail and Lion’s Mane offer many benefits and address several aspects of these conditions. The folks at Dodjivi are as concerned about cognitive and overall health as you are. That’s why they include all four of these mushrooms in their Immunity blend mushroom coffee, to make waking up your brain a healthy part of every day.
About the Author: Dana Green Remedios, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, RNCP, NNCP
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