Dr. Emily Chan, ND

What You May Not Realize: The role of the Hypothalamus and Amygdala

Brain Fog: that feeling where you’re on autopilot with a fog misting your thinking. Or the sensations of feeling dumber than you were before. Perhaps there is frustration at how slow your mind works. You have difficulty processing information and making decisions. For those who have brain fog, it can be debilitating getting through work, or just the day. 

So, What Causes Brain Fog?

  • Candida
  • Food Allergies
  • Heavy Metal Toxicity
  • Menopause
  • Chemotherapy Side Effects
  • Anti-depressant or psychiatric drug side effects
  • Adrenal Fatigue
  • Auto-Immune Disease
  • Leaky Gut
  • Concussions
  • Stress and Anxiety

In my private practice, I have seen the effects of stress and anxiety having a profound impact on brain fog. It is often an overlooked cause and worthy of attention.

Determining Root Cause

As with any health problem, there is usually not ONE cause for a particular disease for each patient. Generally there may be several causes, but some may contribute a larger percentage than another. For example, if a patient has brain fog, and a stool test shows they have a slight overgrowth of candida. But they also feel overwhelmed, stressed, worried about the future and their health for more hours of the day than not, there is a great chance that candida may only contribute 35% to this individuals brain fog, but the sympathetic nervous system imbalance may contribute 65% to their brain fog.

The Art of Medicine

The difference between a good doctor and a skilled doctor is that the skilled doctor applies the art of medicine to determine the best course of treatment for the patient and is careful not to jump to conclusions based merely on tests. If there was something abnormal on the test that particular abnormality should not be the only focus treatment in most cases. For example in the above situation, treating only Candida may not contribute to the patient feeling a significant decrease in brain fog if their constant state of stress were not addressed.

What does Stress have to do with it?

Have you ever felt so stressed, that you were paralyzed in fear? You didn’t know what to say, what your next move would be. Your brain froze, your body froze. When someone is stressed the sympathetic nervous system is triggered which causes blood flow to go to the hypothalamus and amygdala instead of the frontal lobe.

Hypothalamus

Responsible for survival mechanisms. It is automatic meaning no thinking is required to make these functions work (such as breathing, hunger, blood pressure, temperature, and signaling secretion of bodily hormones, including cortisol).

Amygdala

Is responsible for the association of events or 5 senses to emotions. It plays a role in the response to and memory of emotions especially fear.

Frontal Lobe

Is the part of the brain needed for logic, language and math. It is essential for critical thinking.

Blood Flow and Brain Fog

Therefore in the state of stress, anxiety, overwhelm etc., these emotional states trigger a physiologic response diverting blood flow to irrational survival and fear based responses. Blood flow does not go to the frontal lobe as much, therefore making it difficult to think clearly in the face of stress. Imagine 2 roads, one leading to Harvard University and one leading to the Haunted House. A button is pressed triggering anxiety and stress and then all the traffic is directed to the Haunted House and not to Harvard. When this happens frequently, a continued decrease of blood flow to the frontal lobe can give rise to brain fog.

How do we Tone Down this Response?  

Now that it’s determined that stress, anxiety, overwhelm triggers physiology in the brain that can lead to brain fog, how do we tone down this response? Some patients say they have always tended to be more Type A in personality, more worked up, more stressed their entire lives, however the past few years were when it seemed less manageable. There may be backgrounds of childhoods where the child was in a place to have to grow up and be an adult very quickly to hold the family together emotionally. These kids nervous systems are set at a higher/more stimulated set point (towards sympathetic vs parasympathetic), which carries to adulthood.

NET (Neuro Emotional Technique)  

NET (Neuro Emotional Technique) is very effective at helping reset these nervous system set points with my patients, and can even be done virtually over Skype. NET assesses deficits in organ systems (such as liver, spleen, kidneys etc) and their emotional signature counterparts, and works to disconnect deep body memories or diseases/traumas, re-routing the neurological network. Patient’s often feel a lifting of brain fog, headaches, back pain, anxiety, depression, stifling sensation around chest, heaviness, fatigue, and stuckness let go from their body after NET.

Brain Fog Usually Accompanies Other Health Issues

Many patients who have brain fog, also have some other health issues they are suffering from like auto-immune disease, anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal issues, even cancer. Perhaps these patients did not suffer much emotional trauma in the past, however all they want is for their brain fog, or health concern, to be healed. They may have had these conditions for years, and the sickness has become their way of living, even their identity. Most hours of the day are spent on Google, researching their condition, where they thrive off a momentary hope when they find the new magic cure as advertised, or promising blog about another patient’s story, only to try it and nothing happens. This repeats over and over again.

Sympathetic Response

The anxiety, desperation, and focus on their health, unfortunately, is counterproductive to the healing process because it triggers that sympathetic nervous system response. The sympathetic response leads to more brain fog, confusion and inflammation. To allow blood flow to go back to the frontal lobe, allow oneself to be in a state of peace.

Below are a Few Suggestions to be in the State that Lets your Body do the Healing

  • Breathe deeply feeling your chest and belly expand and contract
  • Take hot and cool showers (balances the immune and nervous system)
  • Be in nature and observe the colors, sounds and smells
  • Listen to peaceful music with eyes closed (even 5 minutes)
  • Get NET (Neuro Emotional Technique)
  • Read an uplifting book (not related to what you are stressed about)
  • Watch a funny movie
  • Laugh till your belly hurts
  • Connect with God and your spiritual practice
  • Gaze out into nature as far and wide as you can (Eye/brain connection/Parasympathetic)
  • Accept and love all of yourself

Put Yourself in a Parasympathetic State

All the above are tools to put your nervous system in a parasympathetic state which is crucial to having a sharp brain. The key is to be brave to let go of controlling the unknown (a good place to start is to let go of Googling your health problem). Be in the state that puts your body on track to healing itself, because it is designed to do that. The parasympathetic state is the state that supports healing and regeneration.

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

You’ll know your body is in a state it can heal when you don’t feel fear, but feel peace. Be in a state of peace as often as possible. Watch the fog clear, if you need some help, get the extra help.

Stay tuned for next month’s part 2 of this 3 part series


Dr. Emily Chan ND received her doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. She is a board licensed naturopathic doctor and founder of Modern Integrative Medicine. She currently practices in San Diego, CA and consults around the world.

Dr. Chan specializes in chronic medical conditions that have an impaired body memory component to them. She integrates the immune/nervous system and physiological relationships in treating her patients. She is published in medical journals, and magazines. She is a speaker, and has presented at medical conferences training doctors, and has appeared on television. She also authors and teaches health, and body memory reprogramming courses. You can contact her at: http://www.modernintegrativemedicine.com

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