Brain fog and belly fat are complaints I hear often in my practice. In fact, I think they are almost epidemic.
In my experience, the most common cause of both is stress. When you experience stressful situations, your adrenal glands take action to protect you and ready you to fight or get away. After all, in the olden days, the biggest stress you might encounter was being chased by a hungry tiger. Your adrenal glands secrete adrenaline, a neurotransmitter that creates a high level of stimulation to your system and causes your nervous system to operate from what's known as a sympathetic dominant state. It also secretes a hormone called cortisol.
Adrenaline is short lived. As soon as the perceived stress dissipates, it decreases. Cortisol lasts a lot longer. Some of the effects of cortisol create the phenomenon of excess belly fat and brain fog. Cortisol causes fat to be released from storage and turned into sugar…which is a very good thing if you're running away from a tiger. It also causes you to become more efficient at burning fat for energy – you’re not going to be able to refuel while in pursuit by a hungry animal.
However, most modern day stressors don't require physical exertion. Getting stuck in traffic, financial concerns, an over demanding boss, juggling children’s activities and needs and all of our modern day stressors are all non physical. Thus when your fat stores are released and turned into sugar, the lack of physical exertion creates an increase in your blood sugar levels, which causes extra insulin to be released. The extra sugar then gets converted back into fat.
The interesting thing is that while the fat may have been evenly removed from storage, under the influence of cortisol and insulin, most of it gets stored back around your belly. This is a protective mechanism, to insulate your vital organs during times of threat.
YIKES!!! Stress causes you to store more fat AND redistribute the fat you already have to right where you least want it…your belly! Stress is the ultimate weight gain drug! Because cortisol stimulates fat it inhibits weight loss even if you’re doing everything else right.
Another action of cortisol is to shift off the function of your prefrontal cortex, the “wizard brain” that’s responsible for high level thinking and turn on your primitive brain, your limbic system, also known as your “lizard brain”. The lizard brain is really good at survival and not so good at being “on” mentally – thus the brain fog that comes from being stressed all the time.
Cortisol contributes to brain fog in yet another way. There’s a part of your brain called the hippocampus that controls your short term memory. Cortisol actually damages this part of your brain. Did you ever walk into a room to get something only to forget why you were there? That’s good old cortisol wrecking havoc on your hippocampus.
Excess cortisol isn’t the only cause of brain of and belly fat. Other culprits include immune system dysregulation, food allergies, gluten intolerance, insufficient or poor quality sleep, hormone imbalance, sluggish thyroid, insufficient exercise and overburdened detoxification pathways.
Here are 7 of my favorite strategies for reducing brain fog and melting away your excess belly fat.
- Get a handle on stress.
- Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
- Burst exercise
- Eat a Nutrient dense diet rich in whole, raw plant foods and test nutrient levels and function regularly
- Balance Your Immune system, avoid allergens and eat a Gluten Free Diet
- Get sufficient high quality Sleep
- Incorporate regular Cleansing and Detoxification, like a 7 day green cleanse every quarter.
The next article in this series is Reduce Belly Fat and Brain Fog: Adrenal Gland and Stress Connection
Watch for a series of blog posts over the next few days that go into detail about each of these strategies.