She doesn’t trust herself. More specifically, she doesn’t trust her brain. She has continuous brain fog which gets in her way. It causes her to stumble, stutter, and be confused. She notices it at work when she is talking on the phone or collaborating with colleagues. She reaches for words, but they just won’t come. She especially notices it when she is under pressure.

It’s embarrassing not to be able to say what she wants to say in the way she wants to say it. It’s not, however, the embarrassment that is causing her greatest suffering. It’s the pain that comes from the heartbreak she feels when she senses that she is losing her mind, her ability to communicate, and to remember.

She feels like her brain is being destroyed as if it was on fire. If only there was a way that she could put the fire out.

Brain on Fire

Brain inflammation is like your brain has caught on fire. Like fire, it swells, is hot, and destroys. It also hurts.

Brain fog is the number one symptom of brain inflammation. It is a sign that your brain cells, or neurons, are not communicating with each other at optimum speed. They “speak” to each other at a slower pace than healthy neurons.

There are many reasons why your brain could be inflamed, and although it never stems from just one cause, trauma is one of the more important causes.

People who have unprocessed trauma store this trauma in their bodies, and more specifically, in their nervous system. An activated nervous system results in a person living in a continual fight, flight, or freeze state which, in turn, causes brain inflammation and neurotransmitter imbalances, among other things.

How the Brain Gets Inflamed

There is a link between brain health, physical trauma, and emotional trauma. Stored trauma in the body triggers an inflammatory response in the brain. This inflammation is caused by your microglia, or glia cells, which are the immune cells in your brain.

Microglia are a network of beneficial cells in your central nervous system, ie, your brain. They are the first responders when anything goes wrong. They are like little scavengers, cleaning, guarding, and protecting your brain cells from danger and harm.

If your brain gets injured for any reason, these tiny soldiers will go to work pruning and cleaning anything that is harmful to your brain. They do this by causing inflammation. After they clean up the mess, the inflammation subsides and they go back to nurturing and protecting your cells. So far, so good.

If, however, your brain is in an inflamed state for an extended period of time, caused by such things as living in a chronic freeze state or getting concussed over and over again, as with football and soccer players, then the microglia will become activated, or primed. Primed microglia are a problem, for they throw out chemical messengers called cytokines and chemokines, which are like fire starters, inflaming everything from the brain to the rest of the body.

Once primed, microglia do not become un-primed. They instead become highly reactive and sensitive to danger. They become “trigger happy.” No longer do they simply protect and nurture your neurons but cause chronic inflammation, anxiety, and depression. Once this stress response has been activated, premature aging, overwhelm, infections, and psychological stress can be the result.

If you have primed microglia, your strategy will now be to calm them down and keep them calm for as long as possible. A calm primed microglia is in the steady state (formerly called the resting state), even though they still continue to work by nurturing and protecting your neurons.

Events That Prime Microglia

In order for the microglia to become primed, there needs to occur an initial priming event, such as an injury or insult to the brain. This priming event is different for everyone, for some people are more sensitive than others. The priming event could be anything that causes someone to experience enough stress to cause inflammation, swelling, and pain.

Here are some possible priming events:

  • Direct head injury, with or without a concussion
  • Indirect head injury resulting in whiplash
  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Chronic infection
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Meningitis
  • Oxygen deprivation (such as being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around your head)
  • Intense psychological stress
  • Intense emotional stress
  • Leaky gut

Symptoms indicating you may have primed microglia:

  • Brain fog
  • Low tolerance for stress
  • Light sensitivity
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Searching for words
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness
  • Headaches
  • Problems with coordination

Secondary Hits and Insults to the Microglia

Secondary hits and insults happen after the microglia are primed.

A secondary hit is a cycle of inflammation. A priming hit, or injury, primes your microglia, causing them to send out the inflammatory messengers cytokines and chemokines. These messengers travel to other parts of the body, causing systemic inflammation. The most common place for them to go is to the digestive system, ie the gut. The gut then becomes inflamed and sends the inflammation back to the brain, causing the microglia to send out another hit of cytokines and chemokines, which then inflames the body even more. This can be the reason why some people do not recover very well after they get injured.

A secondary insult is having a second (or third or fourth) injury after the primary injury, such as getting a second concussion.

How to Bring Down Inflammation

1. Heal Your Gut

Your gut and your brain speak are constantly speaking to each other, although the gut does most of the “talking.” An inflamed gut means an inflamed brain, and vice versa, resulting in both a leaky brain and gut. Eating nutrient-rich foods, cutting out sugar (which is toxic to the brain and feeds unhealthy bacteria in the gut), and eliminating foods you are sensitive to are three great first steps to reducing inflammation in both your brain and gut.

Common symptoms of having a food intolerance can be stomach upset, including gas and bloating, swollen nasal passages, pain in joints, diarrhea, constipation, anxiety, depression, brain fog, and fatigue. No two people are alike, so you will need to “listen” to your body by taking note of your symptoms. Take note of how you react to certain foods. Do you feel relaxed after eating, or tense?

How do you find food intolerances? Begin by eliminating two of the most common problems. The first is gluten – a protein found in wheat and other grains – and the second, is dairy. Dairy is problematic to people who are sensitive to lactose, a sugar found in dairy, or casein, which is a protein.

Be an investigator and eliminate them one at a time. This experiment will take two weeks to complete.

Week one. Eliminate gluten for three days and see if you feel better. Be careful, for gluten is a sly fox who hides in unlikely places. On day four, add gluten back into your diet and see how you feel. If you feel your symptoms returning, then you have gluten insensitivity.

Week two. Repeat week one, only this time eliminate dairy.

Rather than being negative, let’s go positive. Instead of saying what you shouldn’t eat, here is a list of what you can eat if you go gluten and dairy-free:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Beans, legumes, and nuts
  • Paleo diet
  • Whole 30 Diet

Here are three cookbooks (out of many fine cookbooks) I highly recommend:

Mediterranean Paleo Cooking by Caitlin Weeks

Against All Grain, Book 1 by Danielle Walker

Against All Grain, Book 2 by Danielle Walker

It would be extremely helpful to keep a symptom diary to track your symptoms. This will help you to see what triggers and patterns you have that you would otherwise might miss. Symptoms may take up to three days to show up, so you need to give them some time.

This experiment is simple, but not necessarily easy.

There is nothing wrong with you if you react to certain foods. It only means that, for whatever reason, your biology is reactive to them. You wouldn’t say that your car is a lemon if you put sugar in your gas tank and then it broke down. Instead, you take care of it by putting clean gas in it so that it will run smoothly and not leave you stranded far away from home. I, myself, have been gluten and dairy-free for years. I see it as a blessing. And a choice. I can eat foods I don’t react to and feel better, or I can eat them and be sick and extremely tired. I choose to feel well and be healthy.

To learn more about the gut, or microbiome, click HERE.

2. Get enough sleep

Lack of quality sleep can be a major trigger for primed microglia. You need both quality and quantity of sleep. Your body heals while you are sleeping.

If you don’t get enough sleep, taking a power nap can be a great help in keeping your microglia from becoming activated or calming them down if they are activated.

Lack of sleep also impacts your gut, so eating a healthy diet is also vitally important if you are not well-rested.

If you have insomnia, Click HERE to learn about a helpful strategy called “Sleep Restriction.”

3. Get some exercise by spending time outside in nature

This combines three strategies into one: sunshine, movement, and nature.

Sunshine is important for Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone produced in the kidneys. Vitamin D is an antioxidant that slows down the aging process caused by oxidative stress. It helps you to better absorb calcium, which will help you to have healthy, strong bones. It lowers your blood pressure, reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. It also regulates your immune system.

I distinguish movement from exercise because moving your body is what is most important here. Walking (or running or biking) outside is relaxing, by nature, and that is the whole point, to get the nervous system to relax. Even if you are walking vigorously, as in hiking in the woods or on a mountain, your body will release endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins buffer you from pain and will heighten the sense of pleasure in your life.

On days that you find yourself unmotivated to move your body, do this: put on your exercise clothes, tell yourself to move for just ten minutes, and before you know it, you won’t want to stop. Choose an activity that is fun, for who doesn’t want to have fun?

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When exhausted women ask, “Why am I so tired all the time?” I help them to explore their story to see what has happened in the past that is draining their energy today. 

You don’t need to do this alone. You can begin to tackle some of those deep-rooted issues you’ve been brushing under the carpet for years.

When working with me, I will give you the guidance, compassion, and support you need. I have been through a great deal of trauma in my own life, so I know how isolating, confusing, and sad it can be. If you would like to talk about your own experiences with someone who understands, I am only a click away.

Book a call HERE to learn more about how we can work together. I would love to meet you and hear your story.