Diabetes — type 1 or type 2 — is a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or use insulin properly. Insulin (a hormone created by the pancreas) allows the body to use sugar or glucose for energy.
This hormone regulates blood sugar, which is important because sugar is a main source of energy for many cells. It’s also essential for normal functioning of organs, including the brain.
In fact, sugar is the brain’s main source of fuel. So if your blood sugar is out of whack due to diabetes, you may develop brain fog.
Brain fog describes cognitive impairments like:
- decreased concentration
- mood swings
- memory problems
This article will discuss why brain fog occurs with diabetes, as well as ways to cope with this symptom and possibly reverse cognitive impairments.
Brain fog often occurs as a response to blood sugar levels that aren’t properly managed — blood sugar that’s too high or too low.
High blood sugar
Insulin helps the sugar in your bloodstream enter the cells of your body. When sugar cannot enter your cells, it accumulates in your bloodstream. This leads to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.
High blood sugar can damage your blood vessels, resulting in poor blood circulation. And when there’s insufficient blood circulation in the brain, you might not think as clearly.
Also, too much blood sugar can increase serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemicals normally have a positive effect on nerve cells and brain function.
Yet, too much serotonin and increased neurotransmitters can have the opposite effect.
This can lead to brain cell damage, nerve damage, and inflammation in the brain, which all contribute to cognitive problems like memory loss and brain fog.
Low blood sugar
Additionally, low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can have a similar effect on the brain causing:
- brain fog
When the body doesn’t receive enough sugar or glucose for energy, brain cells can’t function properly. This can make it difficult to concentrate.
Low blood sugar can occur as a side effect of diabetes medication, such as taking too much insulin for the amount of food you’re eating. Blood sugar can also drop after an intense workout or if you skip meals.
Brain fog with diabetes can affect people differently. Some might only experience minor cognitive impairments, whereas others might be unable to function or think clearly.
Brain fog symptoms associated with diabetes can include any of the following:
- memory loss
- difficulty problem-solving
- trouble finding the right words
- inability to process information
- inability to concentrate
- feeling as if you’re moving in slow motion
To treat brain fog due to diabetes, it’s important that your blood sugar levels are in target range as much as possible.
The goal is to avoid blood sugar fluctuations. This means keeping your blood sugar within a healthy range — not too high and not too low.
If you’re prescribed medication to treat diabetes, take your medication as instructed and don’t skip doses.
Also, follow any dietary instructions your healthcare provider recommends. If you feel that your brain fog isn’t improving, talk to them.
Your healthcare provider may need to adjust your medication. Also, it might help to speak with a registered dietitian for guidance on what foods to eat and what foods to avoid with diabetes.
Managing your diabetes is important because not managing your condition can lead to potentially life threatening complications.
It can cause:
- cardiovascular disease
- nerve damage
- kidney damage
- increased risk of infection after a cut
Brain fog should improve as your blood sugar returns to a healthy level.
In the meantime, the following tips can help you cope with cognitive dysfunction.
- Keep a journal. Foods and activities can affect your blood sugar differently. If you’re dealing with brain fog or other cognitive difficulties, write down everything you do and eat for a few days or whenever symptoms develop. This can help you identify possible triggers and avoid these foods and activities.
- Take notes. Because brain fog can affect memory, don’t rely on memorization when you’re feeling a little foggy or unclear. Keep a pad and pen with you or use the Notes feature on your cellphone. Take notes whenever you’re told something important or if you have to remember an appointment.
- Don’t make major decisions while you’re feeling foggy. It’s also important to hold off making any major decisions until brain fog improves. This way, you avoid agreeing or committing to something that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is how your body repairs itself, so make sure you’re getting plenty of rest at night — at least 7 to 8 hours. Being tired can worsen brain fog, yet sleep and rest can help keep your mind sharp.
- Go for a walk. Exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, allowing your body to use sugar for energy. If you’re feeling a little sluggish or foggy, go for a 10-, 15-, or 30-minute walk. This can help improve your blood sugar level and increase alertness.
Preventing symptoms of brain fog with diabetes starts with keeping a stable blood sugar level.
This helps balance brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and serotonin) in your brain, as well as prevent blood vessel damage that can lead to cognitive problems.
If you believe your brain fog is medication-induced, speak with your healthcare provider. They may switch you to another drug or adjust your dosage to prevent low blood sugar.
The good news, though, is that brain fog isn’t usually permanent, so you can reverse mental fatigue with the right treatment.
Remember, too, brain fog isn’t a medical condition. It’s a symptom of unstable blood sugar.
A healthier diet and adjustments to your medication can help you manage the underlying cause of brain fog and improve cognitive function.
These measures can also lower your risk of developing future health problems like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
According to research conducted in 2015 on the effect of diabetes on cognitive function, people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia.
If mild brain fog improves with better diabetes management, you probably don’t need to see your healthcare provider.
But if you take steps to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, yet you don’t see any improvement in cognitive function, talk to your healthcare provider.
Again, they may need to adjust your medication or complete tests to rule out other medical conditions such as an autoimmune disease or depression.
Brain fog with diabetes can have a tremendous impact on your outlook and interfere with the quality of your life. Memory problems, mood swings, and decreased concentration can make it hard to stay positive.
However, brain fog is usually reversible with the right treatment.
See your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or feel that your brain fog isn’t improving or is getting worse.