​Battling the brain-fog of chronic fatigue

Mar 22, 2022

We all get phases of feeling tired but there is a big difference between occasional tiredness and the incapacitating effects of chronic fatigue. All of us suffer from lapses of memory from time to time but when true brain-fog hits, it is normally accompanied by some other underlying problem such as chronic fatigue. If you regularly experience seven or more of the 10 key symptoms, you could be suffering with brain-fog:

  • Forgetfulness, especially with short term memory
  • Lack of focus with occasional disorientation
  • Difficulty in finding the right words and loss of mental agility
  • A reduced ability to problem solve and learn/retain new skills
  • Poor concentration
  • Phases of confusion
  • Aspects of depression / anxiety
  • Occasional feelings of ‘being spaced out’
  • Difficulty in judging depth and distance
  • Reduced ability to think creatively or plan for the future

For those with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, one of the most difficult aspects to contend with is brain-fog. Many sufferers experience such a severe impairment of their cognitive functions that they fear they are losing their minds.

Treating brain-fog

There are as many theories as there are remedies for the issue of brain-fog, but one that looks as to stand the test of science has to do with improving the communication pathways between nerve cells, or synapses, and brain cells, neurons. For this to happen, chemical messengers are needed to bridge the tiny gaps between nerve cells, to allow nerve-to-nerve communication.

These chemical messengers are called neurotransmitters and the most abundant neurotransmitter in the body is acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is not exclusively found within the brain, it also influences many aspects of nerve and muscle activity as well as organ and blood vessel function, but within the brain, it’s a vital neurotransmitter involved in the formation and maintenance of memory and the ability to learn. It has also been associated with influencing and maintaining emotional health.

Overcoming a biological barrier

When it comes to sourcing the vital nutrients they need, one of the biggest problems faced by the brain and nervous system, is the protective blood-brain-barrier. Designed to protect the internal brain environment from potential toxins, this biological sieve is actually an ingenious way of keeping certain chemicals and other compounds within circulation and available to the body, but away from the delicate environment of the brain.

Acetyl-L-carnitine: an important brain nutrient

Getting substances to cross the blood-brain-barrier has presented drug developers with considerable challenges but certain naturally occurring nutritional compounds appear not to be affected by this toxin filter. One such nutrient is acetyl-L-carnitine. It is able to cross the blood-brain-barrier and has been found to improve certain aspects of energy metabolism, and enhance neurological and cognitive functions.

Acetyl-L-carnitine and memory

Supporting this is a controlled study in which 481 elderly people with memory impairment showed improvement after 90 days of supplementation with 1500mg acetyl-L-carnitine.

Acetyl-L-carnitine, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia

Further research points to low blood and tissue levels of acetyl-L-carnitine in CFS and fibromyalgia sufferers. In a placebo-controlled study on 102 patients with fibromyalgia, supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine over 10 weeks, was found to improve the symptoms of pain and low mood. To establish the effects of acetyl-L-carnitine, the researchers measured tender points and assessed fatigue, depression, sleep and other common fibromyalgia symptoms using well-established and tested questionnaires. At the end of the 10 week trial the total number of tender points had declined significantly, whilst those in the treatment group reported an improvement in overall pain and mood. In their conclusion, the researchers commented: “The results indicate that acetyl-L-carnitine may be of benefit in patients with fibromyalgia, providing improvement in pain as well as the general and mental health of these patients.”

Supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine

Studies looking at the effects of supplementing with acetyl-l-carnitine draw on a wide range of recommended intake levels, ranging from 1000mg (1 x 500mg taken twice daily) up to 2000mg (2 x 500mg taken twice daily) in divided doses. As a supplement, acetyl-L-carnitine should not be used by anyone taking drugs that alter blood clotting, such as warfarin, or acenocoumarol, and because of the lack of data, it cannot be recommended during pregnancy or breast feeding. There has been some cautions against supplementing with acetyl-L -carnitine if you suffer from seizures or take thyroid hormones.

Source: Words taken from an article written by Jan de Vries, originally published in Issue 38 of In Touch, Spring / Summer 2012