Marilyn, an otherwise healthy 45-year-old woman, first visited our functional medicine and integrative healthcare clinic complaining of unrelenting fatigue, brain fog, loss of concentration, difficulty recalling words, and restless sleep.

She had seen other doctors, and they were unable to offer a diagnosis or any effective treatments. Her brain MRI scans came back as normal, and the neurologists with whom she consulted found no notable dementia or neurological disease that could explain her symptoms.

Her nervous system and brain were seemingly intact. All good from the perspective of conventional medicine, but Marilyn knew better; clearly, her brain was not functioning optimally. Marilyn’s symptoms were classic signs of brain inflammation. We had seen these same symptoms in hundreds of patients in the past. We knew the causes, and we had effective treatments to help her.

Peptides for brain inflammation

In this post, we look at common causes of brain inflammation and the PROVOKE Health approach to treatment, which may include the use of medically prescribed therapeutic peptides such as:

  • Semax
  • Selank
  • Thymosin Beta 4

Exploring the Causes of Brain Inflammation

In Marilyn’s case  many of the   common symptoms of brain inflammation were there: exhaustion, clouded thinking and brain fog, poor sleep, anxiety, and a steep decline in quality of life. But before I (Dr. Lewis) go deeper into the specifics of Marilyn’s case, let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

Other Health Conditions Linked to Brain Inflammation

Numerous health conditions can negatively impact brain health and function, including the following:

  • Previous head traumas: Traumatic brain injury (concussion), dating back to childhood, or consisting of several injuries over a lifetime, can trigger a cascade of brain inflammation that has not been put to rest.
  • Immune system dysfunction: Autoimmunity or an overactive immune system can cause systemic, chronic inflammation that affects cells and tissues throughout the body, including the central and peripheral nervous systems.
  • Food sensitivities: Food sensitivities, such as sensitivity to gluten, can cause inflammation that extends far beyond the digestive tract and can result in brain inflammation.
  • Intestinal permeability / Leaky gut: Intestinal permeability can allow substances that should be contained within the gut to leak out into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response resulting in inflammation.
  • Atherosclerosis: A buildup of plaque in and on the artery walls can cause arteries to narrow, restricting blood flow to the brain and possibly resulting in strokes — some that may not have been detected in the past.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): IBS is an inflammatory condition characterized by abdominal cramping, diarrhea, bloating, and gas, which can also lead to inflammation in the brain.

Toxic Exposures

Toxic mold, red tide, sewage, burn pits, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, chemicals in personal care and home cleaning products, and mercury in dental amalgams are all known to cause inflammation that can impact the brain and nervous system.

Smoking and excess consumption of alcohol can also play a role and need to be addressed or ruled out as contributing factors.


COVID, Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), shingles, and tick-borne illness, among other bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, are all known to cause inflammation that can impact the brain and nervous system. For example, the spike protein from COVID initiates a cascade of inflammatory cytokines that cause brain inflammation, which can be chronic (Long COVID) and require treatment.


Aging is often accompanied by reductions in hormone levels and in hormone imbalances that can lead to brain inflammation and slower metabolism, prompting weight gain and exacerbating systemic inflammation. Low estrogen or testosterone levels, for example,  can increase the risk for brain inflammation and memory loss.

Some Medications

Many medications, including metformin, birth control meds, and stomach acid reducers can lead to losses of vitamins and minerals, especially the B vitamins. For example, years of taking metformin or birth control medication can reduce your B12 levels, which leads to inflammation and the slower metabolism associated with chronic inflammation.

Poor Diet

A diet high in processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or simple carbohydrates (such as bakery goods) is notorious for triggering systemic inflammation. Not a believer? Try eating only fast food and junk food for a couple months and see how that makes you feel.


Traumatic or chronic stress alone can cause brain inflammation. With stress, the body secretes more adrenaline and cortisol, which ultimately leads to an increased burden on the brain and nervous system, causing remodeling and poor neuroplasticity (self-repair) or neural programming.

Marilyn’s Diagnosis and Treatment

Based on our conversation with Marilyn and the data collected during her detailed patient intake, we decided that her inflammation was not related to any of the most common causes — such as poor diet and lack of exercise. We had no reason to believe that it was related to other medical conditions, infections, medications, or stress.

We instead hypothesized and identified two primary root causes, both of which may be addressed through the use of medially prescribed therapeutic peptides:

  • Exposure to toxic mold.
  • Perimenopause — declining hormone levels overlapping with symptoms from mold exposure.

Based on her lab results, we were able to confirm her perimenopausal state and exposure to toxic mold. Overall, Marilyn had a healthy diet, but due to her chronic fatigue she was unable to maintain her usual healthy activities.

In Marilyn’s case, we prescribed bioidentical hormone replacement and Semax:

  • Hormone replacement restored her energy, improved her sleep, and helped her regain her resiliency.
  • Semax — a nootropic peptide that works by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) — had a direct impact on Marilyn’s ability to think more clearly. It also improved her memory and reduced her anxiety. (BDNF is anti-inflammatory that supports the growth and repair of neurons in the brain.)

The PROVOKE Health Approach to Diagnosing and Treating Brain Inflammation

Here at PROVOKE Health, we take a personalized approach to restoring health, fitness, and resiliency. Numerous factors can contribute to brain inflammation, and all of them need to be considered. Marilyn was unique in that we could isolate only two factors at the root of her inflammation — exposure to toxic mold and low hormones. In other cases, we may trace a patient’s inflammation to a food sensitivity, an underlying viral or bacterial infection, head trauma, cardiovascular disease, poor diet, or some other factor, or to a combination of multiple factors.

The point is… there’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or treatment protocol for brain inflammation. Some patients may require changes to their diet and lifestyle, others may need to stop taking a medication they’ve been on for several years. Some may require antibiotics or an anti-viral or anti-fungal medication or supplement, and others may need hormone replacement. Every case is different, which is why the diagnosis and treatment must be personalized to address the root cause(s) of each patient’s inflammation.

However, when inflammation impacts the brain, we often recommend the use of therapeutic peptides to support the body’s ability to repair damage and restore healthy brain function.

Leveraging the Power of Therapeutic Peptides in the Battle Against Brain Inflammation

Therapeutic peptides are smaller versions of proteins, some of which may have anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, or muscle-building properties. We use the following three peptides to help patients suffering from inflammation that affects the brain:

  • Semax
  • Selank
  • Thymosin Beta 4


Semax is a synthetic peptide that was originally developed as a medication for the treatment of neurological disorders such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and cognitive impairment. A fragment of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), Semax has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and has the potential for improving:

  • Cognitive function
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Brain function

Semax is believed to work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It also enhances the synthesis of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) — a protein involved in promoting the growth and survival of neurons. Research suggests benefits of BDNF include protecting brain tissue from the oxidative stress that naturally occurs when we age, experience stress, and are exposed to toxicity and brain trauma.

For more about Semax, see our previous post “Semax: A Therapeutic Peptide for Brain Health and Function.”


Selank is a synthetic peptide composed of a sequence of amino acids and is similar in structure to a naturally occurring peptide in the body called tuftsin, which was initially developed as an anti-anxiety medication. It has been studied for its potential therapeutic effects on a variety of medical conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia

Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it is thought that Selank modulates the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood regulation. It has also been shown to improve cognitive function such as the capacity to develop a strong memory.

Thymosin Beta 4

Thymosin Beta 4 (Tꞵ4) is a synthetic peptide hormone modeled after a natural peptide produced by the thymus gland. It has been studied extensively for its potential therapeutic applications for a wide range of conditions, including the following:

  • Stroke
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular damage resulting from reduced blood flow
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Recovery of soft tissue, including ligaments, tendons, and joints

To learn more about the potential benefits of therapeutic peptides, check out our previous post, “The Healing and Rejuvenating Power of Therapeutic Peptides.”

Restoring Brain Health and Function

If you’re feeling exhausted or not as mentally sharp as you once were, don’t let anyone lead you to believe that’s “normal for your age,” that nothing is medically wrong with you, or that nothing can be done about it. Just because we have no test for brain inflammation and it doesn’t show up on brain scans doesn’t mean it’s not real. Brain inflammation is serious, it’s real, and it negatively impacts the quality of many of our lives.

In most cases patients require a clinical diagnosis — a diagnosis based on the patient’s physical exam, symptoms, and health history. Further testing, such as blood tests, imaging tests, and biopsies, may be done after a clinical diagnosis is made to confirm, rule out, or fine-tune the initial diagnosis.

Inflammation is at the intersection of most chronic and undiagnosed illnesses; it can impact any system in the body, including the brain; and it can have a cascading effect. As a functional medicine and integrative healthcare clinic, fighting inflammation is a top priority for those of us at PROVOKE Health.

If you’re not feeling your best, whatever your specific symptoms are, we encourage you to consult with a functional medicine and integrative healthcare provider to investigate and address the root cause(s). Your body is equipped with amazing self-healing mechanisms, but these mechanisms may be overwhelmed and impaired. The right interventions can help restore them and put you back on the path to optimal health and fitness.

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About the Author: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, specializes in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of the symptoms related to chronic and unexplained illness through nutrition, lifestyle, chiropractic, and other natural approaches to whole-health healing at PROVOKE Health in Tampa, Fla. Dr. Lewis has 20 years of experience practicing nutritional and holistic medicine. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Shenandoah University, his Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life University, his Diplomate status in Clinical Nutrition from the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, his CFMP from Functional Medicine University, and his certification as a Digestive Health Specialist (DHS) through the Food Enzyme Institute. Dr. Lewis’ passion for health and wellness stems from his own personal experience. With a family history of autoimmune conditions and diabetes, and his own lab tests showing his genetic susceptibility to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid), Dr. Lewis has learned how to restore his own health and vigor to prevent the onset of these and other illnesses and live an incredibly active life. Through this process, he acquired a deeper understanding of health and wellness, which he now offers his patients in Tampa and elsewhere.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about the use of therapeutic peptides in the treatment of brain inflammation is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this blog post should be construed as medical advice from Dr. Matthew Lewis, Functional Healthcare Group, PLLC, or PROVOKE Health, nor is this blog post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this blog post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this blog post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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