Brain Fog (& what to do about it)

Brain FogHere’s a riddle:

Q: What do you do when your previously gentle and intelligent spouse starts to behave like a hostile toddler most of the time?

A: Do everything you can to reduce their brain fog!

When his brain fog was at its worst, Matthew reminded me a lot of a hostile toddler.

A hostile toddler with a driver’s license and credit cards.

It was not good!

The brain fog that accompanied the overall decline in his health was one of the scariest symptoms he experienced. And it is one of the many symptoms that has responded exceptionally well to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP).

We first noticed marked improvement in Matthew’s cognitive function after seven months on the AIP.

And every month it has improved further.

After 27 months on the AIP, he’s almost all of the way back to his smart old self. Not completely. There’s still room for recovery, but his brain has mended remarkably well.

I am fascinated about brain fog, after having watched Matthew descend into its depths and come out the other side. Rory Linehan from the Paleo PI shares my interest, having been ‘there and back again’ with brain fog himself. So, he and and I conducted some research into the phenomenon.

In January 2016, we surveyed 18 people with first-hand experience with brain fog, all of whom were on a healing protocol diet, like the AIP.

This post contains the results of that research.

Our Brain Fog Research

We found it interesting that though they had no contact with each other while our research was being conducted, the way that people described their experience with brain fog was quite similar:

  • “At its worst, it felt (literally: it was a physical sensation) like my brain was wrapped in cotton batting and nothing could get through. At its mildest, it’s like thoughts and memories and emotions are there, just not at all accessible. I once felt very alive and bright; with brain fog I feel like I’m treading water in the world.”
  • “Thoughts trying to travel around the brain are like the physical body trying to run through neck-deep water. Cannot hold onto thoughts. Understandings/actions that were long part of the subconscious mind are having to be consciously considered.”
  • “Difficult to stay on track, head feels fuzzy, mood feels flat.”
  • “No recall for words or memories. Reduced cognitive function, inability to form and organize complete thoughts. Lack of focus. Unable to absorb reading material.”
  • “Being forgetful over little things, zoning out while people are talking, tripping over thing because I’m not paying attention to where I’m going even. It’s harder to learn and retain new information.”
  • “Really hard to keep thoughts focused and clear. Have to strain the brain to converse, write and do things. All over heavy sluggish feeling in the head.”
  • “Slow thinking, difficult to concentrate, inability to complete a thought, inability to hold a conversation, inability to write more than a few words at a time, slow visual recognition of what was around me. This made me unable to work, and barely even leave the house for months at a time. In short, it was terrifying and living hell.”
  • “As if a blanket has fallen over your brain, making everything more muffled and difficult to do! For me it lifts like a blanket, too, when I feel better.”
  • “Unable to focus on the simplest day to day tasks, not knowing what the next step to do, easily overwhelmed. Fatigue because it is exhausting to try to focus. Depression.”
  • “Unable to read, can’t think through any process where steps are considered, feel like I am attempting to function while stuck in thick mud.”
  • “Can’t think straight, like half my IQ was missing, usually simple mental tasks became very difficult, not being able to weigh up options to come to a conclusion on simple matters.”

We asked: are there any known triggers for your brain fog?

  • Most people identified gluten and sugar as food triggers for brain fog.
  • Others also identified dairy products, eggs, nuts and caffeine as culprits.
  • Most identified that stress and lack of sleep provoked brain fog.
  • A couple of people identified mould as a trigger.
  • Others tied the increase in brain fog to an increase in digestive distress, like this person:  “Not specific known triggers other then my digestive system not functioning (diarrhea, cramps, bloating, indigestion).” Continuing this theme, one respondent identified that taking antibiotics increased her brain fog.
  • A couple of respondents linked brain fog with an autoimmune flare.

A typical response to this question was: “When I stray from my strict AIP diet I notice it much more. Particularly, eating eggs, oats, or wheat. Too much stress or lack of sleep makes it worse too.”

All 18 participants in our research experienced brain fog before embarking o a healing protocol diet. We asked: Are you still experiencing brain fog?

  • 6% (1 person) indicated that they were.
  • 11% (2 people) reported that they were, but that it was less severe.
  • 61% (11 people) told us that they still experienced brain fog occasionally, but that it was much better.
  • 22% (4 people) reported that they were no longer experiencing brain fog.

We also asked: Have you had support from health care practitioners in addressing brain fog as a symptom?

  • 22% (4 people) indicated that they had.
  • An additional 22% (4 people) reported that they had received support indirectly, as one of many symptoms.
  • 57% (10 people) reported that they had not had any support from a health practitioner in addressing their brain fog.

Finally, we asked people what strategies have been helpful for their recovery process. Here are some of those responses:

  • “I’ve been prescribed supplements etc. But the biggest factor in recovering from it was changing my diet to AIP.”
  • “Anti-inflammatory diet and addressing gut dysbiosis very helpful.”
  • “Watching what I eat has helped my brain fog and getting enough rest.”
  • “AIP made the biggest difference. Gluten free only reduced it.”
  • “I’ve greatly reduced my stress level, which has been hugely helpful. I’ve been paleo for 2 years and mostly AIP for about a year. Avoiding overall triggers like food allergies, anxiety, etc have been most helpful.”
  • “I adopted the autoimmune protocol as my diet 9 months ago. Fog started to lift within a month.”
  • “Supporting lymphatic drainage and detoxification pathways.”
  • “Getting better sleep & clearing gut pathogens.”
  • “Eating clean and walking.”
  • “Working out my triggers, taking stress reduction very seriously (ie changing my career, currently retraining), eliminating food triggers.”
  • “I figured out my brain fog w/o an in-person doctor, but with the help of Dr. Datis Kharrazian’s thyroid and brain books. When I started the AIP (his version, strict) three years ago, I had been gluten free for years, but still had bad brain fog. Two weeks after starting AIP, it was 90% gone. I attribute that to the absence of grains. I had minor episodes with it over the next couple years, which happened in conjunction with increased intake of AIP-friendly sugars, and some mold exposures, at different times. Key factors in fixing it: – Strict AIP diet – Low sugars consumption – Removing sources of mold from the house (in the form of houseplants with moldy dirt).”

Learn More

This is part-3 in a series of posts on Brain Fog shared between Rory Linehan  at the Paleo PI and me.

Find the first two installments here:

  1. Explaining Brain Fog and How to Reclaim Your Mental Clarity (originally published by Terry Wahls MD);
  2. Sex, Music and More: 7 Simple Strategies to Improve Your Mental Clarity.


7 thoughts on “Brain Fog (& what to do about it)

  1. Pingback: The Paleo PIExplaining Brain Fog and How to Reclaim Your Mental Clarity - The Paleo PI

  2. Pingback: The Paleo PI7 Simple Simple Strategies to Improve Your Mental Clarity - The Paleo PI

  3. Pingback: When Genitals are Involved (& not in a good way!) | petra8paleo

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