Seven fomenters of brain fog

Several factors combined together to cause me years of spaciness and difficulty concentrating. Highlights of this period included giving the wrong last name when called on in class and almost getting my head wedged between two floors of a department store while riding the escalator. Most of the causes were ferreted out after I went gluten-free, and now I can face a big project and a tight deadline without sweating it too much, given enough Pepsi.

The problem is that metabolizing an acre’s worth of high-fructose corn syrup when you’re 25 is one thing; now it’s quite another. I’m still looking for the final pieces to this puzzle.

The main causes were:

1. and 2. High histamine, caused at least in part by low iodine

I discovered this by accident when I was working day and night on a project while playing host to a cold. Out of desperation I started mainlining vitamin C — something like 1,000 mg an hour, all day. After two days of that I realized I was thinking a lot better than normal. After some research I discovered that vitamin C lowers histamine; that in some people histamine is too high all the time, and not always with allergy-like symptoms; and that histamine occurs naturally in food, some much more so than others. Now I finally had part of the answer as to why certain foods had recently started making me spacey: eggs, rice, large amounts of protein, kimchee.

The second part of the question was why I had it now, when I hadn’t before. An uncorrected, and thus steadily worsening, iodine deficiency would explain it. According to some experts, it is rampant now that we avoid (iodized) salt. Insufficient iodine will cause a rise in histidine, which the body converts into histamine.

Another theory is that I’m not making enough of a certain enzyme, amylase, that breaks down carbs. Which with a recovering celiac’s innards wouldn’t be surprising.

3. Leaky gut

A classic celiac legacy. A damaged gut can cause dairy to be only partially broken down, and it so happens that some of those only-partially-broken-down particles happen to be in the form of opioids, as in opium, which then escape into the bloodstream and make you loopy.

4. Iron deficiency

Common enough among all women, never mind celiacs. For various reasons though, it was never possible for me to get my levels up to ideal numbers.

5. Folate deficiency

Folic acid, a type of folate supplement, never did much for me so I never investigated it very far. When I learned that it’s not a very efficient form of folate, I tried the superior form (methylfolate) and discovered that large doses made a noticeable difference in my ability to concentrate. However, at a certain amount — which sadly is also the amount that makes my fingernails look REALLY GOOD — it then raises histamine, which leaves me back where I started it made me really spacey, which felt like elevated histamine. I am not clear on what that was — my understanding is that unmethylated folic acid can raise your histamine if you’re a poor methylator, but that methylfolate would not. I really don’t know.

6. SAD, which is probably vitamin D deficiency

If I don’t use my high-intensity lamp in the fall and winter, I turn into a zombie and eat everything in sight. And stop sleeping. And think thoughts that make me look around for Hank Williams.

7. Insufficient essential fatty acids (EFAs)

These helped for about a year, then made my insomnia worse. Now they give me scary headaches AND total insomnia.

Other suspects I’ve looked at in my brain fog investigation were candida, digestive enzymes, vitamin B12, zinc, and calcium and magnesium. The latter two, once I got levels up to normal, reduced jitteriness and listlessness, which made it easier to concentrate. The rest did not seem to be involved. YMMV.

12 thoughts on “Seven fomenters of brain fog

  • Jess

    I’m trying methyl folate for the first time and it’s making my nails grow like weeds! BUT My brain is also feeling loopy and borderline depression with it so…. I think I’ll try your vitamin C tip before giving up on it, thanks!

    • Marjorie

      Jess: You might look at the comments on this post. One commenter said, “… methyl-b12 taken the same day as methylfolate makes my mood PERFECT.” Also check out mthfr dot net if you haven’t already.

    • Jess

      @Marjorie, unfortunately due to my anemia I’ve been taking B12 and iron and B’s ( somewhat high doses) and all the other regular stuff for the past year or so pretty consistently. The vitamin C has been in token amounts though. I do notice my allergies are way down with the methylated folate, but not taking only methylcobalamin. Otherwise my pill stack has been consistent (I think…)

      I’ve gone through that guy’s site before. He is probably right about a few things, but I don’t like his anecdotal observations on his kids as his science to sell :shrug:

    • Marjorie

      Thanks for letting me know about the mthfr site. I haven’t looked at it in several years. Another thought: when my zinc levels get too low my mood suffers, and iron and folate both compete with zinc.

  • Rich

    I got the scary brain fog, that lasted a week and felt like Dimensia… and took a mega-b 100 and it cleared in a few hours. You mention folate, at the time I thought it must be Thiamine that fixed it. Anyways what you said looks right.

    On the Accutane comment, I tried mega-a,e,d… and got some light headedness for a couple of hours. And then these vitamins normalize after 4 hours. I think the Vitamin A thing, is annoying but a lot different than B deficiency.

  • Dawn Parker

    Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron. I found I was testing as anemic but I actually had to much iron in my system, my body wasn’t absorbing it, but vitamin c helped it to do so

  • Seth Morgan

    I really relate to your article and suspect some of my issues are due to high histamine. I get loopy and brain fog while taking digestive enzymes, you mention that in the article, did you notice that too? Thanks for reminding me about vitamin C.

    • Marjorie

      I don’t recall digestive enzymes going that for me, but then I could never take them for more than a few days because they stopped me sleeping. Milk thistle does, but I don’t think it’s used in many digestive enzyme products.

    • Marjorie

      Susie: According to my iodine diary, I didn’t notice brain fog lessening until 100 mg. (That’s mg, not mcg.) However, I also wasn’t taking enough selenium with it, which probably would have made the iodine more effective at a lower dose. Vitamin C helped only when the brain fog was due to high histamine. It didn’t work below 6,000 mg, but more than that didn’t work better. Iron: between 25 and 65 mg. Methylfolate: I think I started at 2400 mg.

  • Patti Lodes

    I was among the unfortunates who took Accutane. It has certainly caused brain fog for me and for some outright psychosis. B12 and iron have helped. Gluten free has helped. Huge difference between folic acid and L Methylfolate. Folic acid is a man made supplement and can really add to the fog.

    • Marjorie

      That’s sounds like scary stuff. Another reader mentioned that finasteride (Propecia) can cause debilitating brain fog, too.

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