One of the most empowering results of getting my own Hashimoto’s into remission was shedding the brain fog that had plagued me for so long, and feeling like I could think clearly again. I finally felt like I was able to follow my dreams, and turn them into reality.
Once the brain fog, fatigue, and weakness lifted, I shifted from being the tired, moody, and self-doubting couch potato I saw in the mirror — and grew into a woman capable of accomplishing anything on most days. My brain is back, and I can’t even describe the amount of self-confidence that has been instilled in me.
What I have found in my own body, and what’s been true for most of the clients I’ve worked with, is that nutrition is the cornerstone of recovering one’s health. Dietary changes can produce profound improvements in your symptoms — and those changes may, in some cases, produce a complete remission of your condition.
Changing your output often starts with changing your input, and changing the food I was putting into my body lifted my brain fog and increased the amount of energy I am able to put out into the world!
What is Brain Fog?
The term “brain fog” is used to describe a collection of cognitive conditions, including memory problems, a lack of mental clarity, and an inability to focus. Sometimes described as mental fatigue, brain fog itself is not a medical condition, but a symptom of another condition.
Conditions that are associated with fatigue, inflammation, and blood sugar imbalances — like hypothyroidism — often present with symptoms of brain fog. Other medical conditions that commonly result in brain fog symptoms include fibromyalgia, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
Reports of brain fog are on the rise — particularly among women.
More potential causes of brain fog include:
- Sleep deprivation: A persistent lack of sleep disrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to memory lapses and poor concentration.
- Stress: Chronic stress can increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and cause mental fatigue, making thinking and focusing more difficult.
- Medical treatments: Brain fog is a common side effect of many medications, as well as chemotherapy.
- Hormonal changes: Dramatic changes in hormone levels, as is common during pregnancy and menopause, can cause forgetfulness and trouble focusing.
- Dehydration: Even mild dehydration can alter brain fog and result in a lack of mental clarity.
- Diet: Food allergies, sensitivities, a lack of vital nutrients, and blood sugar imbalances can all impair brain function.
How is Brain Fog Related to Hashimoto’s?
In my work with people with Hashimoto’s, as well as in my personal experience, I have learned that brain fog is a common symptom for most people. One of the main reasons is because, when it comes to Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroiditis), there is a lot of inflammation present in the body (as with any condition containing “itis” in its name).
Insufficient thyroid hormone itself can also lead to brain fog and problems with cognitive function, as brain tissue can be extremely sensitive to small changes in the amount of thyroid hormone in the body.
A third factor linking brain fog to Hashimoto’s is blood sugar imbalances, which are common in those with thyroid conditions. When we consume large amounts of sugar — often in the form of high carbohydrate foods such as desserts, grains, and starchy vegetables — the pancreas has to release larger amounts of the hormone insulin to bring the levels of sugar in the blood back down to a normal level. These surges in insulin can cause blood sugar to drop too low, and lead to lowered levels of glucose (a simple sugar the body uses for fuel) in the brain. This reduces cognitive function by essentially “starving” the brain of its source of energy.
Additionally, chronically high levels of insulin cause systemic and brain inflammation, leading to brain tissue damage and poor mental function.
Furthermore, sometimes the body may actually attack the brain, in addition to the thyroid gland. This often occurs due to a gluten intolerance, which is common in those with Hashimoto’s. What’s interesting is that gluten intolerance (non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS) seems to affect systems and tissues predominantly outside of the gastrointestinal tract, and there is an emerging body of evidence that links gluten sensitivity to neurological and behavioral changes. In fact, in my survey of 2232 readers with Hashimoto’s, 41 percent of them said that they experience brain fog after consuming gluten!
Many of the potential causes of brain fog can, themselves, be caused by poor gut health, including stress, sleep quality, blood sugar imbalances, gluten intolerance, and insufficient thyroid hormone levels. Addressing the root cause of all of these conditions can often lead to mental clarity!
Heal Your Gut, Heal Your Brain?
One of the most common root causes of brain fog in Hashimoto’s is poor gut health. In fact, we know that intestinal permeability (leaky gut) is always a factor in Hashimoto’s, so it makes sense that problems in our gut would be a primary cause of the problems in our brain.
There is a strong connection between the brain and the gut — some even call the gut our “second brain.” We refer to this connection as the brain-gut axis.
When the lining of our gut becomes perforated from poorly digested foods, infections, and toxins (referred to as leaky gut), the door is opened for undigested foods and pathogens to enter the bloodstream. These pathogens trigger an immune response that results in systemic inflammation. This, in turn, increases the risk for food sensitivities, inflammation, pain, and autoimmune disease.
Leaky gut is related to “leaky brain,” a condition in which the blood-brain-barrier (a protective membrane around the brain) becomes over-permeable. This allows pathogens to enter the brain, leading to inflammation that can present as brain fog.
One of the most effective strategies for alleviating brain fog is to address dietary changes, as the food you consume has the potential to help or hurt the gut first, then the brain. Food is information not only for the DNA of your cells, but also for the microbes in your gut, known as your microbiome. A change in the food you eat rapidly alters the activity of the gut microbiota — within one to four days. This is because gut bacteria produce signals that determine gene expression, hormone levels, immune activity, and stress levels in your brain and body. When your gut flora changes, so does your brain.
I learned about the impact of food on my brain health when I cut out gluten and dairy and started to use digestive enzymes to boost my digestion. Within days, my energy was back, I could concentrate, and I woke up ready to write a book and tackle the world! Today, I’d like to share my strategies to overcome brain fog, so you too can reclaim your mental clarity.
These are the steps I recommend for addressing gut health:
- Eliminate food intolerances, such as gluten and dairy, which I’ve found are the primary food sensitivity culprits in Hashimoto’s (though we can become sensitive to any food). Doing an elimination diet or testing for food sensitivities can help pinpoint problematic foods, which will allow you to eliminate them and give your gut the opportunity to heal.
- Boost digestion with the use of digestive enzymes and betaine with pepsin to break down foods for proper absorption. A lack of digestive enzymes and stomach acid are common in Hashimoto’s, and can allow undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream through a leaky gut. This often results in food sensitivities and nutrient depletions, which can lead to brain fog, as well as other symptoms.
- Address any nutrient deficiencies that you may have. The most common ones seen in those with Hashimoto’s include thiamine, B12, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and vitamin D. Restored nutrient levels will reduce many of the symptoms commonly associated with Hashimoto’s, including brain fog and fatigue.
- Nourish your body with an organic, grass-fed, whole foods-based diet that steers clear of processed foods. While pre-packaged foods are devoid of most nutrients and laden with preservatives that can harm the intestinal lining, whole foods are rich in nutrients (like vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, and iron) that provide fuel for brain health.
By getting off gluten and food sensitivities, optimizing digestion, addressing nutrient deficiencies, and boosting gut health with a thyroid-friendly diet, brain fog can be eliminated!
To learn more about eliminating your symptoms, download my free Thyroid Symptom Hacker Guide below!
Help For Your Brain and Body
Using food as medicine is at the core of my mission to help people with Hashimoto’s recover their health — mind and body — and I’m so grateful that my friend and colleague, Sara Gottfried, MD, shares the same philosophy. She has just released a new book called The Brain Body Diet, which is designed to reconnect the brain and the body to restore health.
Your health problems, she reveals, are in your head — that is, they are caused by a malfunction in the connection between your brain and your body. Brain health is a powerful indicator of overall health and well-being. While our thoughts can affect our physical health, what we do to our bodies also has a lasting impact on our brain health.
Designed for the female brain — which is different from the male brain — her breakthrough protocol, which focuses on dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and mind-body lifestyle changes, will help you boost your energy levels and improve cognitive function — as well as lose weight — in less than six weeks.
Filled with incredible success stories and the most up-to-date scientific research, Brain Body Diet will completely change the way you look at your life, and help you achieve total body health.
Order your copy of Brain Body Diet today!
I hope this information helps you on your journey towards better mental and physical health!
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Note: Originally published in March 2019, this article has been revised and updated for accuracy and thoroughness.