Over on my Facebook group Healthy Living with IBD, I asked for some suggestions on what my next blog post should be. It was unanimous that the next topic I should tackle is brain fog. Brain fog might be something that you’ve not heard of, but when you hear the symptoms you’ll find yourself nodding along! Brain fog and IBD are linked too. In fact, if you’re reading this and struggle with your gut, you’ll find a connection with links between brain fog and IBS, brain fog and coeliac disease and a whole range of gut disorders!
So..what is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a term that covers many different symptoms. It’s not something that is medically diagnosed or tested for but it is a useful term for a range of symptoms where the individual says they simply feel their brain is ‘woolly’ or ‘cloudy’. You might report symptoms like…
- Finding it really difficult to concentrate
- Low energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty taking in information
- Not being motivated
Those symptoms might sound like everybody after a busy weekend or a night out drinking- but with brain fog, it can feel as if these symptoms never really go away: impacting everything from conversations with your family to your job.
What causes my brain fog?
There’s lots of things that can potentially cause brain fog:
- Lack of sleep– goes without saying this can make symptoms of brain fog worse
- Nutritional deficiencies- I mentioned in my Vitamin D blog that it can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency but I’d also recommend getting Iron, Vitamin B 12 and Magnesium ruled out. You can’t be tested for Omega 3 deficiency easily in the UK but oily fats also help our brain so it’s wise to think they could also help brain fog.
- Hormones. Cortisol, Dopamine and Serotonin all work together to help us deal with stress, be alert and relax. These can often be out of sync; especially if we’re often stressed (since our adrenals will release more cortisol at the first sign of distress).
- Diet. This can have a real impact on several levels. It can, of course, lead to nutritional deficiencies. If you’re not eating enough carbohydrates or your blood sugar is all over the place, this can lead to a drop in serotonin (the happy hormone) and an increase in insulin- causing you to struggle with low mood and irritability. If you’re eating a diet very low in fibre, then your gut might not have the balanced microbiome it needs to thrive.
- Digestive problems– more on those in a moment!
How does my digestion link to brain fog?
A recent study found that people with Crohn’s disease had a 10% slower response time than a control group. As somebody that can never catch a ball, this gives me a great sense of comfort! The studies goes on to say that the results were even slower than people who were drink driving, which is pretty crazy (but again, goes some way to reassure me that my terrible driving is not my fault- hope my husband is reading this!) So, this certainly suggests that if you have inflammatory bowel disease- or indeed any condition that involves the immune system and/or inflammation- then this can affect your brain too! But why? Well, it’s thought that the inflammation in the gut can link to the hippocampus activity in our brain. It’s also reasonable to suggest that our disease itself can cause anxiety and lack of sleep- which can then have a negative impact on our cognitive function.
But it’s not just about inflammation, our brain is linked to our gut by the gut-brain axis even if we don’t struggle with health conditions. Our guts actually produce a range of things we need for overall wellbeing- it produces serotonin which helps us feel happy and synthesise B12 which helps with our nervous system. If it’s not working efficiently, it can’t absorb, produce and synthesise the different hormones and vitamins as effectively- which is why so many people with coeliac disease, SIBO and IBD have severe B12 deficiencies and are diagnosed with depression (Depressing fact: you are twice as likely to have anxiety if you have crohn’s disease. More on that here) If you have IBD or IBS, it’s thought your gut uses more vitamin D which is why you are often deficient in that too!
If you are struggling with a food intolerance, that’s because your gut isn’t equipped with sufficient enzymes to break down the food particles properly- putting strain on it. Finally, if you struggle with things like burping, heartburn or GERD, then your body might be too low (yes, low, watch the video on my facebook page for more info) in stomach acid to do its job properly. Since gluten is one of those food particles that require some effort to be digested, gluten intolerance and coeliac disease (an autoimmune condition in which the gut ‘attacks’ on reaction to gluten particles) is also linked to brain fog (more on gluten and your gut in this blog post)
How Can I Help My Brain Fog?
- Get tested for vitamin D, B12, Iron and Magnesium deficiency
- Make sure you get a good night sleep. Read my sleep tips in this blog post.
- Supplement Omega 3 if you’re not already- it helps with inflammation, dry flaky skin and brain fog.
- Make sure you are eating a balanced diet- try to ensure you eat protein first thing to help control blood sugar for the rest of the day (This turmeric protein Smoothie recipe is my favourite!) .
- Even if you’re on low residue, you still need to find ways to get fruit and veg into your diet. This blog post on eating vegetables on low residue can help. Also, try to introduce small amounts of fibre where possible to help your gut bacteria.
- Introduce meditation.
- Consider being tested for food intolerances or work with a Nutritional Therapist for advice- I myself offer nutrition services (1-2-1 consultations, food intolerance testing and supplement recommendations
I hope this helps if you are struggling with brain fog! Let me know your tips on dealing with it below.