Gluten and Brain Fog
Brain fog is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that affect your ability to think clearly. There are a number of suspected contributors to the symptoms of brain fog. One of the contributors that has been increasingly studied in connection with brain fog is gluten consumption.
So could brain fog be linked to gluten intolerance? This article will explore that question and more:
- What is brain fog?
- The connection between gluten and brain fog
- How does gluten cause brain fog?
- Does cutting gluten help brain fog?
- How to improve brain function naturally
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog isn’t a condition or diagnosis, instead it is a term used to describe symptoms that impact brain clarity. There are a number of signs and symptoms of brain fog, and one might experience one or many of the following:
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Lack of attentiveness
- Lapses in short term memory
- Difficulty gathering thoughts
- Difficulty finding words when speaking or writing
- Temporary loss of mental acuity and/or creativity
- Fatigue, even after sufficient sleep
- Feeling mentally taxed, even from simple daily tasks
Symptoms related to brain fog may be caused by excess pressure on the brain or body from things like lack of sleep, stress, and overworking. It is believed that brain fog may be caused by inflammation and hormonal imbalances that affect mood, energy, and focus.
The Connection Between Gluten and Brain Fog
In practice, we see that many newly diagnosed celiacs or gluten intolerant patients have struggled with brain fog symptoms for years. These patients typically don’t realize that they’ve struggled with symptoms of brain fog until they make a switch to a gluten free diet and start enjoying more energy and mental clarity and focus.
But does research show that gluten is linked to brain fog in those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance? Well, a brain MRI study found that similar to patients with celiac disease, patients with non celiac gluten sensitivity experienced neurological symptoms including: headaches (51%), brain fog (48%), balance issues (31%), tingling (19%) at 90 minutes following gluten consumption. It took approximately 48 hours on average for symptoms to resolve.
Another study performed analyses on brain images and found that participants with celiac disease have cognitive deficit, indications of worsened mental health, and white matter changes.
The study found that 90 percent of survey participants (89% of those with celiac disease and 95% of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity) reported that they experience brain fog. Incredibly, these results suggest that brain fog is one of the most common symptoms of celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity.
The graph below shows a breakdown of symptoms reported, with the most common descriptors of brain fog being difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and grogginess. These findings support the concept that celiac disease is associated with neurologic and psychological features.
How Does Gluten Cause Brain Fog?
So now that we have confirmed the connection between gluten and brain fog, let’s take a look at the mechanisms that contribute to this connection:
- Intestinal inflammation suppresses brain function: research has linked gut inflammation such as that found in those with celiac disease with neurodegenerative diseases
- Gluten causes neurological damage: research has identified that gluten can contribute to neurological damage and notes a finding of a “hyperexcitable celiac brain,”
- Gluten causes Leaky Brain: gluten can compromise the blood brain barrier, a critical layer that protects the brain from harmful substances. This condition is called Leaky Brain and can lead to symptoms of brain fog.
- Gluten causes nutritional deficiencies that affect brain function: We know that damaged intestinal lining leads to malabsorption and deficiencies of key nutrients like folate, vitamin B12, iron, omega-3s, and more. Take a look at our Guide to Supplements for Celiac and Gluten Intolerance for guidance on what supplements may support your health, and what to look for when choosing a reputable gluten free supplement.
Does Cutting Gluten Help?
Research has shown that eliminating gluten completely from the diet can reduce the day-to-day effects of brain fog. Many study participants noted that they noticed improvements in cognitive function after a month of eating strictly gluten free.
Improve brain function from the effects of gluten naturally
In addition to cutting gluten, here are some tips to help increase your brain function after gluten induced brain fog:
- Eat fat: fat is vilified in our society, but it is important to eat sufficient healthy fat to support brain function. Avoid industrial seed oils and trans fats, and focus on healthy fats and their oils like olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Omega-3s, found in fatty fish, are crucial to brain health.
- Minimize excessive carbohydrate intake: you don’t need to cut carbs entirely, but excess carbs turn into glucose in the body which can impact blood sugar levels and ultimately get stored as fat.
- Maintain a healthy blood sugar level: High blood glucose levels, levels of glucose transporter protein type 1 (GluT1) decrease, reducing uptake. This can cause decreased energy production in the brain, which can lead to immediate brain fog and increased oxidative stress.
- Exercise: exercise and muscle mass support better blood sugar control. In addition, we know that movement promotes cerebral spinal fluid around your brain.
- Be aware of medications that can be detrimental to brain health: statins, metformin, and blood pressure lowering medications are three major types of medication that can contribute to vitamin deficiencies and cognitive decline. While they are intended to support health, they can actually degrade health in other ways.
- Stop eating all grains (not just wheat, rye, oats, and barley!): Grains can cause inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain.
Brain fog is one of the most common symptoms of celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity, but may easily be overlooked as it is not a gastrointestinal symptom. The good news is that eliminating gluten can help to resolve feelings of brain fog.
Think you have brain fog caused by a gluten sensitivity? Take our sensitivity and see how you can change your cognitive function by cutting gluten out of your diet