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How to Tell if a Food Intolerance Is Messing With Your Brain

Brain fog can make even the simplest task feel difficult or overwhelming. Maybe you’ve felt a little slower in the cognitive processing department these days. Or just seemed a bit more tired or sluggish than usual. Or regularly distracted with trouble concentrating. Then it’s possible you’re experiencing brain fog

Brain fog is no fun, and what’s worse, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Lots of people struggle for years before they figure out what’s causing their brain fog. 

One of the common triggers of brain fog is food intolerance. These mild sensitivities to certain foods could be at the root of your brain fog. 

What’s Brain Fog

Brain fog is the blanket term we’ve come to use to describe a general feeling of mild confusion, lack of clarity, and forgetfulness. Brain fog can also mean that you’re feeling tired, you have trouble focusing or concentrating, or your brain just doesn’t seem to be ‘firing on all cylinders.’ 

Brain fog is not a medical condition. It’s not something diagnosed by a doctor. 

When people describe what brain fog feels like, they usually say that they feel distracted or disoriented. You may feel as if you’re walking around in a haze or a fog. Brain fog causes you to feel slower to react or remember things. It’s possible you may feel as if your emotions are dulled too. Sometimes, brain fog is accompanied by a slight tension headache. 

What Causes Brain Fog

Brain fog can be a symptom of other medical conditions, including[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4490655/:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Migraine
  • Thyroid disease
  • Hormonal changes (like in pregnancy, menopause, or perimenopause)
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Celiac disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections

Causes of brain fog also could include:

  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Lack of sleep
  • Food sensitivities and diet

Ultimately, scientists believe anything that causes inflammation in the brain could cause brain fog and neurodegeneration.[2]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15265532/[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390758/ 

Food Intolerances And Brain Fog

One common thing that could cause a low-level inflammatory response in the body is intolerance to certain foods. This could result in brain fog.

Sometimes, it takes years to realize that food intolerance is causing issues with your body and brain. Usually, the body’s response to food intolerance is mild — so people have a hard time tying the symptoms back to the cause. Also, the symptoms of food intolerance can be the same as symptoms of many other common disorders or diseases, so they often get dismissed or misdiagnosed.

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What Is A Food Intolerance?

Food intolerance is a sensitivity to certain foods that is not as severe as a food allergy. People with food intolerances may experience a myriad of symptoms — from digestive discomfort to skin rashes, and brain fog.[4]https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-intolerance/

There’s no one food intolerance that causes brain fog, so it’s impossible to answer the question, “what food causes brain fog?” But in general, there are several foods that many people experience difficulties with, including[5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682924/:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP)
  • Food additives
  • Histamines

If you suspect that you have a food intolerance, or brain fog as the result of food intolerance, you may have to do a little detective work to figure out which foods cause you trouble. 

You can start by making a food diary. This is where you record everything that you eat and then take notes about how what you eat makes you feel. Keeping track of your symptoms in this way allows you to make connections between your diet and your brain fog. 

How To Do An Elimination Diet

Another way to figure out if food is the culprit when it comes to your brain fog is to try an elimination diet.

After you’ve tracked what you’ve eaten for several weeks, you may have an idea of what food is exacerbating your brain fog…and if so, you can try cutting it out of your diet completely for 4-6 weeks and see if your symptoms improve. 

If you don’t have an idea of which food is causing your troubles, then you can try cutting out a few of the most likely culprits and see if that helps. Sometimes, people find relief after cutting out some of the most common allergens. These include sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol, eggs, corn, and peanuts.[6]https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/facts-and-statistics

Best Diet For Brain Fog

If an elimination diet is a little more than you can commit to, it may be easier to simply start with a generally brain-healthy diet.

Your body and your brain love whole foods. Vegetables, fruits, high-quality protein, and fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are all considered brain foods. Diets high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugar generally tend to be worse for promoting inflammation and the brain fog that often accompanies it.[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/​​ 

There’s no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone. But here are a few general guidelines to keep your brain at its best:

  • Try to limit fried foods. Studies show diets higher in fried foods are linked to lower memory and learning scores.[8] … Continue reading 
  • Avoid added sugars. Research indicates too much sugar in the diet can lead to memory problems and general cognitive impairment.[9]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jdn.10032[10]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6662517/
  • Add in Omega 3 (DHA) where you can. A recent animal study showed that highly processed foods could cause cognitive decline, but supplemental DHA appeared to protect the brain from the inflammatory foods.[11]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889159121005043 There’s lots of Omega 3s in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils.[12]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/

Can Brain Fog Be Cured?

Since brain fog isn’t really a medical condition, there isn’t a cure for it in the strict sense of the word. However, it is possible to clear up the underlying medical condition that’s causing your brain fog. For example, if you have an infection that’s leading to brain fog, and your infection is cleared by your immune system, then your brain fog should retreat too. 

If your health problem that is causing brain fog is a bit more chronic in nature, you may be able to manage your health condition and hopefully see your brain fog wane as a result. 

And if your brain fog is being exacerbated by food sensitivities, cutting the offending food out of your diet may result in your brain fog disappearing.

Best Supplements For Brain Fog

Along with changing your diet or identifying which foods trigger your brain fog episodes, you may want to consider supplements for brain fog. Certain nootropics can help to keep the brain fog at bay by offering extra antioxidant support for healthy levels of inflammation. 

Some great options to consider:

  • Omega 3 (DHA)[13]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257651/  
  • Artichoke Extract[14]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18490655/
  • Ginseng[15]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16342327/
  • N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC)[16]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2090989615000351

Adding in these supplements to your nootropic stack or your daily supplement routine could help to calm down inflammation and make your brain fog diminish.

How To Improve Concentration

When brain fog’s messing with your focus, it’s hard to find ways to fix your concentration problems. 

Supplements could help, but it’s also hard to figure which ones are right for you.

Luckily, we’ve developed a short quiz that cuts through the noise and makes accurate recommendations for you based on your lifestyle and your goals. 

If brain fog’s your battle, we can help you decide which nootropics are right for you. If creativity is your goal — we can find the right mix of supplements to give you a boost. 

Check out the quiz here. It only takes a few minutes and it could really change your life.

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