Similar to my recent post on gluten and memory loss, gluten is also linked closely to mental “brain fog”. A feeling of confusion, reduced ability to think clearly, or make quick connections. Because we can’t feel the tissue in our brains like we can feel the tissue in our guts, we don’t necessarily identify the effects of a glutening on our cognitive function. But it’s there. In fact, unexplained brain dysfunction is seen in 6 to 10 percent of patients diagnosed with celiac disease.
Sadly, I find my brain is often in a fog. Case and point: I opened my kitchen cupboard yesterday morning to get out a coffee cup and I find this scene.
Yep. That’s the half & half that I used in my coffee the morning before. I put it in the cupboard instead of the refrigerator.
This happens all the time. Not just with the half & half, but I’ve found peanut butter in the freezer. I’ve inexplicably lost one flip flop somewhere in my apartment. I’ve looked for 30 minutes for my phone before remembering that I plugged it into the charger.
It’s like I’m 90 years old – my brain just misfires and it will just do things that make no sense while caught up in the fog.
So, what causes this annoying lack of mental clarity? Gluten, of course. Among other things.
The top three gluten related causes of brain fog are:
- Nutrient deficiencies – especially B vitamins and zinc. Due to malabsorption of these and other vitamins/minerals, the body and brain can start not functioning properly.
- Milk and dairy. Studies have shown that for many celiacs, eliminating gluten isn’t enough to completely lift mental side effects from the disease. Only when dairy and gluten were eliminated did their condition improve noticeably.
- Sinus congestion/pressure. Gluten can cause inflammation of the sinuses, which places pressure on parts of the brain and increases histamine levels.
With the elimination of every trace of gluten, and in some cases dairy, conditions in people with brain fog have been shown to improve, especially in children. In one study, a group of children who eliminated gluten from their diet raised their grade point averages from 2.5 to 3.9!
Of course, this is just more evidence that I really need to give up dairy in my diet. It’s something I’ve tried and something I dread actually having to do, but maybe it will help me stop putting my half & half in the cupboard 🙂
There are hundreds of symptoms and side effects of Celiac disease, and each person who’s diagnosed seems to be affected by a different cocktail of them. Even once you start following a gluten free diet, there are still plenty of lingering side effects that may come and go, be triggered by accidentally ingesting gluten, or just be an ever-present thing you have to deal with (worst case scenario).
One of the side effects that doesn’t get as much attention is anxiety. A German study showed that female adults following a gluten free diet for celiac disease show higher levels of anxiety than do members of the general population. These are women on a gluten free diet, not undiagnosed.
Since our physical well being and the effectiveness of our digestive system is so important to our mental well being, it makes sense that gluten can cause all kinds of issues in your head as well as your tummy (like the link to eating disorders and depression).
I’ve been known to have really high anxiety in certain situations – top on the list is when I’m hungry and know that I won’t be anywhere with food in the next few hours (like at the beach, in a movie, waiting for a table at a restaurant, etc.).
Over the last couple of years I’ve been much less anxious and generally calmer about managing my Celiac’s, which I can attribute to a few things:
- I’ve gotten better at packing a snack for myself though, even when I’m sure I won’t need it. Just having it in my purse helps reduce the anxiety. And I’ve gotten over thinking that other people will think I’m weird/a pig for eating at random times. So what if our dinner reservation is in 30 minutes? I’m hungry now. Plus I won’t be able to eat the bread basket, so I’ll be eating at least 30 minutes later than everyone else anyway.
- Making sure I get a ton of vitamins, minerals, and nutritious food every day. Your body thanks you when you eat well and your mind follows.
- This might be cheesy, but yoga has been a lifesaver for me. It’s a time to clear your mind, concentrate on yourself, and relieve stress. I go to yoga at least once a week, and it works wonders.
- For immediate relief from anxiety, running is my cure. Running or cleaning. I like to put on some really obnoxious rap music, sprint as long as I can, and then when I feel like my heart is going to explode, stop and walk it out. Sometimes I’ll even do a little Rocky-style punching in the air…if no one’s around to catch me.
- Keeping Celiac in perspective; it’s not cancer, it’s not MS, it’s Celiac disease. Sure, it’s not curable, and it’s a total bitch to deal with, but it’s not the end of the world. I’m strong and I can handle it.