Celiac Brain Fog

Like a foggy day in SF

For two weeks now I’ve been suffering from what I can only describe as brain fog. It’s a pretty difficult feeling to explain as you will know if you suffer from it. Basically I feel as though I’m in a dreamy state. I wouldn’t say I’m dizzy because things aren’t moving but something just doesn’t feel right, my world is a little hazy. It’s like San Francisco on a foggy day.

I’ve spoken to a number of celiacs about this and the consensus is that a fair amount of celiacs have experienced this foggy feeling. For some it comes and goes whilst for others it hangs over them for a while. Is it related to being celiac or is it caused by something different altogether? I’m currently trying to work this out.

I am super careful about what I eat. Am I somehow being cross contaminated? Am I eating something which has been contaminated by gluten that I am unaware of? I don’t believe this is the culprit. This is why.

  • Brain fog has never before been a symptom of glutenation for me
  • My brain fog has lasted for over 2 weeks
  • I have no other symptoms to suggest I have been glutenated

From my research on the symptom of brain fog I have discovered a variety of different possible causes. The following appear to be the most common.

  • Mineral/vitamin deficiency such as magnesium, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, iron
  • Not getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids
  • A symptom of stress
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Heavy Metal toxicity
Around a month ago I had blood work done as part of a physical and everything was fine. Only my iron was a little low but I was told that I’m not anemic as my red blood count is fine. My doctor told me to take multi-vits which I have started taking. (Perhaps these are the problem?) I have been actively trying to eat more foods containing Omega 3 such as salmon and walnuts. I already include a lot of iron in my diet and may return to taking iron pills if the fog continues. I am trying to relax more as I’m definitely a little stressed and I am staying away from tea as a few people have cited this as the culprit of their brain fog. Now I must wait to see if the fog clears…

Beautiful and clear

Does anyone else out there suffer from brain fog and if so have you discovered what was causing it and manage to get rid of it?

UPDATE: My brain fog went away after a few weeks but I never found out what caused it. I still get brain fog every now and again but it never stays for as long as it did back when I first published this post. I changed my multi-vitamins. I”m now taking Centrum and reintroduced tea into my diet. I’ve been trying to keep a food diary to figure out what brings the fog and what clears it but as yet I’ve not been able to figure it out.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I haven’t experienced brain fog for months now and I’m putting it down to the fact that I sat down and double checked every single thing I was eating to ensure there could be no possible cross contamination getting into my diet. I have stopped using any products I cannot be 100% sure are safe including changed my multi-vitamins and stopping using Listerine. I now take Nature Made multi-vitamins which I have double checked is gluten free and safe for celiacs. Long may clear days continue! At first I was skeptical that cross contamination could cause this symptom because I wasn’t getting any other symptoms of being glutened but now I”m almost certain that this was the cause.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE (April, 2015): I had a really bad bout of brain fog last year and I’m currently experiencing another one. All my bloods came back normal. What on earth causes this horrible sensation? And how can we rid ourselves of it completely? I hope you’re all feeling clearer that I am!

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  • @MalSannie

    Oct 17th, 2011

    My guess would be the low iron? I had the same where I wasn’t technically anaemic but my ferritin level was very very low. Had all sorts of weird symptoms (apart from fatigue) like heart palpitations, and my hair was falling out too. Here is a link to symptoms http://www.buzzle.com/articles/low-ferritin-symptoms.html

  • I’m thinking you may be right. According to my blood results the ‘standard range’ for iron levels is 22-291 (seems like a huge range) but mine is only 16 🙁 I’ve been trying to eat even more iron filled products than usual but perhaps I need to get back on the iron tablets. Do you take these? Did it make your symptoms go away?

  • @MalSannie

    Oct 18th, 2011

    Unfortunately I can’t tolerate iron tablets at all but I eventually had some iron infusions. It lasted for about 2 years and then I had another course about a year ago. The symptoms did go away yes. It is safer to take the tablets if you can tolerate it though – take Vit C with it and don’t have tea or coffee for hour before or after as it stops the iron being absorbed (you probably know this anyway). First time my ferritin was 15 and the 2nd time 12! Here is another article re ‘non’ anaemia and iron levels http://www.drbriffa.com/2007/08/31/the-link-between-low-iron-levels-and-fatigue-and-why-this-diagnosis-is-often-missed/ Hope you feel better soon!

  • There’s an interesting writeup on celiacs and anemia at http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/symptomsofceliacdisease/a/CeliacAnemia.htm

    A couple other things come to mind. 1. Sleep quality. I read somewhere that celiacs, even when not consuming gluten, have significantly higher issues with sleep — both time sleeping as well as quality of sleep. 2. Vitamin D. A fellow celiac urged me to take vitamin D supplements (4000 IU/day geltabs) for mood. My doctor suggested the same thing — but for bone health! I started at 2000 IU and noticed an improvement in mood very quickly — like sun breaking through the fog. 🙂 Going from 2000 to 4000 was far less dramatic for me.

  • I used to suffer from brain fog quite regularly before I was diagnosed (2 years ago), but recently it’s made an appearance again, in spite of following a strict gluten-free diet. I do have pernicious anaemia as well as being a coeliac, I wonder whether low iron might be affecting me? After recent blood-work they’ve put me on vitamin D supplements too, which has improved my mood and energy levels this winter, but I can’t seem to shift this fog. As you say, it’s like being in a dream-state, which almost feels as if you’re not fully conscious or able to take in what’s going on/concentrate. I do eat pure (gluten-free) oats, I wonder whether it’s a reaction to avenin, a similar protein to gluten, but maybe it’s not giving me the ‘classic symptoms’ of being glutened? This is certainly something which many coeliacs have mentioned, I might ask my dietician next time I see her….

  • WOW do I feel your pain!
    I finally determined that I am gluten-intolerant/sensitive and have had this awful brain fog almost nonstop for about 5 YEARS now. There have been a few times when it has lifted for about 5 minutes at a time and it was absolutely wonderful to feel at least for those few minutes the ‘in the moment of reality’ feeling I used to feel all the time.

    I am currently working with a new doctor and he wants to check for autoimmune stuff as well as blood sugar problems. I do think I am getting cross-contaminated as well, so that is probably a huge part of it. My ferritin was so low at one point I honestly thought I might die – it was scary to be told my CBC was ‘normal’ but it wasn’t until I read a book about gluten and ferritin that I decided to take it seriously. I improved greatly after I raised the levels, but still this brain fog remains. My vitamin D (hydroxy) was also ridiculously low.

    Recently I have come across a website that explains it is not just gluten that people have issues with, but grain intolerances – that is something I am looking into as well:

    t is really fascinating that the brain fog is so insidious and so difficult to figure out how to get rid of!
    I wish all of us success in lifting the fog once and for all!

  • Thanks, Mary. This article really makes me want to stop taking Centrum although I’m not sure what I would take instead as I definitely feel that taking vitamins is helping with something that I’m missing. :/

    Dear Brain Fog, Please go away for good!!

  • Hi Laura. When I saw your mail this time I had to stop and read it closely. I have been having what I call “dreamy things” for many years now. I have tried to tell my gp who shrugged his shoulders and seemed to think I was having a laugh! They happen on average about once or twice a month. Sometimes I’ll miss a month or two. I thought maybe they were hormone related. I’m now 49 but have had them for at least 8/9 years. They are extremely hard to describe, maybe similar to what you’ve experienced. Someone suggested they are epilepsy style seizures!! All I can say is that they come over me in waves…it’s like a recurring dream which is vivid at the time but after the event I can remember nothing of it. I go very warm just as it’s passing and cannot speak coherently. They usually last a few minutes but will have many during the course of a day, inbetween “events” I feel not quite with it!
    I have been “labelled” recently as Gluten Intolerant after having all the tests for celiac proving negative, but having all the symptoms. I have cut gluten out completely, I still have the “dreamy things” but bowels are lot better.

  • I sometimes get brain fogs from secondary allergies. Anything that my body doesn’t like, which these days includes dairy, soy, refined sugar and all grains. If I come into contact with these, I get, in addition to other symptoms, a brain fog. Could you be having a reaction to some other type of food, besides gluten?

  • Wendy, your ‘dreamy things’ do sound a little like they could be epilepsy related. My mum’s husband has epilepsy and the way you describe them sounds extremely similar to what he experiences when he is having one of his ‘absence seizures’ Have you ever been tested for epilepsy. My brain fog is more of a constant thing which stays with me for days rather than something which comes and goes in waves.

    Heather, interesting that you get brain fog from secondary allergies. In a way it would be good it this was the reason as long as I could figure out what the secondary allergy is! I keep a food diary but nothing seems abnormal or different but I’ll definitely look into this more..

  • Happy LaLa

    Sep 2nd, 2012

    I’ve been white flour free for 2 weeks now and mostly gluten free. I cannot BELIEVE how much less arthritis pain I have. My allergies have cleared up, brain fog is gone and the (easy) recipes I find online for a gluten free diet are endless, and on my ipod touch apps. Trust me, if I can go gluten free anyone can. I was a huge bread/pasta addict and something finally clicked. Now, I don’t crave it at all. I’m going to test out some recipes for gluten free breads, but for now I really enjoy Udi’s breads and bagels (gluten free). Make sure to defrost them in the micro. for 30 seconds, then toast them. Best of health to you all.

  • I feel your pain I’ve been diagnosed with hashimotos with high antibodies this whole year I’ve felt terrible despite being on thyroid homes I’m being tested for celiacs next week but I’ve decided to go gluten free now I have what you lot are calling brain fog to me it feels like extreme fatige sluggish mind and kind of off balance very hard to explain but it sucks! Did going gluten free help with anyones symptoms?

  • Elsa Romo

    Nov 28th, 2012

    That have to be with thyroid,it is all about immune system, and also is related to celiac disease. You have to check your thyroid.

  • I have had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis for almost 30 years now and self-diagnosed my gluten intolerance 2 years ago. The link between auto-immune disease and celiac is scientifically undisputed. And yet my docs didn’t believe me because my blood tests were “unusually good” for my age. When I first eliminated gluten, the brain fog lifted and I felt euphoric. Now it descends on me periodically and I am at my wits’ end. How do you live with a body which is basically allergic to itself? And I am a passionate foodie!

  • Hi, after going GF I continued to get symptoms including the dreaded brain fog. It was only when I eliminated all grains (rice,oats, corn etc) that things improved. Worth considering for your ongoing problems. I hope you get to the bottom of it soon.

  • Domonic

    Apr 15th, 2015

    Hi Greg.
    Just read your reply and find that very interesting. I get horrible brain fog from oats after a few days of eating them. I also get it from wheat gluten. I’ve noticed that it is the grains but am struggling to find enough information on it. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I’ll also be staying off the rice going forward as I get massively high blood sugar from it. I’m thinking this could be due to the resulting inflammation I get from eating it.

  • Hi guys interesting read. Here’s a tip for remembering gluten containing grains- BROWS- Barley, Rye, Oats, Wheat and Spelt. Try to eat Vitamin c containing foods with iron containing foods for better absorption. B12 is harder to absorb for coeliacs. I found myself lacking by 1000mg per day despite eating lots of meat. And magnesium can cause heaps of problems here too. Good luck 🙂