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Can You Snack Your Way Out of Brain Fog? Three New Studies Suggest Yes

Maurice Beer M.D.
August 19th, 2021 · 6 min read

In this article:

  • The best tool to combat brain fog might just be a matter of choosing the right snacks
  • The connection between gluten consumption and brain fog
  • An underactive thyroid can cause brain fog - but it isn’t always the culprit for hypothyroid sufferers
  • A diet high in fats and sugars can impair your mental clarity, but this seems to be reversible
  • The problem of how to get rid of brain fog baffles many, but it may not be as complicated as all that
The cause of your brain fog could be as simple as the snack you chose for an afternoon pick-me-up. The good news? If you implement a few common-sense strategies, the food you’re eating can also be the solution.

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  • Brain fog is a pervasive problem that can be caused by gluten sensitivity, thyroid issues, or a high-sugar diet, to name just a few.
  • Brain fog is almost always reversible, whether that involves switching up your eating patterns, or treating an underlying health condition.
  • If you don’t already know the source of your own brain fog, you could use trial-and-error to find out, or you could use Base’s saliva and finger-prick tests to get straight to the root of the problem.
The best tool to combat brain fog might just be a matter of choosing the right snacks
Brain fog could be simple as a bad night’s sleep, or it could stem from years of working a high-stress job. There are even rising numbers of people dealing with brain fog resulting from COVID-19. While factors like bad sleep, stress, or even too much caffeine are well-known causes of persistent mental fogginess, you could be missing out on the bigger picture if you aren’t also looking at your eating patterns.
We’ve all heard about the importance of eating a hearty breakfast, but what about snacking? To be more specific, the importance of not inducing a mid-afternoon crash with the wrong food choices, then trying to compensate with the latest and greatest energy supplement. An easy test would be to swap out your usual snacks at work for some healthier options; if this makes a difference in your day-to-day energy levels, you’re probably onto something.

The connection between gluten consumption and brain fog

Study #1 - Gluten-induced Neurocognitive Impairment: Results of a Nationwide Study
What the title actually means - A study showing that gluten can cause brain fog
Good to know - The test was formatted as an online survey, and the answers were self-reported by nearly 1400 people who either had celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This means that the results weren’t observed in a controlled setting, so there’s a certain margin of error involved.
What they found - Even so, the overall point of the study is pretty solid. If you suffer from gluten sensitivity, a major symptom is pervasive brain fog after exposure. So major, in fact, that it was reported by 89% of the participants with celiac disease, and 95% of the people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The takeaway - If you realize that you’re experiencing brain fog after eating gluten-containing foods (such as pasta, bread, pastries, etc.), you may have a gluten sensitivity. Try swapping your morning toast for oatmeal, explore the world of gluten-free pasta, or reduce gluten by cutting carbs for even more potential health benefits. There are a growing number of food options for people who want to avoid gluten, but that may not even be necessary in a few years; a biotech startup has been working on engineering gluten proteins so that people with celiac disease can eat it without triggering a reaction.
An underactive thyroid can cause brain fog - but it isn’t always the culprit for hypothyroid sufferers
Study #2 - Patients with underactive thyroid report pervasive brain fog
What the title actually means - Pretty simple stuff. There’s a definite link between hypothyroidism and brain fog.
Good to know - Just like the previous study, this one was done via online survey; the diagnoses and symptoms were self-reported by over 5,000 participants.
What they found - 46% of the participants reported experiencing brain fog before their hypothyroidism diagnosis. That’s not exactly breaking news, but here’s something you might not expect - only 14% said their brain fog improved after adjusting their medication. 82% reported either frequent or constant brain fog symptoms. In a nutshell, some of the participants may have had an underlying cause for brain fog besides hypothyroidism, but once they were diagnosed, they were almost sure to experience it.
The takeaway -  This is a pretty clear case of “correlation does not equal causation”. Most hypothyroid patients have brain fog, but some of them could regain their mental clarity by addressing lifestyle factors like diet, stress, and more. For instance, say you’re experiencing brain fog and hair loss - both symptoms of low T3, one of the main thyroid hormones. Instead of relying solely on thyroid medication, you could support your mental clarity and hair growth with omega-3 intake as well. The best part? It’s an easy change to make! Simply add MCT oil to your morning smoothie, or switch out your peanut butter for walnuts or slices of avocado or guacamole to get a quick omega-3 boost.
A diet high in fats and sugars can impair your mental clarity, but this seems to be reversible
Study #3 - A high-fat high-sugar diet-induced impairment in place-recognition memory is reversible and training-dependent
What the title actually means - Diets that are high in both fat and sugar can impair your ability to recognize or remember places, but the effects can be reduced with either prior training or by a change in diet.
Good to know - This study was conducted using rodents, not people. Even so, rodents are commonly used in studies to demonstrate how the human body would respond under similar conditions.
What they found - The rodents were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet, and then tested on their abilities to navigate pre-determined spaces. Based on comparisons between three different groups, the only thing that seemed to protect their place-recognition skills was previous training in navigating these spaces. However, when the first group of rodents returned to a healthier diet, they regained their place-recognition abilities.
The takeaway - A diet that’s high in fat and sugar doesn’t just result in generalized symptoms like possible weight gain or brain fog; it also has measurable consequences on cognitive abilities. Based on other research, though, it seems like you should probably cut down on the sweet stuff before you commit to giving up cheese and bacon. The effects of too much fat definitely aren’t fun, but many of them, like bad digestion or even high blood pressure, can still go back to normal for people of almost any age (as long as they weren’t severe to begin with). Excessive sugar, though, comes with a laundry list of both short-term and long-term effects. Start your day with something sugary, for example, and your insulin levels (and brain fog levels) could be yo-yo-ing all day long. Eventually, your system may not be able to maintain normal blood sugar levels, which is when you start getting into diabetes territory.
Probably the most obvious substitute for sugar is artificial sweeteners, but don’t go for the Coke Zero just yet - diet sodas (and by extension, artificial sweeteners in general) have been implicated in some of the same diseases as actual sugar. Instead, try using natural sweeteners like honey, agave, maple syrup, or stevia, and skip the sugary juices or cereals in favor of fruits that are low on the glycemic index, like berries.
The problem of how to get rid of brain fog baffles many, but it may not be as complicated as all that
Cutting out gluten, increasing your omega-3 consumption, putting agave instead of sugar in your coffee - these are all things that can reduce your brain fog, but none of them will really tell you what’s making the brain fog happen in the first place. If this is what you’re really after, then getting some lab tests is probably the best way to get the answers you want. And if brain fog is getting you down, you might want to skip the hassle of going to the doctor’s office, and try Base’s at-home lab tests instead.
Not only are they just as accurate as conventional lab tests, but they’re infinitely more convenient - you can take care of the whole process without leaving the house! Just mail your finger-prick or saliva samples in the pre-addressed packaging, and wait a few days for your lab results to appear in Base’s app. You’ll get your results, plus personalized recommendations based on your unique health profile. No more guessing or experimenting to find something that will finally work; Base works hard to give you the answers you were looking for, and the results you were hoping for.

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