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Originally published on 29th April 2016 Last updated on 26th November 2019
Thyroid brain fog is real. Oh, it’s real alright. You can read the lighter side of my brain fog experiences here, but in this post, I’m going to explore how and why thyroid patients experience it among their many other symptoms.
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is often described as feelings of mental confusion or lack of mental clarity. The phrase comes from the feeling of a fog that reduces your ability to think clearly. It can feel like a mental block. It can cause a person to become forgetful, detached and discouraged and even depressed as a knock on effect.
Brain fog is a common symptom of thyroid problems, particularly hypothyroidism.
What Causes Thyroid Brain Fog?
Low Thyroid Hormone Levels
Thyroid hormones T3 and T4, used by the brain, have major influences over virtually every brain activity. So if a thyroid patient doesn’t have enough of these thyroid hormones in their body, brain fog often occurs, to varying degrees.
At times, mine was so severe that it seriously impacted my ability to work. I could read an email ten times and it still wasn’t registering in my mind.
Ensure that both your Free T3 and Free T4 are optimised and not just ‘normal’, ‘fine’ or ‘in range’.
Thyroid hormone, particularly T3, has an important role in the health and optimal functioning of your brain, including: cognitive function, the ability to concentrate, mood, memory and attention span. This explains why we can experience symptoms such as brain fog. T3 interacts with brain receptors and makes the brain more sensitive to chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which affects your alertness, memory, mood and emotion.
Dr Datis Kharrazian also comments on how Hashimoto’s, which around 90% of hypothyroid patients have , can cause inflammation in the brain, leading to symptoms like brain fog. I watched a seminar on this at the Healing Hashimoto’s summit, 13th-20th June 2016.
Since depression can also cause symptoms of brain fog, receiving adequate treatment for that and treating any underlying conditions is also important. Many thyroid patients are also on antidepressants. My depression was caused by an inadequately treated thyroid problem, so once my medication was right for me (switching to NDT), my depression lifted.
Explore Vitamin B12, D, iron, ferritin etc. too to rule out other causes for brain fog and similar thyroid symptoms.
Some thyroid patients also swear by magnesium supplementation for improving brain fog.
Poor Gut Health
I experienced an impressive reduction in brain fog after overcoming candida (yeast overgrowth) and gut permeability with a functional medicine practitioner. With leaky gut, the intestinal barrier of the gut becomes permeable from hypothyroidism, infections, food intolerances (especially gluten) or even stress, allowing food particles to slip through and circulate round the rest of the body. This can lead to your microglia, who work to defend your central nervous system, going in to high alert – leading to inflammation in the brain.
Addressing any gut issues is crucial for overall thyroid health, and the first step many thyroid patients make to improve this is by removing offending foods from their dit, such as gluten and dairy, which alone can improve brain fog a lot.
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Symptoms of blood sugar issues can include headaches, feeling faint and dizzy, feeling hungry again quickly after eating, feeling tired, grouchy, irritable and foggy minded.
One of the simplest things you can do to improve any thyroid symptoms you have is to learn how to keep your blood sugar balanced. Since realising that I needed to adjust my diet to allow more protein and fat (and less sugar and carbs) in order to balance my blood sugar better, my low blood sugar bouts, irritable moods, groggy feeling, brain fog and slumps are gone.
Healthy fats play a big role in our mental health, mood and brain function. Good sources of fat include olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, flaxseed, salmon, chia seeds, eggs and even seed butter.
I also ensure I consume enough protein with every meal and snack, in order to keep my blood sugar levels balanced; sources of protein can include meats, cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, yoghurts, beans and legumes.
We should aim to eat every two to three hours to keep blood sugar levels balanced. Going long times without food, such as fasting, can place extra stress on the adrenal glands. Never skip meals.
What Helped Remove My Brain Fog
Going gluten-free dramatically improved my brain fog, but things like addressing low iron levels and low Vitamin D levels also helped. As well as addressing my gut health, diet and eating to better balance blood sugar levels.
Keep nudging your doctor for more reasons as to what is causing your brain fog if you still have no joy with any of the above tips. It’s often one of the most debilitating symptoms of being hypothyroid.
Do you experience thyroid brain fog?
The book Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate: When You’re Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired, which builds on this article in detail and covers the simple things you can do to resolve thyroid symptoms.
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but more reading and references can also be found at:
Rachel Hill is the highly ranked and multi-award winning thyroid patient advocate, writer, speaker and author behind The Invisible Hypothyroidism. Her thyroid advocacy work includes writing articles, authoring books, producing her Thyroid Family email newsletters and speaking on podcasts, as well as being a founding board member for the American College of Thyroidology. She is well-recognised as a crucial contributor to the thyroid community and has a large social media presence. Her books include “Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate” and “You, Me and Hypothyroidism”.