Brain fog and Hashimoto's
Updated: May 11, 2020
I didn’t realise what ‘brain fog’ was until it suddenly ‘lifted’ following a considerable amount of dietary and lifestyle changes. I had suffered with it for as long as I can remember, and so to me feeling like this was ‘normal’. I remember life before I began healing felt as if I had a bag over my head… like everything was muffled… like I wasn’t actually there. It just felt ‘fuzzy’. That’s the best way I can describe it. Now looking back, I can see it wasn’t normal.
Dr Izabella Wentz (2019) describes brain fog as ‘…a collection of cognitive conditions, including memory problems, a lack of mental clarity, and an inability to focus. Sometimes described as mental fatigue or brain fatigue…’. Brain fog is a symptom of Hashimoto’s and can be caused by insufficient thyroid hormone and inflammation. It is also a common symptom of chronic illnesses such as MS and fibromyalgia. Aviva Romm M.D (2017, p. 81), likens it to feeling ‘drunk, groggy, “drugged,” fatigued, and foggy…’
Unfortunately, conventional doctors don’t know how to properly treat Hashimoto’s and instead give patients a synthetic pill such as Levothyroxine. The problem with this is that it is not addressing the root cause, as Dr Izabella Wentz (https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/brain-fog-hashimotos/, 2019) states:
The standard of care for Hashimoto’s is to utilize a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement medication. Unfortunately, simply adding a synthetic thyroid medication to the mix will not result in full recovery for most Hashimoto’s patients. While this medication can be helpful for many people and their symptoms, it does not address the underlying root causes of the condition, and may also mask the underlying inflammation that can perpetuate the immune system imbalance and lead to other chronic conditions.
This is why many people continue to struggle with thyroid symptoms, including brain fog, even after they’ve started taking medication.
So therefore, there will STILL be inflammation going on in the body, even if you are taking synthetic thyroid hormone. This hormone does nothing to treat the inflammation. But the inflammation is causing a whole host of other problems in the body. It is dangerous to leave inflammation to just take its course. One of the areas the inflammation goes to is the brain and therefore causing symptoms of ‘brain fog’. **Conventional doctors don’t tell you this**
This made SO MUCH SENSE. Despite me being on Levothyroxine from a young age, I had debilitating symptoms of brain fog. All throughout school I could never listen to the teacher. I would just ‘zone out’ all of the time. This wasn’t because I was being rebellious or that I didn’t want to listen - in fact I was the opposite - I was a highly anxious pupil who wanted to get good grades and not bring any attention to myself - not be seen. To ensure it wasn’t obvious that I couldn’t listen or pay attention, I would pretend to listen and look interested in what they were saying. This way of coping stemmed from growing up in an emotionally volatile home environment. Showing emotions would cause a volatile reaction from parents and so I learnt not to show them. I learnt to put on a facade. This was my coping mechanism. I took this coping mechanism into school too. Even though I would not be able to listen to the teacher talking for more than 30 seconds, I would sit there and try to appear as if I was listening. I think teachers thought I was the perfect pupil. I became very skilled at hiding what was going on inside. I remember when it came to exam season, I would literally spend my life learning everything from scratch at home by myself. I would push myself for hours and hours teaching myself the whole syllabus. To this day I do not know how I got through school and university - and how I coped with all that brain fog amongst other debilitating symptoms. I really don’t know how I passed my exams or got any grades at all!
The brain fog just got progressively worse and worse over the years. The inflammation from the Hashimoto’s was causing chaos and I didn’t know why or what was happening. I could never get any energy no matter how much sleep I had. I just felt ‘drugged’ all the time - completely listless and fatigued. There was a grey cloud that just lingered over me. Meanwhile, conventional doctors had no clue how to treat me, and I was told again and again, ‘your thyroid labs look normal’ and ‘well, its got nothing to do with your thyroid’. I actually started to think that I was going mad - that everyone felt this way. I used to wonder how people had so much energy to go on and do things in the evenings after school or work. I used to wonder how people could concentrate for hour lectures and understand what was being taught straight away. Why did I have to go over the lecture slides at home and read it over again and again until I could understand it? Why was I not ‘getting’ stuff that other people could just ‘get’ instantly?
It was only when I realised that the thyroid tests conventional doctors do to test your thyroid health are massively flawed (I speak more about this here: https://www.mythyroidlove.com/post/the-most-important-thyroid-tests-and-what-your-doctor-isn-t-telling-you) did I uncover that my labs were in fact, not ‘normal’. Once I had a private full thyroid panel done (recommended by a nutritionist), I could see that my T3 levels were low, and that I had elevated antibodies (meaning Hashimoto’s disease). This meant that I was being poorly treated with the current medication that I was on, plus they hadn’t even considered the autoimmune side!
In addition to poor knowledge on thyroid testing, they have no clue how to treat autoimmune diseases, and have no education on nutrition either. This really did shock me, as when I began learning and teaching myself about the thyroid and autoimmune diseases, I realised that leaky gut is a huge contributor to the development of autoimmune disease and of course this can be controlled by what we eat! In fact, many people have gone into remission changing their diets alone! I am constantly hearing about or reading abut success stories of people who are on the AIP diet. I for one, have managed to heal so much from changing my way of eating and way of life.
The best way to beat brain fog is to reduce the inflammation in your body. My top 5 ways of reducing brain fog are:
1. Avoid gluten and sugary foods
2. Exercise, exercise, exercise! - I’m not talking about strenuous exercise as this can exacerbate some with Hashimoto’s. Instead, do gentle forms such as walking and make sure if you are sat at a desk all day that you get up and stretch every 30 minutes! It’s more about small but constant movements throughout the day.
3. Deep breathing - breath work is SO powerful! Get that oxygen to all the cells in your body and your brain!!
4. Take omega-3 fish oils - AMAZING food for the brain!!
5. A moment of calm in your day - meditation, mindfulness (could just be gazing up at the sky whilst drinking a herbal tea!) - Again, AMAZING for the brain.
I hope that in sharing my experience of brain fog with you that this helps you to feel like you are NOT alone and you are NOT going mad! I also hope that this gives you faith that you can heal and that it CAN get better with the right lifestyle changes. We don’t have to feel like rubbish and be ‘signed off’ by western medicine as a ‘lost cause’. It is totally possible to heal despite what your doctor has told you. Please try some of my tips above and if you’re looking for more info at reducing inflammation, head over to my blog post where I go into more detail on this: https://www.mythyroidlove.com/post/how-to-reduce-inflammation-and-thyroid-antibodies
Good luck & let me know how you get on / share your experience to help others in the comments below or my Instagram page @my_thyroid_love :)
1. The Broken Brain Documentary Series. (2018). [video] Directed by M. Hyman.
2. Wentz, Izabella (2019) Brain Fog and Hashimoto’s. Online at: https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/brain-fog-hashimotos/ accessed January 29th 2020.
3. Romm, Aviva (2017) The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, New York: HarperCollins