Tag Archives: difficulty concentrating

Exercise idea for mental function when you’re energy-challenged

For all that the experts go on about exercise and mental function, walking, which is all I’ve been able to manage for a while, never does a thing for mine, no matter how winded I am when I finish. It turns out I need a different kind of exercise for that.

After I started taking the more bioavailable forms of folate and vitamin K, I would very occasionally have a day where I was unusually productive. Finally it occurred to me that the day before each I’m-a-genius day, I had spent 30 minutes vacuuming the upholstery with my hardcore HEPA-filtered anti-allergen handheld vacuum, which weighs 6.5 pounds. It’s a royal pain after about 10 minutes of use, but what it does for my sinuses is a miracle, so I deal with it.

Needless to say, I’m not about to vacuum every day. Instead I get out my 6-pound exercise ball and pretend to do free throws (without actually releasing the ball, obviously) for a few sets of however-many reps, then do it again every few hours. I increase the reps when it gets too easy.

Vacuuming definitely had not had that effect before the folate and vitamin K2. Deficiencies of the two cause anemia, which is associated with less-than-optimal brain function due to insufficient red blood cells, which are needed to move oxygen around. But apparently correcting that isn’t enough…you have to get the blood to the brain in the first place. And for me, walking doesn’t quite cut it.

Seven fomenters of brain fog

Several factors combined together to cause me years of spaciness and difficulty concentrating. Highlights of this period included giving the wrong last name when called on in class and almost getting my head wedged between two floors of a department store while riding the escalator. Most of the causes were ferreted out after I went gluten-free, and now I can face a big project and a tight deadline without sweating it too much, given enough Pepsi.

The problem is that metabolizing an acre’s worth of high-fructose corn syrup when you’re 25 is one thing; now it’s quite another. I’m still looking for the final pieces to this puzzle.

The main causes were:

1. and 2. High histamine, caused at least in part by low iodine

I discovered this by accident when I was working day and night on a project while playing host to a cold. Out of desperation I started mainlining vitamin C — something like 1,000 mg an hour, all day. After two days of that I realized I was thinking a lot better than normal. After some research I discovered that vitamin C lowers histamine; that in some people histamine is too high all the time, and not always with allergy-like symptoms; and that histamine occurs naturally in food, some much more so than others. Now I finally had part of the answer as to why certain foods had recently started making me spacey: eggs, rice, large amounts of protein, kimchee.

The second part of the question was why I had it now, when I hadn’t before. An uncorrected, and thus steadily worsening, iodine deficiency would explain it. According to some experts, it is rampant now that we avoid (iodized) salt. Insufficient iodine will cause a rise in histidine, which the body converts into histamine.

Another theory is that I’m not making enough of a certain enzyme, amylase, that breaks down carbs. Which with a recovering celiac’s innards wouldn’t be surprising.

3. Leaky gut

A classic celiac legacy. A damaged gut can cause dairy to be only partially broken down, and it so happens that some of those only-partially-broken-down particles happen to be in the form of opioids, as in opium, which then escape into the bloodstream and make you loopy.

4. Iron deficiency

Common enough among all women, never mind celiacs. For various reasons though, it was never possible for me to get my levels up to ideal numbers.

5. Folate deficiency

Folic acid, a type of folate supplement, never did much for me so I never investigated it very far. When I learned that it’s not a very efficient form of folate, I tried the superior form (methylfolate) and discovered that large doses made a noticeable difference in my ability to concentrate. However, at a certain amount — which sadly is also the amount that makes my fingernails look REALLY GOOD — it then raises histamine, which leaves me back where I started it made me really spacey, which felt like elevated histamine. I am not clear on what that was — my understanding is that unmethylated folic acid can raise your histamine if you’re a poor methylator, but that methylfolate would not. I really don’t know.

6. SAD, which is probably vitamin D deficiency

If I don’t use my high-intensity lamp in the fall and winter, I turn into a zombie and eat everything in sight. And stop sleeping. And think thoughts that make me look around for Hank Williams.

7. Insufficient essential fatty acids (EFAs)

These helped for about a year, then made my insomnia worse. Now they give me scary headaches AND total insomnia.

Other suspects I’ve looked at in my brain fog investigation were candida, digestive enzymes, vitamin B12, zinc, and calcium and magnesium. The latter two, once I got levels up to normal, reduced jitteriness and listlessness, which made it easier to concentrate. The rest did not seem to be involved. YMMV.

Rx, OTC, diet-, and needle-based ways to treat hypothyroidism

It took me two years from the time I first suspected I had thyroid problems to get treated for it. I was very tired, had a weird, periodic hum in my body as if the ship’s engine on “Star Trek” was running in the background, was unbelievably cold outside in the winter, and my hair felt like it had an electric current running through it. But my test results from my traditional doctors, who were only looking at TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), always came back normal. When I read that ideally other markers should be looked at as well (e.g. T3, T4, etc.) I asked for those tests, but they, too, came back normal.

In the meantime, after going gluten-free, I had decided I was going to REALLY get healthy. I started eating fish several times a week and every morning I would drink juiced greens, including Swiss chard, mustard greens, and two types of kale.

I was rewarded with a worsening of my thyroid-esque symptoms (and with elevated mercury levels, but that’s another story). During yet another bout of research, probably at about.thyroid.com, I discovered that cruciferous vegetables — such as greens, cauliflower and broccoli — when ingested raw are capable of tanking the thyroid, either by lowering iodine levels or by affecting hormone production directly.

I also learned at around the same time that a New England Journal of Medicine article had declared that another, wider set of lab ranges were more accurate for diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism.

So I stopped the goitrogens immediately and felt better soon after, but the issues remained. I had at this point already given up on traditional doctors so went straight to the two alternative medicine practices I had visited earlier. The doctor I saw at the first one told me that food had no effect on the thyroid and to “put those papers away” (the copies of the research papers on goitrogens) and that “you need to educate yourself,” in a tone reserved for the types of people who believe you can get pregnant by swimming in a public pool. Then he listened to a list of my symptoms and pronounced me hypothyroid.

The alterna-doc at the second group had also heard about the NEJM changes but had never heard of the effect of those vegetables on the thyroid. She started me on 1/4 grain of Armour thyroid, which is derived from pig thyroid and has been around since the 1920s (I think). After a month or so my mood, temperature, memory, fatigue, and skin were much improved.

However, I discovered that if I took iron, which I needed for fatigue, it brought back the hypothyroid symptoms, even if I took it at the requisite four-hour interval from the Armour. Without the iron, I was exhausted. Eventually I discovered that I could avoid this effect by taking 50 mg of zinc.

Wonderful as it was, that dose of Armour did not resolve everything. When I tried to increase the dose I got heart palpitations, a weird vibration in my thyroid, insomnia, and jitteriness. Most glorious of all, a hair would start to grow out of the middle of my forehead. This is when I discovered that you can whip your thyroid all you want, but if your adrenals are shot, you won’t get very far.

The alterna-doc gave me hydrocortisone (Cortef) for about six months in an attempt to boost the function of the adrenals, but I noticed no effect at all. My cravings-driven chocolate intake also probably thwarted anything positive we could do for them.

After 18 months I got tired of taking Armour every day and asked Needleman the acupuncturist to treat me with acupuncture. That involved nine weeks of about 15 treatments, 60% of which was covered by my insurance. (This has since dropped to almost no coverage.) At the end of the nine weeks, my test levels (by the new ranges) were normal, so I dropped the Rx and never felt those symptoms again.

My thyroid numbers are still obscenely robust, or so I’m told, and yet I still cannot eat goitrogens, such as pears, buckwheat, or broccoli, without feeling symptoms. That makes me think that my remaining complaints — stubbornly low iron, fatigue, insomnia, hair thinning, and brain fog — might still be associated with thyroid function. (They are also associated with adrenal function.)

Two doctors who’ve written books on iodine (Brownstein and Abrahams) believe that under some low-iodine circumstances, the thyroid can display my type of complaints without betraying anything in the usual lab tests. In other words, it might have been bludgeoned into submission with an Rx but isn’t necessarily healthy.

My depression and what I did to end it

August 13, 2017: My theories on this subject have changed. Until I can get my act together to update this content, please see this post.

The text below was last updated February 6, 2012.

My depression lasted from junior high until I was about 31. I realized by ninth grade that it was not event- or environment-based. At around 30, after 18 months on antidepressants, I realized they were a disaster for me and I looked elsewhere for solutions. A few months later, and after two years of unemployment due to my mental state, I found success with a gluten-free diet. At first I thought that all my problems had been solved, and it truly was the end of my despair, but if I had to go back to my mood in those early “I’m cured!” days, it would terrify me. But at the time, it was so much better than my norm that it was a miracle.

It took about two more years of tinkering with my diet and supplements before I realized I was normal. And with no help from any doctor, thank you very much, although they occasionally were of use on other issues. Just a lot of internet searching and a few alternative health books.

Following the logic that since celiac disease (for which a gluten-free diet is the solution) results in malabsorption and thus nutritional deficiencies, that my health problems were caused by nutritional deficiencies, I went in that direction, and with a few exceptions stayed on that road.

Here’s a list of the supplements/treatments/practices that definitely had an effect on my depression, which is about one-tenth of what I actually tried. Mind you, I never took ALL of these at the same time, and only take a few of them now, on occasion.

  • Quit gluten.

  • Quit dairy. Resumed when corrected zinc deficiency.

  • Calcium/magnesium: 1000/500 per day at first? Maybe more.

  • Zinc: 50 mg/day for about a year, then cut back. This had the most noticeable effect of all the supplements. After a few months on it, I could eat dairy again without it lowering my mood. (The casein in dairy binds with zinc.)

  • Iron: Varying amounts.

  • B-complex: Started with B-50 3x/day.

  • Plus more of the following B vitamins, which B-complex doesn’t have enough of, as they are too expensive for the manufacturer. Compare the various RDA percentages on the B-complex label to get an idea of the different amounts.
    — Biotin: 1-2,000 mcg
    — Folic acid: 400-800 mcg. See note below about newer, better form.
    — B12: 1-2,000 mcg. ” “

  • Vitamin D3: 2,000 IU/day. Helped mood a bit, but mostly sleep. I should’ve tried a lot more but at the time the “experts” said that amount was pushing it.

  • Omega-3 EFAs. I took a lot of these for several years.

  • Treated for hypothyroidism. Zinc helped this, as did low-goitrogen diet, Armour thyroid for 18 months, and acupuncture, which I tried after I got tired of being slave to a prescription. After about 15 treatments in nine weeks with an M.D./D.O.M., I was able to stop the Rx.

  • Light therapy in winter for 30 minutes in morning. For me it prevents plummeting mood, insane carb cravings, zombie brain, and near-total insomnia.

Still affecting my mood:

  • Winter (seasonal affective disorder / SAD): I am assuming that lots of vitamin D3 will eventually fix this, but I developed a reaction to vitamin D3 supplements and can’t get my levels high enough. Ideal results for the 25(OH)D test are supposedly 50-80 nmol/L, but I can’t get above 20 nmol/L. Also, I have noticed that the light therapy doesn’t work if I do it after 8 a.m., whereas for the first several years it worked as long as I did it by 9 a.m.

  • Vicodin. (Demerol, however, is lovely.)

  • If I take a whole lot of something that competes with zinc and/or B vitamins — for example, my recent experiments with huge doses of Ca/Mg for energy — I’ll have to take those supplements to keep my mood from falling.

  • Not getting enough calories. I’ll feel it two days later.

  • Assholes.

Notes:

I did not know until this year about the limitations of folic acid and B12 cobalamin/cyanocobalamin supplements (as opposed to methylfolate and methylcobalamin). I wonder if using those better supplements would have sped up my progress.

I’ve never taken a whole lot of things at once, as it makes it difficult to figure out what the heck is doing what, I find it overwhelming and annoying, and I just can’t digest all that much.

I still experiment a great deal with supplements, but not for the depression end of things. Knock on wood.