Tag Archives: enzymes

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.

Repairing the unspeakably lousy digestion of the celiac

Updated February 17, 2013

For years, in order to survive a job interview or a conference or a plane trip, I’d have to stop eating 36 hours beforehand. Any food I ate back then would either roar through the alimentary canal too quickly, or would display a profound reticence about making its exit, whereupon anything entering the works subsequent to that was greeted by what felt like a riot in a peat bog. Events that increased my stress level more than everyday routine would then tip things into the Miserably Uncomfortable and Distracted end of the dial.

No matter where I was or what time it was, I would’ve preferred to be lying in a scalding hot bath, which was the only thing besides not eating that made me feel better, although not much.

Celiacs are famous for their disastrous digestive tracts, but going gluten-free did not result in any great improvement in mine until I started experimenting with supplements. I believe the problem was three-fold:

1. Celiac disease causes atrophy in the intestinal villi that produce the different enzymes the body uses to break different substances down. So half-digested food was running amok up and down the line, and the rest of the digestive system refused to have anything to do with it.

2. Celiac-induced deficiencies caused the intestines to lose their peristalsis mojo. Calcium and magnesium, for example, play a role in contracting and relaxing the muscles. The intestines couldn’t squeeze and twist and smash sh%! up or keep it moving along the way they were supposed to.

3. The same thing caused the large intestine lining to break down, and undigested particles were leaking out of the gaps into the bloodstream. However, I don’t think this was as large a problem for me as the first two.

Things first started getting better when I started taking digestive enzymes at every meal, which I did for months. I don’t remember what brand it was, but it came from the alterna-doc. Things got better still when I started taking calcium and magnesium.

In addition, at the recommendation of many people on the Listserv Celiac list — one of the few lists I’ve ever visited, BTW, whose members know how to write a subject line, and which ruined me forever for all other discussion groups — I took 500 mg of the amino acid L-glutamine every other day for perhaps a year. Any more and I got headaches, which I believe is normal for people who react badly to monosodium glutamate (MSG). The body can convert glutamine into the amino acid glutamate. According to Ron Hoggan & James Braly, authors of Dangerous Grains, the amino acid can “prevent and reverse villous atrophy, a leaky gut, and the malabsorption of nutrients.” I definitely saw an improvement over the months that I took it. When I stopped it, I did not get worse.

Things got even better after I started taking a tbsp (tablespoon) of psyllium husk fiber powder twice a day, which I did for a couple of years. That took care of the borborygmus, one of the best words ever, that taking supplements occasionally brought on. According to experts, this amount of fiber will either keep you from ever dying of cancer, or will deplete your body of every mineral on the periodic table. I’m saying that the amount I was using might be overkill. It’s your call.

Several years later, I took a truckload of betaine hydrochloride (BHCl) for many months, which helped absorption a lot, judging by the state of my fingernails and skin. I think I started with 4 x 500 mg capsules with each meal. When the BHCl started to make my stomach burn, I’d lower the dose, until eventually I didn’t need it anymore.

At some point I also took probiotics for months.

And of course, as I experimented with my diet I learned which foods ruined my digestion and that there was a clear connection between indigestion and my mood. Most of the intolerances eventually disappeared.