Celiac brain fog is something many with celiac disease complain of. Personally, it’s one of the biggest symptoms I struggle with when I’ve been glutened.
Because it’s such a challenge, I decided to combine my personal experience as a fellow celiac and my professional experience as a dietitian specializing in celiac to bring you a guide on celiac brain fog. Here’s why this mental fog happens and 10 ways to cope with it.
Before we get into the link between ADHD and celiac, we need to understand what celiac is.
Celiac is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and contaminated foods like oats), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine.
These attacks lead to damage to the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
This inflammatory response to gluten and related nutrient deficiencies can cause a wide variety of symptoms in people with celiac. From bloating, headaches, constipation, joint pain, bone health complications, infertility, weight gain, weight loss, and more.
This can start at any age, and occur in any body, as long as someone is eating gluten and has the celiac genes. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.
Before we can get into celiac brain fog, we need to know what brain fog in general is. Generally, brain fog is used to describe symptoms that make it feel hard to concentrate or remember things quickly. Overall, things just feel harder than they should.
Brain fog can be attributed to celiac (as we will discuss further into this post), and it can be attributed to other conditions too. Not only has it been linked to celiac, but it’s been linked to other conditions like menopause, ADHD, and also long-covid.
As opposed to regular mental fog, celiac brain fog is a reaction to eating gluten in people with celiac. Essentially, it’s brain fog but celiac-related.
It’s not a widely accepted symptom and is generally poorly understood with celiac. Despite this, it remains one of the 300+ reported symptoms of celiac. Other symptoms include constipation, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, bloating, headaches, and more.
While not widely accepted, it impacts many celiacs. In fact, a survey by Beyond Celiac reported that 89% of celiacs surveyed reported brain fog after eating gluten.
In that same survey by Beyond Celiac on the prevalence of brain fog in celiacs, they also polled respondents on how they’d describe it. Many described their brain fog as difficulty concentrating, mental confusion, forgetfulness, detachment, and grogginess.
As a celiac who gets brains fog after eating gluten, I would describe it as everything taking more mental energy to do. Even simple tasks feel 10x harder to manage with it.
It’s reported that celiac brain fog starts as soon as 30 minutes after eating gluten. It’s then reported to last anywhere from a few days to almost a week. Again, researchers don’t understand why the mental fog happens but that doesn’t discredit the fact that so many of us experience it.
It’s important to note that if your brain fog persists as you heal celiac, than it’s likely related to something else. You should feel better after healing celiac. Symptoms should only appear as you’re exposed to gluten. If you need help with self-soothing, check out this post on what to do when you’ve been glutened.
Perhaps the most important part of this discussion is how do you cope with mental fog? How do you cope with everything feeling so much harder?
Here’s a list of things that I do care for myself when I have brain fog:
Those are the tips I have for managing brain fog with celiac. I want to acknowledge that many of these require a decent amount of privilege and I’m holding space for any option that might seem inaccessible. It’s hard living in a capitalistic society with chronic illness.
Celiac brain fog is common with celiacs. However, it should resolve within 2-3 weeks of gluten exposure. And if it’s a symptom of your intestinal damage, it should improve as you heal. If it’s not getting better, it might be time to talk to a celiac specialist about what else could be going on.