Suffering from foggy head syndrome…
Over the past few months, I’ve been experiencing an increasing set of symptoms that are best described as a “foggy head”. I would feel like I was drifting in a perpetual fog throughout the day, almost as if I had never quite woken up. I would catch myself looking at my screen in a daze from time to time…
I went to visit the doctor in what was probably the first time in quite a while, and I scheduled a blood test. The blood test came back with normal numbers all around, except for a few normal-high numbers for the liver, notably bilirubin. I had a follow-up ultrasound done of my abdomen, which found no problems at all. The doctor noted that I had two spleens, but told me that it’s harmless. I then had a second blood test done for the liver to rule out hepatitis and other diseases. My bilirubin was still high, but everything else was normal. This could possibly indicate that I have Gilbert’s syndrome, which appears to be relatively harmless.
So if everything was basically fine, then what was wrong? The symptoms hadn’t disappeared, so my doctor gave me a referral for a neurologist to try and figure out what was going on.
The symptoms worsen…
During this time, my symptoms were worsening. I would pass through days in a daze, feeling clearer only late at night. When the feeling was very strong, my gut sometimes felt like it was contracting or on fire, and I would feel like throwing up. I didn’t know how I could get through a day like that.
One day was particularly bad, so I went back to see my doctor to see if there wasn’t something else we could look at. He was completely stumped, and insisted I wait another couple of weeks until I see the neurologist, as my symptoms were quite vague and unusual.
I wasn’t happy with having wasted my time at the doctor’s office, though I know it wasn’t my doctor’s fault. He was simply doing the best he could. I was still upset at the time, and earned myself a speeding ticket for it. I could do nothing else but wait for the neurologist. My doctor couldn’t determine what was wrong, since the tests hadn’t shown anything wrong.
Something to note is that sometime before I went to see the doctor, when the symptoms were milder, I went to try acupuncture a few times. I had never tried it before, and I was curious. Later when my doctor noted my high liver test results, I was impressed with the way that the practitioner had been able to determine that I had a “fire of the liver”, without having any prior knowledge of my test results beforehand or of my symptoms, other than “foggy head” and “lack of energy”. I also did feel better after a session, though it was never permanent.
I was also impressed that he was able to tell when I was feeling foggier than other days simply by feeling my pulse on both of my wrists. Whenever I felt foggier, he would say that the pulse on my left wrist felt different; a bit weaker; again, this was without me ever saying anything beforehand. In fact, when I came back from my hike on Mount Mansfield, I felt really good and he said that my pulse was stronger. In fact, I felt great for that week, though the problems came back the week after.
Nothing I do seems to help?
At this point, I had already been to the doctor, done my basic tests, and I had even tried some traditional medicine. What else could be the problem?
Maybe the fogginess was due to a lack of exercise? It’s true that I do spend most of the day sitting on my ass, as I work in front of a computer. However, I am not completely inactive. I also walk around quite a bit when taking the subway, and also during breaks. Once a week or so, I walk about 5 subway stops and take the subway from there. I also ride my bike and I also do workouts twice a week. Although I’m not and I wasn’t super fit, I was still getting some level of exercise.
Maybe I was simply missing some high-intensity cardio? I started doing some runs up the stairwell in my office building up fifteen flights of stairs, but I would get back to my desk out of breath and just as foggy as before.
Maybe I just needed some more sunlight? I would walk outside in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes a couple of times a day, but I would feel just as foggy afterwards.
Maybe it was the EM waves from my cellphone? Well, I no longer leave my phone on the night table next to my head; it’s now located a couple of feet away from the foot of my bed. This didn’t seem to change all that much, though.
I was getting increasingly frustrated by the persistence of the fog and the lack of progress, and my seeming powerlessness to do anything about it. My girlfriend can testify to my increasing frustration, and I thank her for putting up with it and for supporting me through this!
The road to recovery
Me and my girlfriend did more research into “foggy head” symptoms, and I found that there is a connection between the liver and these symptoms. The theory is that our livers can become overloaded with toxins due to all the crap that’s in our food, water, and air these days. The body becomes less efficient at flushing these toxins out, and they can end up in the brain where they can have a detrimental effect.
Another theory that I’ve read is that our intestines are normally host to a healthy mix of bacterial flora, but due to our modern diet, this mix can become unbalanced and detrimental to our health. In the process of metabolizing what we eat, this bad mix of bacteria can create certain compounds that can give rise to a “foggy head” syndrome.
I don’t know how well these theories stand up to rigorous scrutiny, but the connection seemed to make sense; I decided to put it to the test.
Detoxifying your body
The first thing I did was a detoxification. No crazy fasts or disgusting enemas; I simply started following a 30 day detox challenge by adopting a 100% paleo cuisine. I have mentioned the benefits of going primal in the past but I have to admit that it’s not something that I had been very strict with, myself. I was still eating freshly-cooked food, to be sure, but I was also eating a lot of grains and pasta, drinking lots of milk, eating some processed food, and the occasional fast food. In the last few weeks before I started my detox, I had started to get into the habit of drinking a coffee with a Kit Kat bar. I actually had a craving for it every day. It doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well, maybe it wasn’t so great, either.
The day I went on the detox plan, I stuffed the milk in the freezer, stuffed the pasta and stuff like that in the tallest cupboard where it could not be easily reached, and drank mostly water for the first day and ate whatever was left in the fridge that could still be eaten.
That first day, my gut felt like it was declenching. I went through a LOT of water, and I could feel my insides washing out. The next day, I bought plenty of food at the grocery store and started to prepare healthy, clean meals. I also bought a couple of 4L water jugs from the store; I know, maybe not the most environmentally healthy thing to do, but our tap water actually smells pretty funky sometimes. I just don’t know about drinking chlorinated and fluoridated water, even after passing it through a Brita filter.
I felt much better after only a couple of days. I had my appointment with the neurologist that week, and when I went to see him, I already felt better. He did some standard tests on me, but he couldn’t find anything wrong. Based on my symptoms, he didn’t have a solid idea of what the problem could be.
He suggested three choices to me: Do nothing about it, wait a long time for a MRI in the public sector, or pay to get a private MRI. There was no way I was going to do nothing, and there was also no way I was going to wait a year or more to find out if there really was something wrong with my head or not, so I elected to do the private MRI.
During the rest of the week, my health continued to improve. I felt good that weekend, and I felt good the days afterwards. I started following the primal blueprint and fitness plan; primal eating is similar to the detoxification plan, and is a good way to continue. I’ve eliminated most grains, refined carbs, and other types of foods that can cause inflammation in the body and cause digestion problems.
Nothing I had tried up until this point had had any significant effect on my foggy head; only a detox and a shift to primal eating had a profound effect on my ability to think clearly, and on my general level of health. Although the fog isn’t 100% gone, I feel much better these days. I have a higher level of energy than I had before and I am now able to go many hours without eating, whereas before I would feel as if I was starving and I would have cravings for my Kit Kat bar. My mouth still salivates a little when thinking about it, but I can go without it. In fact, I’m perfectly happy with some fresh fruit as a snack!
The results of my MRI further confirmed that my feelings were not related to a physical problem with my brain:
- The cerebullum, brainstem, and the cerebral hemispheres are of normal morphology.
- Adequate grey/white matter differentiation. Normal size and shape of the ventricular system. The craniocervical junction and the midline structures as well as the orbits and their contents appear unremarkable.
- No areas of unusual signal in the parenchyma.
- No mass lesions. No demyelination. No gliosis.
- Minimal left mastoid inflammatory changes.
- Conclusion: Normal study.
So not only does my brain appear normal, it actually appears unremarkable! The only item of note is the minimal left mastoid inflammatory changes, which appears to be something unrelated to the brain; the conclusion is otherwise normal (other than the fact that I have quite an oddly-shaped head; yes, I saw the scans for myself!).
I guess this means that things are looking good up there, and I should stop worrying about that!
So, what does going primal mean? Primal eating is based on the idea that for over two million years, our diet was rather simple and specific: It consisted of animal fat, protein, and whatever vegetables, roots, and berries and fruit that we could forage. Our bodies are best adapted to this kind of diet. Although we can also digest grains and processed food, our bodies are mal-adapted to process these sorts of nutrients, and they can wreak all kinds of havoc within our bodies.
So back to the basics… sounds good, right? Unfortunately, that does not describe the kind of diet that most of us “enjoy” today. Highly processed and refined carbs are the order of the day. Our bodies have gotten used to a massive dose of carbohydrates every few hours, and it prepares plenty of insulin in response. This leads to a boom and crash cycle which sends our bodies through wild swings, increases stress and inflammation, and leads us to accumulate fat on our bodies.
We are simply not meant to eat this way! We did not evolve in these circumstances, and even our ancestors of a few hundred years ago did not eat the way that we do today.
In shifting to a primal diet, our body learns to burn fat instead of waiting for a periodic massive carb influx. It might sound somewhat counter-intuitive, but by cutting out refined carbs from your diet entirely and eating more fat and protein, you can actually improve your physique, increase your energy levels, and watch the fat melt away.
Here are some of the great benefits that I’ve noticed:
- There is no longer a need to eat “snacks”. Whether I’m hungry or not, I find that I have much more energy throughout the day, and I can go longer without eating. This is because my body is no longer adapted to a periodic massive carb intake which must be satisfied to avoid feeling like crap.
- When I do get hungry, it feels more real. I actually look forward to and enjoy eating healthy meals with clean cuts of meat and plenty of vegetables!
- The fog is almost entirely gone. It’s not completely gone, but I feel much better than I have in months. There might be some additional steps needed to get rid of it completely, but I can actually live my life again!
One thing which I must note is that primal eating is most assuredly not a “low” carb diet or a no-carb diet. It is rather a “healthy” carb diet. You can get all the carbs you need from eating vegetables, fruit, and nuts. If you are a hardcore marathoner then you can always ramp up your carb intake if needed.
Here are some resources where you can learn more about healthy primal eating and paleo nutrition:
- Nikki Young’s Paleo Cookbooks have some tasty paleo recipes, teaching you how to cook in a more healthy style with less refined sugars and processed foods.
- Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint teaches you how to live in a more primal lifestyle.
I also have to mention the benefits of meditation. If I combine primal eating with meditation every now and then, I can end up feeling really great afterwards. My form of meditation is very simple: I simply sit in a quiet space with legs crossed, close my eyes, and pay attention to my breaths. If other thoughts come up, I pass over them briefly and then let them fall away to the side.
I’ve found that this can have a laser-like focusing effect on my thoughts. Before meditating, it can feel like my thoughts are spraying everywhere like a wild fire hose, but after meditating, my thoughts feel more collimated into a powerful laser beam.
Although I feel much better now that I’ve gone primal, I have to mention that my mouth still salivates at the thought of a freshly-baked baguette, with cheese and smoked salmon. Even if it turns out grains aren’t such a great nutrient, they can taste so good sometimes… so, as a compromise, I still allow myself to eat bread and other grains that I actually enjoy every now and then; I just don’t make them a staple of my diet. I also still eat cheese and other foods that are not quite “paleo”, but are not necessarily bad, either; besides, they taste good and don’t seem to have a negative impact on me.