5

votes

Difficulty Concentrating/Thinking/Fasting

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 20, 2010 at 6:42 AM

About 4 months ago, I had a hypoglycemic reaction, after which I've been having all sorts of weird symptoms. One of them is a seeming decrease of my IQ, my ability to think, recall things from memory, and learn new things. I just don't have the same mental agility I used to. I've had to drop classes that normally I would have flown through as a result of this. Writing this post is difficult/painful. It's weird, it's like something is holding my brain back.

After a meal, however, my head feels much better. Not 100%, but better. About two hours later, I start getting a headache and it becomes difficult to think/concentrate. Then If I eat carbs (usually some potato), my head will feel a bit better again. I basically have to carry potatoes wherever I go.

Another kicker: my ketostix have been showing a very high level of ketones when I get these episodes, despite the fact I'm eating plenty of carbs. What does this suggest?

Some possible thoughts:

  • Anxiety. I had some serious anxiety issues since my first hypo that could have contributed to decreased brain function.

  • Excess insulin production (hypoglycemia). I've read that this can lead to high ketone levels, which in turn could explain my symptoms.

  • Real brain damage from going very low carb, low in calories, fasting, and even doing a zero carb stint (during which I had similar symptoms that I have now).

  • IBS. Having some IBS symptoms. I recall reading that "what happens to the gut, happens to the brain."

I don't think it could be diabetes -- my FBG was around 90 last time I checked. Oh yeah, also, my ketones return to a normal 5-15 level in the morning (and my head usually feels pretty good when I wake up).

Last time I saw my doctor I mentioned this and he thought it could be IBS. I didn't know about the ketone thing then, though, so I guess I should probably see him again.

Just looking to pick the minds of the PaleoHackers out there. I really, really appreciate any help. This problem is seriously hurting my quality of life. It's been four months and it's only gotten marginally better, it's incredibly frustrating.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on November 21, 2010
at 04:52 PM

Wait, NBandS, you're asking Kyle and not me, right? I'd be interested too.

211d4075d68b24cd0aa7ebfa94262bb9

on November 21, 2010
at 08:00 AM

What BG readings are you typically getting when you're having these symptoms? What's your lowest?

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on November 21, 2010
at 02:24 AM

One reason I say to check for yourself is that I used to occasionally have these episodes that came between meals and which I thought perfectly matched the symptoms of hypoglycemia. But then I got a blood glucose monitor and tested during a few of those events only to find that my blood glucose was perfectly fine the entire time. Whatever it was, it was not low blood sugar. I never did really figure it out, cuz they went alway slowly after I was on paleo for many months. Taking magnesium supps also helped a lot. More than half of the US is magnesium deficient.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on November 21, 2010
at 02:19 AM

Blood sugar issues screw with brain functioning. I suspect that many psychological imbalances are greatly fueled by food intake and blood sugar and insulin issues. All you have to do is get on the type I insulin dependent diabetes boards and mailing lists to learn that insulin is a hormone that has strong effects on brain function.

4ecfaf48bde1f86c8045a54ab3950108

(35)

on November 20, 2010
at 02:54 PM

@Ambimorph If the brain consists of 80 % water and 10 % fat, then the dry matter of the brain is 50 % fat. Most of the brain cholesterol is located in myelin, but the fat myelin consists of is not mostly cholesterol.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on November 20, 2010
at 02:28 PM

Ketones are actually neuroprotective, preventing brain damage of various kinds, so I wouldn't worry about that aspect.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on November 20, 2010
at 02:26 PM

Maybe it's 80% of the non-water mass.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 01:32 PM

Thanks Huge for the correction. Dunno know where I got that. Perhaps it was the concentration of cholesterol at 25% or maybe it was a reversal of the 80/20 ratio of water to cholesterol. No myth born...we are just a bunch of folks looking for answers from people who think outside the mainstream medical conventional wisdow box.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 01:06 PM

Thanks Hugh for the correction. Dunno know where I got that. Perhaps it was the concentration of cholesterol at 25% or maybe it was a reversal of the 80/20 ratio of water to cholesterol. No myth born...we are just a bunch of folks looking for answers from people who think outside the mainstream medical conventional wisdow box.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 01:04 PM

Thanks Hugh for the correction. Dunno know where I got that. Perhaps it was the concentration of cholesterol at 25% or maybe it was a reversal of the 80/20 ration of water to cholesterol. No myth born...we are just a bunch of folks looking for answers from people who think outside the mainstream medical conventional wisdowm box.

4ecfaf48bde1f86c8045a54ab3950108

(35)

on November 20, 2010
at 12:03 PM

And yet another Paleo myth is born. The human brain isn't about 80 % cholesterol, it is about 80 % water (as if anyone could seriously doubt that).[1] Only about 10 % of the brain is fat[1], the most common lipids of myelin, which is very important for proper brain function, aren't cholesterol,[2] and brain cholesterol is almost exclusively synthesized by the brain itself as cholesterol cannot easily cross the blood-brain barrier.[3] [1] http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/facts.html [2] http://www.jlr.org/content/6/4/537.short [3] http://atvb.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/short/24/5/806

14aa918d730371ed14f8e7e7d6eb6587

(373)

on November 20, 2010
at 08:41 AM

It wasn't diagnosed. I binged on raisins after a workout, and an hour later felt like someone had injected caffeine into my veins. I was super jittery, nauseous, and stayed up the whole night, then woke up the hungriest I've ever been. Worst night of my life. Dunno what else it could have been. I've had blood tests done and it didn't uncover anything too obvious (according to my doctor). I think I may purchase a BG monitor and track it throughout the day. Thanks Eva.

14aa918d730371ed14f8e7e7d6eb6587

(373)

on November 20, 2010
at 08:12 AM

Thanks Dexter, I really appreciate it. My TC was 238 last time I checked (HDL 70, LDL 150). I had been eating low carb awhile before this happened, and I'm eating much more carbs, and calories are probably more, so I don't think it's a fat/calories thing (I eat lots of butter). The super high ketones worries me (80-160 level -- dark purple). I really hope you're right - I want nothing more than to fix this problem.

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10 Answers

5
06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 07:30 AM

Kyle,

My first thought is to be sure that you have enough blood flowing through your carotid artery up to your brain. If it is partially blocked, your brain may not be getting enough nutrients for proper synapsis. Carotid artery blockages can be detected with ultrasound examination. It would be highly unusual for someone 24 years of age to have a blocked carotid artery.

I have read, but no verified that the brain is about 80% cholesterol and if one's cholesterol level is low or very low, one's brain function may be impaired. Low is down in the 150s.

Second, you state that you feel better after a meal...but then 2 hours later you need carbs to alliviate a headache...in other words you need an instant shot of sugar energy...since all carbs convert to sugar in the body...to stem the headache. This might be a situation that your ketogenic diet is working very very well and you are not eating enough calories in the form of fat to maintain brain function. At your age, you probably need 4,000 kcal a day. Use Fitday.com to see how many kcal you are eating. Look to keep your fat to protein at 75% fat to 25% protein.

Eating a ketogenic diet has never resulted in ketoacidosis in a non diabetic.

Finally, Dr Art Ayers at http://coolinginflammation.blogspot.com/ is convinced that most of the problems occuring today have to do with gut not having the correct intestinal flora to properly digest our food due to inflammation. Heal the gut and most of the problems go away. Roam around his site and look for gut dysbiosis, a lack of functional gut flora He talks about restoring healthy bacteria in the gut by consuming burdock root, chicory root, jerusalem artichokes, artichokes, pectin, fresh Jicama...all are in the category of inulin. The burdock root and chicory can be purchased on line from herbco.com in Santa Cruz, Ca. and the pectin is canning pectin. I get a couple of pounds at a time of low/no sugar jelly pectin from http://www.kitchenkrafts.com/search.asp?t=ss&ss=pectin&image1.x=0&image1.y=0 I mix the burdock root, chicory, and pectin in my green label traditional plain Greek Gods yogurt. http://www.3greekgods.com

And Dr Art says that dysfunctional gut flora can occur because of use of antibiotics. The effects of antibiotics used years ago can still linger.

I would also look at a multivitamin to be sure you are not deficient in some micronutrient.

And do not forget about supplementation with Vit D3. It is the one Vit that seems to operate everywhere in the body....since it is really a hormone. I use Now Brand 5000IU per day because the carrier is olive oil...not soybean oil that other brands use. The sense of well being is vastly improved with supplementation of Vit D3.

Good luck and keep PaleoHacks informed of your progress. You will get it worked out.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 01:32 PM

Thanks Huge for the correction. Dunno know where I got that. Perhaps it was the concentration of cholesterol at 25% or maybe it was a reversal of the 80/20 ratio of water to cholesterol. No myth born...we are just a bunch of folks looking for answers from people who think outside the mainstream medical conventional wisdow box.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on November 20, 2010
at 02:26 PM

Maybe it's 80% of the non-water mass.

4ecfaf48bde1f86c8045a54ab3950108

(35)

on November 20, 2010
at 02:54 PM

@Ambimorph If the brain consists of 80 % water and 10 % fat, then the dry matter of the brain is 50 % fat. Most of the brain cholesterol is located in myelin, but the fat myelin consists of is not mostly cholesterol.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 01:06 PM

Thanks Hugh for the correction. Dunno know where I got that. Perhaps it was the concentration of cholesterol at 25% or maybe it was a reversal of the 80/20 ratio of water to cholesterol. No myth born...we are just a bunch of folks looking for answers from people who think outside the mainstream medical conventional wisdow box.

14aa918d730371ed14f8e7e7d6eb6587

(373)

on November 20, 2010
at 08:12 AM

Thanks Dexter, I really appreciate it. My TC was 238 last time I checked (HDL 70, LDL 150). I had been eating low carb awhile before this happened, and I'm eating much more carbs, and calories are probably more, so I don't think it's a fat/calories thing (I eat lots of butter). The super high ketones worries me (80-160 level -- dark purple). I really hope you're right - I want nothing more than to fix this problem.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on November 20, 2010
at 01:04 PM

Thanks Hugh for the correction. Dunno know where I got that. Perhaps it was the concentration of cholesterol at 25% or maybe it was a reversal of the 80/20 ration of water to cholesterol. No myth born...we are just a bunch of folks looking for answers from people who think outside the mainstream medical conventional wisdowm box.

4ecfaf48bde1f86c8045a54ab3950108

(35)

on November 20, 2010
at 12:03 PM

And yet another Paleo myth is born. The human brain isn't about 80 % cholesterol, it is about 80 % water (as if anyone could seriously doubt that).[1] Only about 10 % of the brain is fat[1], the most common lipids of myelin, which is very important for proper brain function, aren't cholesterol,[2] and brain cholesterol is almost exclusively synthesized by the brain itself as cholesterol cannot easily cross the blood-brain barrier.[3] [1] http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/facts.html [2] http://www.jlr.org/content/6/4/537.short [3] http://atvb.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/short/24/5/806

3
47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on November 20, 2010
at 10:36 AM

I know I'm not very good at diagnosing things, but your question sparked some sympathetic vibration in me, so I'll just write a little bit about myself and maybe it will lead to something.

My weird problem has always been that I very easily get low blood sugar. Basically every thing besides a huge meal with all the right proportions will leave me unsatisfied. If I drink tea or coffee in between meals, my blood sugar will get low (presumably because insulin was released (without corresponding glucagon?)). If I eat a meal that is not quite big enough, my blood sugar will get low. If I eat a meal that has plenty of protein but not enough fat, my blood sugar will get low. Nothing does the trick except enormous meals of fat and protein combined. I mean, really big: today, for example, I had about a pound and a quarter of beef in a curry with almost a full can of coconut milk and plenty of butter (there were veggies and stuff in the curry also, just trying to give you the protein and fat estimates). And then for my second of my two meals I had a pound of beef and five eggs. Whatever my problem is (insulin "too effective"? Too much of it?), paleo definitely fixed it, in the sense that I know what to eat now to keep myself happy. I have to make a huge production of it every time I eat, but at least I don't have that hideous low-BG feeling. I can't stand it. I can go a super long time without eating if need be -- I've fasted painlessly for 24 hours before, and can usually go for 19 hours no problem -- but once I start eating I better get enough, or I'm going to be grumpy. I lost weight when I switched to paleo, by the way, and haven't gained anything back (except muscle).

So does this sound familiar at all? The thing that sounds different about you is this craving for carbohydrate two hours after eating. I'm curious: what happens after you eat the potatoes that you carry around with you? Does your BG drop again? I'd be interested to know. The bit with the ketones I don't really understand either.

One other thing. I had some experience in my past with anxiety as well and a few things you're saying sound familiar: i. that there was "one event" that led to everything else and ii. that you're afraid you've permanently damaged your body/brain. Of course these might be legitimate concerns and we have NO way of knowing over the internet, and I for sure really don't want to sound like a jerk, so please forgive me if I do, but there's just something about the way you described it that suggests to me that anxiety really could be part of the problem.

So maybe you're having anxiety issues combined with blood sugar management issues? And these two together are a troublesome brew? Maybe you're experiencing anxiety and it's kind of manifesting itself through the food issues -- since that's what you've been thinking a lot about recently? It's as if the anxiety attaches itself to the thing foremost in your mind ...

Well, that's my attempt. I think if you follow up on some of these other great answers and keep looking you'll figure it out. Good luck. --Paul.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on November 21, 2010
at 04:52 PM

Wait, NBandS, you're asking Kyle and not me, right? I'd be interested too.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on November 21, 2010
at 02:19 AM

Blood sugar issues screw with brain functioning. I suspect that many psychological imbalances are greatly fueled by food intake and blood sugar and insulin issues. All you have to do is get on the type I insulin dependent diabetes boards and mailing lists to learn that insulin is a hormone that has strong effects on brain function.

211d4075d68b24cd0aa7ebfa94262bb9

on November 21, 2010
at 08:00 AM

What BG readings are you typically getting when you're having these symptoms? What's your lowest?

3
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on November 20, 2010
at 08:25 AM

I think part of the answer is in the question. YOu say you had a hypoglycemic reaction. All of the symtoms you describe as well as that which alleviates them could be caused by continuing blood sugar imbalances. What caused the original hypo incident and was this definitively diagnosed by a doctor (ie blood sugar was indeed low)? Whatever it was, sounds like you are still having some issues with it. I would get a blood sugar monitor and start taking some data on what your blood sugar is doing throughout the day to get a better idea if this is what is causing your problem.

Another thing to look into is blood pressure. SOme people with chronic low blood pressure have these kinds of symptoms. These people need to work on methods of keeping their blood pressure up. So that's another potential issue.

Beyond that,there are probably a lot of less likely potential issues. However, I think the most logical thing is to look at the most likely scenarios first and at the initial hypoglycemic event as the first potential clue.

And of course, go to the doctor and get some blood tests done! Sometimes the doctors actually make themselves useful from time to time and blood tests can catch some problems, like systemic infections, that you simply would not be able to figure out on your own.

14aa918d730371ed14f8e7e7d6eb6587

(373)

on November 20, 2010
at 08:41 AM

It wasn't diagnosed. I binged on raisins after a workout, and an hour later felt like someone had injected caffeine into my veins. I was super jittery, nauseous, and stayed up the whole night, then woke up the hungriest I've ever been. Worst night of my life. Dunno what else it could have been. I've had blood tests done and it didn't uncover anything too obvious (according to my doctor). I think I may purchase a BG monitor and track it throughout the day. Thanks Eva.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on November 21, 2010
at 02:24 AM

One reason I say to check for yourself is that I used to occasionally have these episodes that came between meals and which I thought perfectly matched the symptoms of hypoglycemia. But then I got a blood glucose monitor and tested during a few of those events only to find that my blood glucose was perfectly fine the entire time. Whatever it was, it was not low blood sugar. I never did really figure it out, cuz they went alway slowly after I was on paleo for many months. Taking magnesium supps also helped a lot. More than half of the US is magnesium deficient.

2
87730a0313de2f335a72d8d2c8c5878f

on November 20, 2010
at 03:52 PM

Allergies ! Check it out. You might have illiminated something you are eating that you are allergic to while dieting. Then reintroduced it causing the reaction!

Good luck !!!!!

2
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on November 20, 2010
at 03:29 PM

I had a similar experience (severe brain fog) after introducing some carbs back into a VLC diet and decided it might have revealed a "systemic" yeast infection. Started tx with Candida Clear and FiveLac. So far the brain fog has cleared but I'm changing so many variables all the time it's hard to say. Also added Choline recently and feel much sharper in the brain since I started that. Good luck with figuring it out. I don't even remember last September, it was so bad.

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on April 30, 2011
at 04:01 PM

Back to the original problem... such as dropping classes you once breezed through, I have the exact same problem. Just so much less mentally than I used to be. But, any bit of hope I have for bettering my life has come from 60% fat, 30% protein, and 10% sugar. I also think fasting makes me feel like I develop mentally and physically.
I'd like to hear back to see if this works for anyone else - Charlie

1
2b8c327d1296a96ad64cdadc7dffa72d

on November 20, 2010
at 08:10 AM

Kyle,

Get yourself in to see an Integrative Physician or a Naturopathic Physician. Depending on where you live, an ND may not be an option.

You have confounding symptoms and you need a definitive diagnosis. You feel better with food, and it may very well be that you are not eating enough calories to sustain you throughout the day. Yet, you seem to continue to have symptoms. If your physician is of the garden variety, I doubt you'll find the answer as quickly as you might.

Integrative physicians - http://bit.ly/aZLuJx, http://integrativeholisticdoctors.org/, http://www.aaimedicine.com/

Naturopathic physicians: http://www.naturopathic.org/AF_MemberDirectory.asp?version=2

0
36b7a2776d028dc8d5743e2e56ece34d

on July 25, 2011
at 10:12 PM

You say you are getting enough carbs but are you?

how much do you eat?

Have you tried eating fruit too or just potatoes?

I'd experiment with a lot more carbs.

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on July 25, 2011
at 09:56 PM

Are you drinking coffee. Is it the one thing you are doing that isn't paleo? There's a lot of people now trying caffeine free and after two weeks things like brain fog are hugely improved.

0
Fa9f340eddbad9a544184c688fa4dcdd

(6433)

on April 30, 2011
at 11:13 PM

You mention that you have a very high level of ketones in your urine, which would indicate concentrated urine - e.g. you are dehydrated. Ketogenic diets (especially are when your body is still adapting) are very diuretic, and your body is constantly losing both water and electrolytes. It is well documented how much dehydration can impair your cognitive performance (and when I reduce my carbs I personally find myself experiencing "mental fog"/memory problems if I don't pay attention to this). The brain is 80% water, as has been mentioned up-thread.

Remember that it's easy to for thirst and hunger signals to become confused - maybe you aren't hungry, but thirsty. Equally potatoes (and most other foods) are high in water, and potassium (an electrolyte often missing in low carb diets), so perhaps snacking on potatoes is a way of giving your body what it needs.

I would advise you to track your electrolyte and water intake over a couple of weeks to see if you are consistently missing out on anything.

In the meantime, switch to potassium salt, eat pickles, try an oral rehydration drink (coconut water is also an effective natural alternative) and start supplementing magnesium, which will have the added bonus of helping with your anxiety.

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