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Brain Fog: Could Food Sensitivities be to Blame?


February 12, 2015 | Published by


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Brain fog is common among those suffering from adrenal fatigue, but did you know brain fog can also be caused by food intolerances? It doesn’t have to be a food you’re allergic to; in fact, I’ve seen several patients whose allergy testing came back relatively clean but still experienced side effects after eating certain foods. How is this possible?

But first: what is brain fog? Just like it says, it feels like your brain is surrounded by a haze. This can mean difficulty focusing, recalling things, remembering where things are, and loss of focus or concentration.A sensitivity to salicylate, amine, gluten or glutamate—chemicals found naturally in foods—could be to blame. Sensitivities to these natural chemicals are fairly common, and don’t really show themselves on typical allergy tests. It’s estimated that 18 million Americans have non-celiac gluten sensitivity—six times more than those with celiac disease. A majority of these cases go unnoticed or are misdiagnosed as other conditions.

Salicylates and Brain Fog

Salicylates are amazing chemicals. They act as a natural preservative to protect against rot and harmful bacteria, and also protect against insects by poisoning them. Chemically, salicylate closely resembles aspirin, so those with sensitivity to aspirin may be sensitive to foods high in salicylate as well.

Foods with Moderate Salicylate Content
Lemon, mango, pear, red apples, kiwi fruit, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom, onion, parsnip, turnip, spinach, kohlrabi, peanut butter/peanuts, pistachio, coconut, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts and sesame seeds

Foods with High Salicylate Content
Apricot, blueberry, avocado, grapefruit, watermelon, peach, cherries, pineapple, plum, strawberry, alfalfa sprouts, eggplant, cucumber, chicory, endive, zucchini and bell peppers. Note: all dried fruits are generally too high in salicylates for sensitive people.

The most common symptoms of salicylate intolerance, in addition to brain fog, include persistent cough, congestion, hyperactivity (especially in children), rash or hives, post nasal drip, headache and fatigue.

Amines and Brain Fog

Amines are the chemicals that give food their flavor. Foods with higher amine content tend to have more intense flavors. These natural “flavor bits” are created during the breakdown of specific proteins, or when they ferment as part of the normal aging and ripening process. The longer the food ripens, the higher the amine content.

Foods with High Amine Content
Because they occur in fewer foods, amine intolerances are generally easier to identify and eliminate than salicylate intolerances. Amines can be found in wine, numerous alcoholic beverages, aged cheeses, chocolate, canned or smoked fish, aged and/or smoked meats, and some produce (tomato, banana, avocado).

The most common symptoms of amine intolerance, in addition to brain fog, include difficulty concentrating, dull headaches, fatigue, nasal congestion and irritable bowel syndrome.

Glutamates and Brain Fog

Glutamates, AKA glutamic acid, are naturally recurring amino acids found in many foods, particularly gluten grains like rye, barley and wheat. They can also be found in legumes, dairy products, meats and even in gluten-substitute grains like millet, flaxseed and quinoa.

Of the three chemicals, glutamic acid generally affects the less people. However, some people do experience side effects, like headaches and fatigue, after consuming foods containing glutamic acid. If you suspect you’re sensitive to glutamates, it’s best to avoid corn and corn by-products (especially high fructose corn syrup), gluten products, soy and dairy. For more on gluten intolerance and celiac disease, read this blog article.

You could be affected by more than one food, so some time and detective work may be required to fully understand what is bothering you. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to keep a food diary. Every day, make a log of every meal and snack you consume. After eating, make a note of how you feel. If you experience side effects like brain fog after eating, make detailed notes next to that meal.

For more on identifying and eliminating food sensitivities, read this blog article. I also encourage you to speak with your healthcare practitioner about your concerns, especially before considering an elimination diet. It may take some trial and error, but finding and eliminating the source of your brain fog, and other undesirable side effects, will be well worth your time.

dr eric bakkerAbout the Author
: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at

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