Being productive and creative with brain fog
November 25, 2015 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Hi everyone, I've found a few posts about brain fog, but more about being diagnosed, rather than coping with it. I am taking steps to cure it, but need to be functional till I sort it out. What can I try?

I've been diagnosed with low ferritin levels (11, so just under lowest boundary) and have been prescribed ferrous sulphate. I am tired all the time. More than this, my brain feels like cotton wool or concrete or treacle. I find it hard to feel awake, to concentrate, to stay focused on anything, to think creatively.. the list goes on. I work from home, which means I can be flexible to a degree and can work hard during times I feel awake, but sometimes they are few and far between.

I sleep well, don't really drink, eat relatively healthily and exercise when I have energy. I'm looking for anything else I can do to help with this. Any ideas?
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I was just diagnosed with low ferritin levels (4) a few weeks back, and had finally gone to the doctor because aside from the general lethargy I always have, I was starting to have trouble remembering words and getting the brain fog of which you speak. I started on Nature Made 65mg of iron and Nature Made 500mg of vitamin C once a day (I take it on an empty stomach as soon as I get home from work, which causes me no problems, but YMMV), and it's only been about two weeks but it's really helping a lot, and I started noticing the difference within probably a week. If you haven't started the ferrous sulphate yet, you might be surprised at how quickly it starts taking effect.
posted by jabes at 10:27 AM on November 25, 2015

Iron is absorbed in the intestines, it is not well absorbed in the presence of milk or calcium rich foods, tea, or eggs. Mediterranean women have tendancy to low iron levels. It takes a space of one or two hours before and after your iron rich meal, taken with your suppliment, and a vitamin C source, to make sure you leave a good length in your gut for absorption. Iron can be hard on the stomach, so night time supplimentation is not good if it is going to lay on the stomach wall. Lunch meal is the best time to eat your iron rich meal and suppliment.

I taught this material at a hospital for post partum moms. One thing to help right now, is keep a window cracked open to maximise Oxygen flow in your workspace. The thing Iron does is supply Oxygen to your brain. Just make sure to have good ventilation. Also, breathe. If you get foggy breathe more.

Separating your intake of Iron rich foods from calcium rich foods and tea will facilitate a rapid rise in Iron levels, even in pregnancy. Some Iron suppliments are more easily absorbed than others.

In my personal experience Schiff makes a prenatal suppliment whose Iron loads on very well. I took it every other day with remarkable results. Iron can be constipating so keep the foods around that counteract that for you, based on your experience.

I only mention the prenatal because one every other day was sufficient.
posted by Oyéah at 10:39 AM on November 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Minus the tiredness, a lot of this reminds me of really bad ADD periods. You might get some decent results with coping mechanisms for ADHD Inattentive. They won't make concentrating easier, but they may help you lay out tasks and life in a way that helps with the lack.

Good luck with the treatment.
posted by Hactar at 10:48 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, I have low ferritin and have been taking iron supplements continuously four years. They totally fixed the problem for me.

In the meantime, write EVERYTHING down, do as much as you can when you do have energy, and rest when you can. While you're being treated you can relax the housekeeping standards, get more takeout, and just generally go easy on yourself and let things slide. I was always the type who would bake muffins if going to a friend's for brunch, for instance. Now sometimes I show up with mimosa ingredients or, if it's a good friend, sometimes nothing at all.

Did your doctor set a date to be retested? Sometimes you have to try different types of iron to find the one that works best for you.
posted by betsybetsy at 11:07 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the past, I found co-q-10 in the morning helpful. It is the coenzyme for melatonin and wakes the brain up.

Now that I am healthier, I still find that my first two hours at the computer tend to be spent piddling around. I try to make that as productive as possible and have developed a list of things that need to get done but aren't super brainy that I try to knock out in those first two hours.

After about two hours, I go to lunch. Real work typically happens after lunch. On really rough days, I sometimes have a coffee with lunch to try to jumpstart things. Sometimes that does the trick and sometimes I still get nothing done.

I have taken to doing research (reading) and making rough drafts when my brain doesn't want to kick in, then improving the work when my brain will cooperate and actually function for a bit.

A tablet has been a godsend. I can email myself reminders and notes and whatever while offline and work on drafts in odd moments where a laptop would be useless.
posted by Michele in California at 12:01 PM on November 25, 2015

On bad pain days, I know that my brain isn't what it could be. I make lists. Lists of things to do. Grocery lists. House task lists. Administrative task lists. Etc. It feels good to cross things off, I know I'm getting something done, and it helps clean my plate for better days.
posted by Dashy at 7:00 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

What can I try? ... I'm looking for anything else I can do to help with this. Any ideas?

Amphetamine salts, if you can get yourself an adult ADHD diagnosis and subsequent prescription for Adderall or otherwise source them safely (don't buy street meth).

I've suffered from brain fog from both iron-deficiency anemia and fibromyalgia and my Adderall prescription has helped tremendously.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:00 PM on November 25, 2015

I would set up a physical table and cover it with index cards or post-its of what you're doing and have to do. I like index cards because you easily can move them around and sort them. Somehow, this allowed me to somewhat externalize my working memory so I could do things when my brain wasn't working. This would look weird at a desk job, but because you work at home...

Another thing that I did was keep logs for each project in speadsheet tabs. So, each project would have this long list of what I had just done and what I was going to do next. This allowed me to regain context when I had to wait on something.
posted by zeek321 at 9:41 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've got fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue. When the fibro was the real problem, I would get terrible brain fog with it. After reading about l-theanine supplements, I tried that. The first 100mg capsule immediately blew away my brain fog that morning, and I could focus and do my job.

If you try this, get Suntheanine, which is the purest form of l-theanine. NOW brands sells this, and I get it through Amazon at a greatly reduced price over what I'd have to pay in a store. (Sadly, I get no remuneration for mentioning these companies.)
posted by bryon at 1:18 AM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've also got low ferritin. Oral supplements don't help, and I get IV iron every now and then when my numbers get low. Adderal helps with the brain fog, as does exercise.
posted by judith at 6:31 PM on December 2, 2015

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