During the COVID-19 pandemic, health organizations and officials made many common symptoms aware to the public. Coughing, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle aches, and new loss of taste or smell were/are common physical symptoms. Roughly 25% of people who contracted COVID-19 developed several neurological symptoms, the primary of which was brain fog.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is not a scientific or medical term. People use this term to describe feelings of sluggish or fuzzy thinking. When a person experiences brain fog, it’s very common to feel like the mind is slipping, or it simply isn’t as sharp. Many people experience it from time to time, for example, after a long flight or getting over the flu. Brain fog typically goes away and thinking returns to normal. But what if it doesn’t?
COVID-19 Brain Fog
Some people who survived COVID-19 illness entered an acute recovery phase. They still experienced symptoms for weeks, or even months, after initial infection. Many reported lingering brain fog, which negatively impacted memory, focus, and overall cognition. There are those who survived COVID-19 infection and continue to experience brain fog. Compared to other viral infections, the novel coronavirus infection seemed to have a higher rate of mood or cognitive slowing.
Why Does The Brain Fog?
Researchers continue to investigate the cause of brain fog in people who’ve had COVID-19. A preliminary theory is that the physiological and psychological factors contribute to this phenomenon. Once the virus enters a person’s system, it enters cells through angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor. Because the virus is neuro-invasive, it can enter brain tissue. Some studies found that COVID-19 survivors developed encephalopathy, which is a general term that refers to brain damage or disease.
Another study in January 2021 found that some COVID-19 survivors had higher levels of inflammatory cytokines in the fluid surrounding the brain. This study examined cases several weeks after COVID-19 infection. The immune system produces cytokines, and too many can cause chronic inflammation. Some post-COVID-19 brains even had changes to the hippocampus, which may impair cognitive abilities.
One researcher believes that the higher levels of inflammation created by the immune system are more responsible for brain fog than the virus itself. Researchers found that an overactive immune response was indicative of COVID-19 infection. That led to breathing problems or hospitalization from infection. By theorizing that inflammation is more so the culprit than the virus, inflammatory levels in the body would have to be so high that they reach the brain. Perhaps the immune cells chase the virus into the brain, but this is merely a theory. It’s also possible that the virus reaches the brain after entering the nose. It then crosses the blood-brain barrier. Again, more research is necessary on this theory.
Can Anything Clear Up Brain Fog?
In order to remedy brain fog that results from COVID-19, it’s best to make healthy lifestyle changes. There are several activities and habits that promote healthier cognitive function. The following tips may help improve mental function if you experience ongoing brain fog.
Get Sufficient Sleep
Sleep researchers say that it’s best for adults to sleep between seven to eight hours every night. During sleep, the body and brain can eliminate toxins and work towards repairing and healing. Make sleep a priority!
Avoid Alcohol & Tobacco
Alcohol and tobacco products tend to raise inflammatory levels in the body. If the belief is that inflammation is the primary culprit of brain fog, eliminate these substances to decrease inflammation. Additionally, they can have adverse effects on the brain.
Engage In Aerobic Exercise
It’s possible that you won’t be able to accelerate to full throttle right out of the gate. Take your time and start slow with different aerobic exercises. A few minutes at a time will eventually turn in to 30 minutes a day, five days per week. There is a direct connection between regular exercise and improved brain health.
Follow A Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet includes a wide range of nutrients and heart-healthy fats. Some of the primary foods include olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds, and whole grains. Many of these foods have anti-inflammatory and brain-boosting properties that may improve focus and thinking.