As many of us continue to deal with the long-term effects of COVID-19, a significant number of people are reporting persistent brain fog or cognitive impairment. This condition affects concentration, memory, and overall cognitive function It may last several weeks or months.

Researchers have recently discovered some striking similarities between this COVID brain fog and cognitive impairments in cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy, known as “chemo brain.”

Causes of Brain Fog After COVID-19

The root causes of brain fog following COVID-19 infection can be very complex. Researchers are pointing towards neuroinflammation, a condition whereby your brain’s immune system can become overactive.
They believe that this inflammation may be driven by the body’s immune response to the virus.

Michelle Monje, a neuro-oncologist at Stanford, has conducted extensive research by comparing cognitive impairments seen in long COVID to what patients experience after chemotherapy. According to Monje, the immune cells in the brain (microglia) are highly reactive during and after mild COVID-19 infections. This causes inflammatory responses that may lead to the disruption of normal brain function. especially the brain’s white matter that is crucial for efficient signal transmission between neurons (Stanford Medicine) (The Scientist).

Akiko Iwasaki, a virologist at Yale plus David Putrino from Mount Sinai Health System, have also studied this problem and have uncovered some interesting deducations. Their studies were done on mouse models plus human brain tissue and revealed that mild respiratory infections from COVID-19 can trigger significant inflammatory responses in the brain. They surmised that elevated levels of cytokines, such as CCL11 impaired neurogenesis in the hippocampus… the area of the brain that is critical for learning and memory (Stanford Medicine) (Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute).

Symptoms of brain fog related to long COVID could be any of the following:

• Ability to concentrate is dimished
• Experience memory lapses
• Slower processing of information
• Constant Confusion and disorientation
• Fatigue due to mental exertion

These symptoms impact daily life and make it difficult to perform even routine tasks, the ability to work, or engaging in social interaction.

Research Insights and Solutions
The key to understanding the similarities between chemo brain and COVID brain fog can help accelerate the development of effective treatments. Scientists hope to find new strategies that can benefit COVID-19 survivors (Stanford Medicine).

Potential Strategies That Can Over Come Brain Fog:
1. Anti-inflammatory Treatments: Treatments aimed at reducing neuroinflammation are being researched. These include, but are not limited to drugs that can target inflammatory pathways and immune cells in the brain.
2. Cognitive Rehabilitation: Therapy programs like mental exercises and activities.
3. Lifestyle Modifications: Regular physical exercise, a balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, longer deeper sleep, plus stress management reduction may also help mitigate symptoms.

Conclusion
Brain fog after COVID-19 can be extremely challenging and debilitating…however ongoing research is is helping to understand the underlying mechanisms and potential treatments.
By using comparisons from similar conditions like chemo brain, scientists like Michelle Monje, Akiko Iwasaki, and David Putrino are pioneering efforts to find answers and the ability to fight long COVID and brain fog.
In order to understand the ongoing science, you can refer to the ongoing research by Monje and colleagues at Stanford, and Iwasaki and Putrino that is published in journals and reported by medical news outlets like (Stanford Medicine) (The Scientist) (Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute).

Insiders Health Tip:

Reducing inflammation in the brain  significantly improves cognitive function, helps to fight brain fog and promotes overall well-being. Here are five lifestyle changes that can help:

  1. Anti-inflammatory Diet:
    • Eat Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (wild salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts), fruits, vegetables and healthy fats (like olive oil).
    • Must Avoid: Processed and packaged foods, excess sugar,  snacks, artificial colors, preservatives and trans fats that increase inflammation.
    • References: Harvard Health , Mayo Clinic .
  2. Regular Physical Exercise:
    • Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, exercise bikes, skating, elliptical trainors can help fight excess inflammation.
    • Daily exercise helps to release anti-inflammatory cytokines and boost overall brain health.
    • References: CDC , National Institutes of Health (NIH) .
  3. Adequate Sleep:
    • Try to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night to reduce inflamatory markers
    • Establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed at the same time every night… reducing the amount of time you look at your phone or watching TV after you go to bed.
    • References: Sleep Foundation , American Academy of Sleep Medicine .
  4. Manage Stress:
    • Chronic stress leads to higher levels of inflammation. Try meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises to help manage stress.
    • References: American Psychological Association (APA) , Cleveland Clinic .
  5. Limit Alcohol and Avoid Smoking:
    • Excessive alcohol  and/or smoking are linked to more inflammation. Try to reduce alcohol intake and quit smoking.
    • References: World Health Organization (WHO) , National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) .

Incorporating these lifestyle changes can help reduce brain inflammation and improve overall brain health.

 

References:

  1. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2022/06/brain-fog-covid-chemo-brain.html
  2. https://www.the-scientist.com/brain-fog-caused-by-long-covid-and-chemo-appear-similar-69659
  3. https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/secrets-covid-brain-fog-are-starting-lift
  4. https://www.the-scientist.com/brain-fog-caused-by-long-covid-and-chemo-appear-similar-69659
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389
  8. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
  9. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress
  10. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco

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