Struggling With COVID Brain Fog? 7 Ways to Clear Your Head

COVID Brain Fog

We’ve come a long way since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020. However, the far-reaching impact of the virus on health among survivors is only beginning to be understood. For an estimated 37% of Americans who survived acute infection—including mild and asymptomatic cases—the impacts of COVID continue as they experience new and returning health issues weeks, months, and sometimes years after the infection has passed. Commonly called long COVID, the symptoms can be life-altering.

 

Cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog” is often the most common issue after fatigue and affects roughly 70% of those with long COVID. Click To Tweet

Although it’s well-known that COVID attacks the respiratory system, it may be a surprise to learn that COVID also impacts the brain and nervous system. In fact, researchers have noted a number of changes to the brain and nervous system post-infection that are likely contributing to a cluster of symptoms called “brain fog.”

WHAT IS COVID BRAIN FOG?

COVID brain fog refers to the slower thinking or mental processing, confusion, memory issues, difficulty with concentration and focus, and overall compromised cognition present in long COVID patients. It has been difficult for scientists to accurately assess its prevalence, but one of the most recent studies on the subject titled “Cognitive and Memory Deficits in Long COVID” states that cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog” is often the most common issue after fatigue and affects roughly 70% of those with long COVID.

Here’s what we know about the effects of long COVID on your brain, and more importantly, what can be done to minimize brain fog.

HOW COVID AFFECTS THE BRAIN

Medical researchers have been studying long COVID since 2020 in an effort to understand more clearly how the virus continues to impact overall health. Some recent studies have documented several changes in the brains of COVID patients after acute infection—as well as evidence of immune and inflammatory responses in the nervous system that likely impact cognition.

It is believed that the COVID-19 virus crosses the blood-brain barrier by entering the nasal passage and traveling up the olfactory nerve directly to the brain where it can cause neural damage. One of the largest COVID-19 brain imaging studies to date reveals a number of brain-related changes that provide possible explanations for brain fog and compromised cognition. Comparing before and after COVID infection brain scans, the study revealed several changes:

  • Loss of gray matter thickness in areas related to smell
  • Tissue damage in areas that are connected to the primary olfactory cortex (also linked to smell)
  • Reduction of whole brain volume
  • Atrophy of a specific part of the brain’s cerebellum, which is linked to cognition

In all, researchers noted that the reductions ranged from .2 to 2%. That doesn’t sound like much, but some experts estimate that a 2% reduction in brain volume is equivalent to 10 years of aging!

Indeed, a March 2022 JAMA Neurology cohort study that followed the one-year trajectory of older (60 years and older) COVID-19 survivors concluded that “COVID-19 survival was associated with an increase in the risk of longitudinal cognitive decline.”

A recent report documented research presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) annual meeting held in May 2022. The research found that people who had mild cases of COVID-19 and experienced persistent cognitive issues had higher levels of immune activation and immunovascular markers in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) nearly a year after acute infection.

Dr. Joanna Hellmuth of the University of California, San Francisco, who headed the study, suggested that the findings imply that ongoing vascular injury/repair in the brain may trigger the overactive immune response and inflammation, which may be driving cognitive changes and the brain fog experienced in long COVID.

Interestingly, it’s noted that the same researchers, in published findings from earlier in 2022, found abnormalities in the CSF of a whopping 77% of patients with cognitive impairment post-COVID.

At Amen Clinics, before-and-after COVID brain scans show increased activity in the limbic system in COVID survivors. Overactivity in this region is associated with depression, which causes a range of symptoms including brain fog.

THERAPIES FOR COVID BRAIN FOG

Living with forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, and slower processing of information is difficult. There are a couple of therapies being used to address cognitive dysfunction resulting from long COVID. It’s not clear if these therapies are now widely available, but if you suffer from brain fog, it is worth investigating them.

The first therapy is called non-invasive brain microcurrent stimulation therapy. In one recent study, German researchers applied alternating current stimulation to the eyes and brain. They also completed cognitive assessments before and after the therapy and found markedly improved cognition—as much as 40-60% in one patient.

Another strategy involves a certain type of learning therapy, according to a news report. The patient repeats information a certain number of times without error, which helps the brain to rebuild its memory skills that were compromised by the infection. The therapy makes use of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to grow and strengthen its neural networks, which is kind of like working muscles in the body.

In addition to specific therapies to improve cognition, it is important to take a whole-person approach to treat COVID brain fog. Brain SPECT imaging, neuropsychological testing, lab work, and lifestyle changes are critical pieces of a cognitive function or memory evaluation.

7 WAYS TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION AND BRAIN FOG

Since inflammation is so closely associated with long COVID symptoms and brain fog, in particular, taking steps to quell the inflammation in your body may help to promote healing and reduce brain fog. Here are 7 ways to reduce inflammation:

  1. Eat lots of prebiotic foods such as apples, unripe bananas, beans, cabbage, artichokes, asparagus, and root vegetables. Prebiotic foods help to feed the good bacteria in your gut, which supports a healthy microbiome. A leaky gut, or a porous lining in your gastrointestinal tract, can increase inflammation in the body. Also, your gut is lined with neurons that communicate with your brain. Consuming prebiotics helps to support a healthy gut-brain connection.
  2. To further promote gut health, increase your consumption of probiotics by taking supplements or enjoying probiotic-rich fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha tea, and pickled fruits and veggies.
  3. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring, or with a quality omega-3 supplement. Your brain needs the DHA and EPA found in the fish oil to fuel neuroplasticity. These fats also help to quell inflammation in the body as they allow cells to work more efficiently.
  4. Avoid consuming foods that increase inflammation such as alcohol, sugar and refined grains, processed meats, and unhealthy fats (saturated or trans-fats).
  5. Floss and brush daily. You must take good care of your gums. Gum disease can increase inflammation.
  6. Promote calm in your life by taking downtime, practicing mindfulness, meditation, prayer, and spending time in nature. It’s essential to keep stress levels down as stress is inflammatory.
  7. Exercise daily, but not too much. Regular exercise is excellent for the brain but too much can increase inflammation.

Although more will be discovered as researchers continue to learn more about how COVID affects the brain, taking any of these actions now will help to support your brain health and cognition.

Brain fog, memory issues, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

21 Comments »

  1. I love your articles 🙌🏻 and all the information you provide.
    As someone with post covid complications I totally agree with mostly all of the comments in this article however I think it’s important to highlight that fermented food can be a significant issue for those individuals that have histamine intolerance/ MCAS post covid.

    Comment by Louise Morgan — June 10, 2022 @ 3:51 AM

  2. Are there any complaints of vertigo after Covid??

    Comment by Kay Putty — June 10, 2022 @ 3:55 AM

  3. I have been struggling so much with motivation and focus since having COVID 10 months ago. I can do the immediate day to day things, but long term planning and organizing is extremely difficult. 🙁

    Comment by Nancy — June 10, 2022 @ 5:10 AM

  4. I wonder if hyper bariatric oxygen therapy would be helpful as well?

    Comment by Steve Bulcroft — June 10, 2022 @ 5:15 AM

  5. I haven’t been tested for COVID-19 but on my second shot, I have a heart attack and muscles waist down hurting plus I keep falling!

    Comment by Flora Harris — June 10, 2022 @ 6:23 AM

  6. what about non covid such as me/cfs? bedridden to housebound for 25yrs. can u HELP please? can FEEL the horrible fog ALL the time!

    Comment by donna — June 10, 2022 @ 7:05 AM

  7. I have had brain fog and sleepiness since I had Cov-19 in 2020. Never getting enough sleep. Fatigue is a hug factor. I even tried lots of vitamins, but I’m working on my anxiety and not stressing too much. Taking a nap when I can. Any eye openers would be helpful. I’m also recovered from epilepsy 20 years or so ago. My Doctor wants me to take generic Cymbalta. But, a bit hesitant about side effects. Mostly for pain from my Arthritis and anxiety.

    Comment by Linda B — June 10, 2022 @ 8:54 AM

  8. These sufferers of Long Covid, it seems to me, fall into roughly 4 groups – circumstances of which need be reckoned so we get to the bottom of this.

    1) Long Covid sufferers who never took a vaccine after they got sick
    2) Long Covid sufferers who took 1st vaccine but none further
    3) Long Covid sufferers who took the 2nd as well as 1st vaccine
    4) Long Covid sufferers who took the 1st and 2nd vaccines then got boosted as well.

    Largely the VAERS data, may not be as accurate as we hope, plus data from Israel and other highly vaccinated countries are reporting an increase in medical problems after vaccination, most definitely after the booster.
    We need to see if those who suffer Long Covid plus received vaccines to be thorough here.

    Also, we must have their vaccine batch numbers traced. In some batches there are low to no negative effects.

    Yet in some vaccine batches, rough estimates I’ve seen, show negative effects being very very high in approximately 5% of the vaccine batches – have to control for this. Also we need look at the manufacturer of the vaccines in question as well.

    So, until we ascertain the vaccine status as well of the batch number of any vaccine that any of the Long Covid sufferers have taken, we cannot really get a handle on what to do for Long Covid sufferers.

    And – we need one last factor – control for blood type. We know people with blood type A had a lot more trouble contending with this virus. Other blood types, not so much.

    I feel we need masterful analysis of all these co-factors so we can really help these people. Prayers for all.

    Comment by Cindy Weidner — June 10, 2022 @ 9:45 AM

  9. I just tested negative after 11 days being quite ill. I am still very fatigued. How can I strengthen myself. And, I feel very overwhelmed with task I need to complete. I am ‘very confused on the sequences I need to follow. Do I need help?

    Comment by Laurie Allison — June 10, 2022 @ 1:15 PM

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this information and results of these studies. Intitiallu before Covid I had only felt those symptoms with alcohol. But to my surprise I started getting those same effects during and months after covid. Which I thought something was wrong with my brain. Even got blood work done. I really appreciate the advise and tips for people suffering from long covid. I hope to be able to afford treatment at Amen clinics sometime due to former issues before long covid as well.

    Comment by Edith — June 10, 2022 @ 6:48 PM

  11. Where do I start? I had the covid shots and the last one put me in the bed for a week. One month later I fell in my backyard and hit my head
    on a concrete flower pot. I was addled, but not knocked out. Thought nothing of it, one month later had a detached Retina. Immediate surgery and the trauma began. I woke up after the surgery with post anesthesia nausea and constipation. I have had it for 13 months now,
    along with brain fog, muscle issues, fatigue, blurry vision, all kinds of stomach issues, 2 hours sleep per night if lucky, tinnitus and shaking
    and tremors. First, they said I had Anxiety and Panic Attacks. They tried to put me on every anxiety, antidepressant on the planet. Each time I ended up in the ER. Finally had the Genomind done and found my body does not metabolize these things and I am very hypersensitive. I have a histamine issue and right now nothing helps. I have had brain scans, 32 ct scans, numerous xrays and I am getting
    weaker and weaker. Nauseated most of the day and night. I need help, my Covid antibodies are very high and according to antibody test I had tested positive at some point for the SARS . I am at the end of my rope, no one knows what to do. I cry all day long in pain and the
    ER does nothing. They tell me it is in my head and they send me home and tell me to see my Primary Care, who has written me off. I was never like this, I know this body, I live in it. I do not smoke or
    drink and never have. I hate medicine and refuse to take the poison they are pushing. I guess I will just die like this, but would like a shot
    at it for at least 5 more years. Would someone listen to me. I am a unique case, it wakes me every single night at 1 to 2 am and the
    pain and suffering begins. Please help me, it feels like my insides have died as well as my brain. I have spent my last 13 months just trying
    to have a bowel movement, nothing works. Not prescription meds, acupuncture, hypnosis, I have tried it all. I need help. Can’t get in
    Mayo, they are backed up until 2023 with anything Nerve related. I have seen at least 15 Doctors in the last year, they are stumped. Please offer any suggestions, I am desperate.

    Comment by Dorothy S Moore — June 11, 2022 @ 6:10 AM

  12. Taking 1000 mg of Cat’s Claw daily for 4-6 weeks has enabled me to overcome brain fog.

    Comment by Dan Vallier — June 11, 2022 @ 7:11 AM

  13. Had COVID last November, got it from a man who had just received the booster. Was at the court house for jury duty. He was sitting pretty close to me. He asked to be excused cause he felt horrible he just received the booster. Three days later I was down! My doctor said I got it from him. My thing I deal with is my skin is terribly dry and like bubbles on the skin. It changed my hair too! It sticks straight out in the back! Never will get the vaccine!

    Comment by Chalice Virag — June 11, 2022 @ 8:48 AM

  14. After a single Moderna shot I developed brain fog and other symptoms. The fog affected my critical thinking skills, long and short term memory and the ability to carry on a conversation (I had trouble finding the words). Local doctors tried to help but without success. I was referred to a Covid specialist. What followed was 6 weeks of treatment using Ivermectin and then 2 weeks on Fluvoxamine. This treatment was successful. It gave me my life back. I am so thankful. I am left with nerve damage in my feet, but the other issues have been resolved.

    Comment by Joan — June 11, 2022 @ 10:26 AM

  15. I’m not sure how well that a group of medical caretakers called Functional Medicine do with helpful changes for COVID 19, but Dr. Amen and his associates would be trying their best to help brain fog victims. In the meantime if there is fatigue in your health problems, then you might want to connect with an Institute of Functional Medicine practitioner to try to get your body back on track gradually over time if possible. It’s not 100% perfect for all but seeing an IFM MD made a difference for me to get my health back on track vs. not.

    Comment by EGN — June 11, 2022 @ 1:31 PM

  16. I got Covid a year ago and have had brain fog and no energy since. Also very depressed. I’ve increased my celexa with some relief but not a lot. Hopefully they will find something to counter act these issues that so many are having.

    Comment by Bernadette Sieler — June 11, 2022 @ 2:47 PM

  17. I am as curious as Kay Putty about vertigo and COVID. My husband and I both had COVID about 10 months ago. Compared to my husband’s issues, I had a mild case. Since then I have no energy to do anything but the basics to get through the day. And since early February, I have been dealing with vertigo nearly daily since. Most of the time, it only affects me in the morning, but I have had issues later in the day. Sometimes it is triggered by a move of my head or upper body – usually to the right; other times, it just hits me.
    It would be interesting to know if this is related to COVID. Exercises to reposition “crystals” in the ears are cutting it.

    Comment by Carol Z — June 11, 2022 @ 6:15 PM

  18. Please can you help me
    I am suffering with neck pain brain fog fatigue nausea anxiety just not feeling great all round
    Discovered I had high blood pressure
    I am 69
    Just not feeling well!!

    Comment by Veronica — June 12, 2022 @ 10:49 AM

  19. I had covid in September 2021 along with my husband. We are not vaxxed. I loss my smell and taste. We both had the fatigue with it. We were both bad. He had the infusion that President Trump had but I did not. I thought I was going to lose him. He was just recuperating from radiation therapy. Long story short we both are suffering from memory loss. I have trouble finding words when speaking and remembering things that I once knew. Very frustrating. We both are in our late 70’s. He has not felt good for a long time. He has cancer again and has to have a kidney removed next week.
    Sorry, I needed to vent I guess. We were infected by vaxxed family members.

    Comment by Jo — June 13, 2022 @ 9:15 AM

  20. Had Covid 8/01/20. Had pneumonia then a couple weeks later I was hospitalized for blood clots in lungs and then a month later, shingles. Now in June 22 I have the brain fog and fatigue along with breathing issues. I used to work out almost daily but now can’t get it going. Go for walks now is it.

    Comment by Jeff sutherland — June 13, 2022 @ 9:17 AM

  21. I have had two mild cases of Covid. one was nov 2019 and one was nov 2020. Since then I take naps like never before in my life. I can’t remember anything and have trouble with simple words in conversations. I have joked that I am writing a new dictionary and have spoken to kore than one doctor about early dementia or Alzheimer’s . I have also had vertigo issues. this stuff has caused me to quit at least one job and had complications working others and considering closing my own business down after 12 years. my vision has also become quite a problem. I am an accountant and massage therapist and these long term effects are having a most adverse affect on my life!!!

    Comment by Brandi — June 19, 2022 @ 5:39 PM

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