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  • Writer's pictureDr. CK Bray

From Fog to Focus: Unravelling the Mystery of Post-Covid Brain Fog

Brain fog might sound like a whimsical term, but for many, it’s a deeply frustrating reality. Far from being a mere side effect of sleepless nights or overindulgence, brain fog can be a significant cognitive burden. It has been recognized in the wake of illnesses like Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome, but the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted it into a harsh spotlight, affecting millions globally.


What exactly is brain fog? Imagine routinely forgetting common words, struggling to focus, and feeling mentally sluggish — all at once. Those suffering from this condition describe their thinking as slow, blurry, or simply "off." This isn't just an annoying hiccup in your day; for many, it's a serious hindrance that affects work, relationships, and daily functioning.


Scientists are diligently working to untangle the mystery behind post-COVID brain fog. One hypothesis suggests the virus may attack brain cells, disrupting the mitochondria—tiny powerhouses inside our cells crucial for energy production. This disruption could be particularly damaging in the brain, where high energy demands make efficient mitochondria critical. Another angle being explored is the role of inflammation, similar to the cognitive dulling experienced by some cancer patients during chemotherapy, which could be triggered by COVID’s impact on the brain’s immune cells.


Recent studies have also pointed to more unexpected potential causes, like blood clots and even gut health. Some researchers found that severe COVID cases might lead to increased blood clotting, which could compromise cognitive function long after the acute infection has passed. Meanwhile, others are investigating how the virus might affect gut health, leading to a serotonin shortage that hampers brain function, given that serotonin is a key neurotransmitter involved in mood and cognition.


Addressing the diagnostic challenges, a team from Poland has introduced a new tool—a self-report scale published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences—that categorizes brain fog into 4 areas: mental fatigue, impaired cognitive acuity, and confusion. This tool hopes to standardize how we understand and measure brain fog, paving the way for clearer diagnoses and better research.


While definitive treatments are still on the horizon, some promising avenues are emerging. For instance, a study at Yale has been experimenting with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC), finding that it might help alleviate symptoms and significantly improve cognitive function in some patients. As research continues, these findings offer a beacon of hope for those navigating the murky waters of brain fog, suggesting that, someday soon, clear days might be ahead for those currently lost in the fog.


For more information read “Lifting the Fog” by Hara Estroff Marano in the March/April 2024 Edition of Psychology Today







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