Has Covid turned your brain to mush?

Covid brain fog

I don’t know about you but many people around me are really struggling with their memory, word recall and concentration; and this has been more pronounced over the last couple of years.

For example, some good friends I saw over the weekend struggled to keep their train of thought and our conversations were peppered with “whatchamacallit” and “errr I forgot what I was going to say”. It was all in good humour and we all shrugged it off, but I could see my friends looking quite worried inside. I know we have all got a couple of years older recently, but could it be Covid turning our brains to mush? There is some evidence that could be the case.

You may have heard that Coronavirus causes an initial cytokine storm upregulating our inflammatory pathways in the acute phase. In most cases this is fixed by the immune system quite easily, and most people can resume their normal health and vitality.

However, some people seem to have been experiencing more chronic and ongoing low-grade inflammation and damage to cells, known as oxidative stress. There have been quite a few research papers published over the last year identifying how Covid affects the brain, triggering an array of neurological and mental health issues, and these generally point to residual brain cell inflammation.

Symptoms that have been linked to Coronavirus-triggered brain inflammation include loss of smell (anosmia), distorted smell (parosmia), loss of taste (ageusia) and cognitive and attention deficits (often described as brain fog).

Involuntary movement disorders such as tremor, tics and chorea have also been linked with brain inflammation or encephalopathy related to the virus. Newly-onset mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, seizures, and even suicidal behaviour can also be part of the picture when the brain is inflamed and some cases have been thought to be triggered by a Covid infection.

It is important to realise that these symptoms or behaviours are known to present before, during, and after other Covid-related breathing and respiratory symptoms and seem to be unrelated to respiratory insufficiency or difficulty breathing. All this suggests brain cell damage associated with Covid.

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Testing Inflammatory Pathways

How can you tell if a brain has been affected? In extreme cases, medical tests can identify changes in the brain as well as significant inflammation and encephalopathy. This is when a person is obviously extremely unwell, and these tests would be carried out within a hospital environment.

However, in milder and less pronounced cases, and from a functional medicine and nutrition perspective there are four key indicators that can easily be tested via urinary organic acid and amino acid testing which can highlight if any neural pathways are being compromised.

These four markers are: Kynurenic Acid and Quinolinic Acid (which are vitamin B6 dependent), Aspartic Acid (which can be elevated by aspartame in the diet via sugar-free drinks and chewing gum) and Glutamic Acid (which is now prominent in our food chain, especially in ultra-processed foods). A generalised anti-inflammatory approach is usually taken in addition to specific dietary and food supplement support depending on the outcome of the tests. Rarely are all four pathways elevated and it is usually one or two that need support.

My Brain Fog Story

I had terrible brain fog after the first round of Covid back in 2020 and really struggled with word recall and short-term memory, and it really knocked my self-confidence especially when speaking. Like my mother I have often been a “Mrs Malaprop” spouting out the wrong words sometimes, but this went to another level of embarrassment! My uncle had also been recently diagnosed with dementia (and since passed away from it), so I suspect the fear hit me harder than it would have done most people.

I therefore worked super hard on getting my brain back on track, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, and I now I feel it is as good as it will ever be. Things that made the biggest difference have been:

  • “Wim Hof” style cold showers – a 30-60 second cold shower at the end of a warm shower is thought to help with circulation and immunity. I promise you these become addictive!
  • Dark chocolate galore – the flavonoids in dark chocolate are thought to improve cognitive functions, specifically memory.
  • Eating lots of berries, green vegetables, eggs, oily fish and liver, which are super nutrient-dense foods, important for the brain and can help dial down inflammation and oxidative stress.

And food supplement-wise:

  • Specialised Pro-resolving Mediators (SPM’s) – a special fractioned fish oil that hits the spot for inflammation. I took this for a month and then switched to a more standard omega-3 food supplement.
  • Magnesium Phospholipid – protects the cells in your brain and carries messages between them .
  • Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus) – a neuroprotective mushroom that is usually combined with immune modulating mushrooms like Shitake and Reishi.
  • Bacopa Monnieri – a herb everyone with memory issues needs to know about!
  • Ginkgo Biloba – improved blood flow as well as circulation to the brain.
  • Turmeric – naturally anti-inflammatory may help attention, short-term working memory, visual spatial constructional ability, as well as language and executive function.

Even though you should see a positive difference relatively early from these interventions, you will probably need to work on reducing inflammation over at least a three-month period to make sustained positive changes. And many people feel they need to create more entrenched healthy lifestyle and dietary habits and also take some supplements on an ongoing basis to help keep their cognitive function up to speed as they grow older.

If you are really struggling with a mushy brain or covid-related cognitive decline and need more focused support, then do consider booking a one to one appointment in with one of the NatureDoc Long Covid specialists.

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  1. What brand of lions mane do you use? Is it in a tincture and if so does that mean it contains alcohol.. and do you take a combination of the 3 mushrooms you mentioned or separately.. very interested in medicinal mushrooms but know very little about them and also concerned that most will probably have come from china.. which I’m afraid I’m very sceptical about.. I have come across Bristolfungarium and his tinctures contain organic ethanol.. still an alcohol… any advice would be hugely appreciated. Thank you

    1. Hi Emily – I recommend Organic Lions Mane in capsule form as a blend or part of a protein powder. Try Invivo Mycommune or Wild Nutrition Protein Powder.

      Also Link Nutrition Brain Food and Mushroom Plus cannot claim to be organic but rigorously test all their ingredients for contaminants such as heavy metals.