Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
October 11, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

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Brain fog is a condition that has been linked to covid-19. While the exact cause is not yet known, many people are reporting symptoms of brain fog since contracting the virus.

If you are one of those people, don’t worry—there are steps you can take to clear the fog.

In this article, we will discuss what brain fog is, what causes it, and how you can clear it effectively.

We will also provide some tips for maintaining your brain health during this time.

Let’s get started.

What is long Covid-19, exactly?

Covid-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in 2019. Since then, it has spread throughout the world and has caused a global pandemic.

Long Covid is a term used to describe the symptoms that persist after a person has recovered from covid-19. These symptoms can last for weeks or even months, and they can range from mild to severe.

Some of the most common long covid symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cognitive impairments, such as cognitive fog. 

What causes brain fog after covid-19?

The exact cause of cognitive fog is unknown, but there are several theories.

One theory is that the virus itself attacks the brain. This damage can lead to inflammation and a build-up of toxins, which can impair cognitive function.

Another theory is that long covid is a type of post-viral fatigue syndrome. This means that covid infection damages the nervous system, which can lead to fatigue and brain fog.

It is also possible that autoimmune reactions are causing the foggy brain. This means that the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells in the brain, leading to inflammation and cognitive impairment.

Also, it is possible that cognitive fog is a side effect of the medications used to treat covid-19. These medications can cause problems with memory and concentration.

Other common causes of brain fog:

There are many other conditions that can cause cognitive fog, including:

Chronic Stress

Research shows that chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the brain, which can impair brain functions.

According to several studies, chronic stress has a negative influence on the brain functioning in a variety of ways.

Synapse regulation can be disrupted by stress, resulting in social withdrawal and the refusal to engage with others.

Stress can cause neurons in the brain to die and even shrink the size of the brain.

Sleep deprivation and sleeping disorders

Not getting enough sleep can lead to brain fog.

Sleep deprivation impairs the ability to focus, pay attention, and make decisions. It also decreases the ability to think clearly and solve problems.

In one study, sleep-deprived participants had difficulty completing simple tasks and made more errors than well-rested participants.

Other research has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to impaired memory and decreased alertness.

Sleeping disorders, such as insomnia, can also cause cognitive fog. Research shows that people with a sleep disorder often have trouble concentrating and making decisions.

Unhealthy diet

Eating a diet that is high in sugar and processed foods can lead to brain fog.

A diet that is high in sugar can cause inflammation, which can damage the brain and lead to cognitive problems.

Processed foods are also difficult for the body to break down, which can lead to fatigue and cognitive fog. 

In one study, participants who ate a diet high in processed foods had difficulty completing simple tasks and made more errors than those who ate a healthy diet.

Other research has shown that a diet high in sugar can lead to impaired memory and decreased alertness.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause brain fog.

Dehydration can cause the brain to shrink, which can lead to impaired memory and decreased alertness.

In one study, participants who were dehydrated had difficulty completing simple tasks and made more errors than those who were well-hydrated.

Other research has shown that dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, and sudden mood swings.

Nutritional deficiencies

Certain nutrient deficiencies can also lead to cognitive fog.

Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of brain fog. Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells, which carries oxygen to the brain, and nourishing neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending messages between nerve cells in the brain.

Low levels of iron can lead to fatigue, impaired memory, and decreased alertness.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is another common cause of cognitive fog. Vitamin B12 is essential for the health of your central nervous system and it helps prevent the loss of neurons. 

Low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue, anemia, and cognitive problems.

Other nutritional deficiencies that can cause brain fog include:

  • vitamin D deficiency (vitamin D helps in nerve growth and neurotransmitter synthesis).
  • omega-fatty acid deficiency (omega-3s are essential in building nerve cells in the brain).
  • magnesium deficiency (magnesium is crucial in relaying signals between your brain and body function).

Medical conditions

There are many underlying health conditions that can cause cognitive fog. These include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • cardiovascular disease
  • low or high blood pressure
  • multiple sclerosis
  • depression
  • anxiety 
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • fibromyalgia
  • thyroid disorders
  • sleep disorders

Mental illnesses

Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD, among many others, can cause brain fog. 

Depression is characterized by low energy levels, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of hopelessness.

Anxiety can cause racing thoughts, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.

ADHD can lead to impulsivity, problems with focus and attention, and restlessness.

PTSD can cause intrusive memories, flashbacks, and difficulty concentrating.

All these conditions affect your energy levels and brain function, leading to a foggy head.

Neurological disorders

Neurological conditions, such as concussions, epilepsy, and Bell’s palsy, can also cause cognitive fog.

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that can lead to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fatigue, and problems with memory and concentration.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system and can cause seizures. Seizures can lead to problems with memory, focus, and attention.

Bells’ palsy is a medical condition that affects the facial nerves and can cause paralysis on one side of the face. This can lead to problems with vision, hearing, and speaking.

All these conditions can impair brain function and lead to brain fog.

Medication side effects

Certain medications can also cause cognitive fog as a side effect. These include:

  • anticholinergics
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • sleeping pills
  • narcotic painkillers
  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • birth control pills
  • statins
  • chemotherapy drugs (a.k.a., “chemo brain”)

These medications can cause side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion.

If you are taking any medication and experience brain fog, talk to your doctor to see if the medication is the cause.

Food sensitivities

Certain food allergies can also lead to cognitive fog. These include:

  • gluten
  • dairy
  • soy
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • seafood
  • artificial additives 

If you have a food sensitivity, your body has an immune reaction to the offending food. This can lead to inflammation and a host of symptoms, including brain fog.

If you suspect you have a food allergy, talk to your doctor. They can order tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Unhealthy beverages

Drinking too much caffeine, alcohol, or sugary drinks can also lead to cognitive fog.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase alertness and energy levels. However, too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.

Alcohol is a depressant that can slow down the nervous system. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to confusion, drowsiness, and problems with memory.

Sugary drinks can give you a temporary energy boost. However, the sugar high is followed by an energy crash that can leave you feeling tired and foggy-headed.

If you suspect that your cognitive fog is due to your diet, try eliminating caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks for a week to see if your symptoms improve.

What are the symptoms of Covid brain fog?

Covid-19 brain fog can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • problems with concentration and attention
  • memory problems
  • difficulty sleeping
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • struggles with decision-making
  • trouble problem-solving

These symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. Some people may only experience mild symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms that interfere with their daily life.

If you are experiencing covid brain fog, talk to your doctor. They can help you manage your symptoms and get the treatment you need.

How long does brain fog from Covid last?

The duration of covid fog can vary from person to person. Some people may only experience symptoms for a few days or weeks, while others may have long-term symptoms that last for months.

If you are feeling like your thinking is not as clear as it used to be, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help determine the cause and provide recommendations for treatment.

How to Clear Covid-19 Brain Fog Effectively

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for covid fog. The best way to treat your symptoms will also depend on other underlying causes.

Here are some general tips that can help clear the fog and improve your brain health in the long run:

Prioritize your sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial for your overall health and well-being. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can lead to fatigue and problems with concentration and memory.

Here are a few tips to improve your sleep:

  • Create a bedtime routine and stick to it as much as possible.
  • Avoid using electronic devices in the hours leading up to bed.
  • Establish a regular sleep schedule and make sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is not only good for your physical health, but it can also improve your cognitive function.

Exercising regularly increases your blood flow to the brain, helps fight inflammation, and improves your mental clarity.

Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day.

If you’re new to getting active daily, try aerobic exercises that are excellent for mental health, such as the following: 

  • walking
  • jogging
  • swimming
  • cycling
  • dancing
  • playing tennis or badminton.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet is important for your overall health, including your brain health.

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce inflammation and improve brain function.

Some specific nutrients that are good for your brain include:

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B complex, especial vitamin B12
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • flavonoids
  • magnesium
  • omega-3 fatty acids

You can get these nutrients from foods such as:

  • leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
  • citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit
  • berries, such as blueberries and strawberries
  • fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna
  • nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds.

Reduce your stress levels

When you’re stressed, it can lead to problems with concentration and memory. It can also make covid brain fog worse.

There are a few different ways you can reduce your stress levels:

  • exercise regularly
  • get enough sleep
  • eat a healthy diet
  • meditate or do yoga
  • get a relaxing massage
  • spend time with loved ones 
  • take breaks throughout the day
  • do something you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, or spending time outdoors.

Train your cognitive performance regularly

You can help improve your cognitive function by regularly challenging your brain. This can be done through activities such as:

  • puzzles
  • brain games
  • crosswords
  • sudoku
  • memory training exercises.

Some apps that can help with this are Lumosity, Elevate, and Fit Brains Trainer.

Consider neuroplasticity-based therapies

If you’re still struggling with covid brain fog, there are some therapies that can help.

One type of therapy that’s showing promise is neuroplasticity-based therapy. This type of therapy uses exercises and activities to help retrain the brain and improve brain function.

A few examples of neuroplasticity-based therapies include:

  • cognitive rehabilitation
  • constraint-induced movement therapy
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation.

If you’re interested in trying one of these therapies, talk to your doctor or qualified healthcare professional.

These are just a few general tips that can help clear covid brain fog and improve your brain health in the long run. For more specific tips, make sure to talk to an expert.

In Conclusion

Covid-19 can lead to brain fog for some people.

Brain fog can be frustrating and debilitating as it causes problems with concentration, memory, and fatigue, which can impact your day-to-day negatively.

The foggy-headedness may even last for months and could become severe enough that it affects your productivity at work and personal relationships.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to clear the fog and improve your brain function—from getting enough sleep to getting neuroplasticity-based treatments.

If you want to learn more about clearing brain fog naturally and improving your brain function, check out more educational resources in our blog

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