The brain fog is emerging as one of the most frustrating effects of the “long COVID-19”, lasting weeks and months after the first symptoms of the coronavirus.
Patients often report difficulty thinking or concentrating, feeling confused or tired, or having memory problems – leaving them devastated when trying to perform tasks at work or at home that were easy before they were diagnosed.
“It’s very worrying because what people are finding is that they can’t handle it,” said Dr. Uma Naidu, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts Hospital in Boston, TODAY.
Cases of brain fog have become “much more common”
As a prescribing psychiatrist, dietitian and trained chef, she advises patients on how to change their diet to improve their mental health, including relieving brain fog. It works because the gut and the brain are uniquely connected – connected by the vagus nerve, which carries signals between them, Naidu said.
When food interacts with the gut during the digestive process, it will affect the cerebral connection of the gut.
Eating fast food and other pro-inflammatory options, for example, feeds the “bad microbes” into the microbiome, allowing them to absorb and adjust to inflammation, which in turn can affect how he or she thinks or feels, she said.
“What I want people with long-term COVID symptoms who have a brain fog to feel is that they need to adjust their diet and nutrition to see if this can potentially help,” Naidu advised.
“There’s definitely hope … she makes a plan, takes these steps slowly and steadily, and makes it part of her lifestyle every day so you can eat better and healthier ingredients.”
Consider the following options:
Foods rich in luteolin:
These include fresh mint, sage, thyme, hot and sweet peppers, radicchio, celery seeds, parsley and artichokes. Dried Mexican oregano, which is slightly different from regular oregano, is one of the best sources.
Studies show that luteolin, a flavonoid, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, has numerous properties that reduce brain fog, Naidoo writes in his book.
This means eating lots of fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and plant sources such as flaxseed. Nuts and olive oil also play a role. Colored vegetables are especially good because they have strong anti-inflammatory nutrients, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols.
“Inflammation is considered to be the basis of many mental health conditions today, and food is also becoming important here,” Naidu said.
Vitamin C and folic acid:
Both have been found to be low in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, so she is asking brain fog patients to include them in their diet. There is a lot of vitamin C in citrus fruits, kiwi and red peppers. Folic acid is found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and kale.
They provide good bacteria that can help with digestion. Go for fermented foods with live crops such as kimchi, sauerkraut and usually unsweetened yogurt.
Studies show that moderate coffee consumption – one to two small or medium cups of coffee a day – can help avoid fog, Naidoo said. Coffee is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants. Green tea is also very useful for focus and clarity, she added.
Consider creating a “brain fog sign” at every meal:
Instead of focusing on one food, try to combine several of these options every time you eat. Prepare a leafy green salad with lots of colorful vegetables and a salad dressing that contains parsley and thyme or lemon and fresh mint. Enjoy salmon by squeezing lemon juice. Breakfast with kiwi fruit.
The goal is to be consistent and think of it as a holistic plan that you will follow every day. If you make less healthy choices on a given day, adjust only at the next meal, advises Naidoo. People usually feel better within two weeks to a month of starting a consistent plan, she added.
Be careful with gluten and alcohol:
Naidoo is a fan of everything in moderation and does not want to demonize the ingredients that most people consume. However, she advised people to experiment with how gluten and alcohol affect their brain fog. As for gluten, it may be a matter of limiting it, not giving it up altogether. The source matters, Naidu said. Eating highly processed, preservative-filled sliced bread from the supermarket can affect a person differently than freshly baked sourdough bread from a local bakery.
If a glass of wine makes the brain fog worse, it may be worth it to dry for a few weeks to see how that changes things.
In the end, “Dietary interventions are extremely helpful,” Naidu said. “But it’s not a single thing and it’s not fast and immediate.”