Q I’ve always been good at multi-tasking, but recently I’ve been finding it hard to think straight — I turned on the washing machine without laundry in it, and I’ve found my car keys in the fridge more than once.
I’m 65, and I had this brain fog during the menopause but it seems to be back. I had a mild case of Covid last year, could it be linked to that?
A We all have moments when we can’t remember a particular word or are not thinking clearly. But, like you, many people experience longer periods of ‘brain fog’.
I suspect this condition has been around for ever. We medical professionals have tended to dismiss it as a mild problem that we can’t easily measure.
An anonymous 65-year-old woman asked Clare Bailey (pictured) whether their brain fog could be linked to a mild case of Covid they had last year
But over the past decade it has become clear that chronic inflammation in the body and brain may be the explanation.
That is where Covid-19 comes in, as it can lead to persistent low-grade inflammation.
The symptoms you describe are surprisingly common post-Covid, with 25 per cent of sufferers reporting symptoms affecting their brain and nervous system, rising to 69 per cent in serious cases.
Brain fog is also the most common long-term symptom reported six months after contracting Covid, with some people still experiencing cognitive impairment months after that.
Many other conditions can lead to brain fog, too, including inflammation in the gut, which you might want to consider.
While researching my book The Clever Guts Diet Recipe Book, I began to realise how common it is for people with specific food intolerances or coeliac disease (which leads to low-grade inflammation) to have brain fog for a few days following contact.
Patients with other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, began telling me about their brain fog, too.
And it can also be a symptom of a hormone imbalance, as is well recognised in the menopause.
The GP said brain fog is the most common long-term symptom reported six months after contracting Covid, with some experiencing cognitive impairment months later (stock image)
So, how to lift brain fog? Here are seven steps I’d recommend:
1 Exercise is a well-known way to boost brain function, but start gradually.
2 Eat a Mediterranean diet including olive oil, veggies, beans, lentils, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and oily fish. You’ll be eating plenty of fibre, on which healthy gut microbes thrive, producing substances that reduce inflammation and boost memory and brain health.
3 Maintain a normal weight. Being overweight increases inflammation and can upset your hormones. If it’s suitable, try intermittent fasting, which is known to reduce inflammation and promote new brain cells.
4 Prioritise sleep, as it helps your brain recover.
5 Stimulate your brain via mildly challenging activities such as reading, singing, finding a hobby and seeing friends.
6 Try to reduce anxiety. Give your brain a rest by practising mindfulness. I like the Headspace and Calm phone apps for this.
7 Avoid alcohol and tobacco, as the former will reduce cognitive function further, and the latter reduces blood flow to the brain.
Stress can trigger a relapse, so try to push yourself with these recommendations, but not too much. Find what works for you and eventually the fog should lift. If it doesn’t, see your doctor.
KIDS NEED DIRT UNDER THEIR NAILS
Mother-of-four Clare also said children have been missing the chance to grub about in the dirt during the Covid-19 pandemic – but dirt is good for their immune systems (stock image)
Many children who have been stuck at home for most of the past year have had little access to green spaces.
Not only have they been missing out on play, exercise and access to sunlight, they have been missing the chance to grub about in the dirt.
It’s fun, of course, but getting their hands dirty is also good for their immune systems, according to new research which showed that a ‘green makeover’ — getting more nature into children’s care — was good for their health.
While it is still vital to keep washing our hands as the lockdown rules are eased, we shouldn’t get too hung up if children get theirs messy in natural outdoor play. It’s time to let our children go wild.
I usually exercise by running 3km before breakfast. As I have had nothing to eat for at least 12 hours, I’m exercising in a ‘fasted state’.
This is not only good for my metabolic health and maintaining healthy blood sugars, but it’s likely to result in burning more fat.
Normally I don’t drink anything before heading out, but new research suggests a strong coffee 30 minutes before moderate aerobic exercise will further boost fat-burning.
Coffee also improves exercise performance, so I might have a shot of espresso and see whether it gives me an added boost.