You reach for the tissues, but the box is empty. It’s been a long night and the fever and chills were keeping you up last night. So, you get up to get a new box. You stumble towards the kitchen but forgot what you were going there for. The flu made the rounds and it hit you hard. Now you are sitting on your couch trying to get some simple tasks done on your computer, but you keep ending up in a fog-like state forgetting what you were doing. Then you remember – you need a tissue, so you get up to go to the kitchen. Wait, the kitchen? Why are you going there again? Do you even have tissues in the kitchen? Do you have flu brain?
Flu brain is a thing! We all know it, but have you ever wondered the reason for it? Maybe when you are standing in the kitchen wondering why you are there.
It’s not just you, that cold and flu haze affects everyone who gets ill. In a 2012 study, 25 students were asked to participate in two separate driving exercises. During the first round, 15 of them had a cold and 10 were healthy. In the second round, at a later date, all drivers were healthy. The exercises showed that those with colds were less able to detect collisions and respond quickly to unexpected events. (1)
Another study looked at 198 healthy participants and performed a battery of tests to establish baseline cognition. The participants came back a few months later when 1/3 of them had head colds and the remainder were healthy. Those with colds reported lower alertness, a more negative mood, and psychomotor slowing. They also had a hard time learning new information, were slower at verbal reasoning and processing semantic tasks. The severity of symptoms did not impact their performance changes. (2)
So why does this happen when we are sick?
It comes down to the immune response to the flu and colds. All of those symptoms like runny nose, fever, headaches and even brain fog are a result of our body fighting off the pathogen. Every day, you have an army of
white blood cells who are always looking for foreign invaders and when they find them they send a signal to your fighters, the cytokines. These proteins, released by your immune system, cause an inflammatory response to get the pathogen out of your body.
Your immune system is going to care less about making sure you can think clearly and care more about making an inhospitable environment for that foreign invader. If your body is working overtime, you’re going to have decreased energy, not feel very well and not think straight because your body is working on that primary insult, which is that virus circulating through your blood stream. (3)
The cytokines are also going to impact the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, noradrenaline and choline. These neurotransmitters are messengers that impact mood, motivation, alertness, cognition, memory and learning. If their production is slowed, you can see why you might have a bit of brain fog.
So, it’s not all in your head. Brain fog along with all the other symptoms are your body’s normal immune response to the cold and flu. Your body is fighting off pathogens!
How do you get rid of Flu Brain?
The only way to shorten your flu brain is to shorten the length time the virus is in your body. The quicker you get the offending virus out of your body, the faster your cognitive capabilities return. The only way to do that is to bolster your immune system.
9 Ways to Support Immune System and Fight Flu Brain
- Make sure you get plenty of Vitamin D. Between shorter days and cold weather outside we tend to not get enough exposure to the sun during winter months. Vitamin D is a great resource for avoiding respiratory tract infections- one of the key components to colds and flu. (2) Learn more about Vitamin D
- Skip the sugars and grains. This is a good suggestion in general, but sugar and gluten will disrupt your gut flora, compromising your immune system. Since 80% of your immune system is in your gastrointestinal tract you can’t afford to attack it. (1) You also want to avoid your allergies. If you don’t know what they are get them tested.
- Get plenty of sleep. Your immune system rebuilds, and your body heals while you sleep
- A few squirts of silver helps. We love a great broad-spectrum silver around here. Silver hydrosol, a form of colloidal silver, has many properties that will boost your immune system by helping fight those bacteria, viruses and fungi that pass along sickness. It won’t prevent an illness, but it will kill the bad guys. Good news is it doesn’t kill those good guys that fight the illness but boosts them by helping in the fight.
- Don’t fight the fevers. Fever is an effective way to regulate the body and the body is always working to make sure it’s running efficiently. Fever is a way to kill off unwanted bacteria. Check out our article on fevers to learn more.
- Medicinal mushrooms build immunity. Medicinal mushrooms like reishi and chaga are great for immune support with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. They have an earthy flavor and go a long way in bolstering that immune system.
- Get an adjustment. Chiropractic adjustments are great for prevention and also important during an illness. An adjustment will take stress off the nervous system so that the body can focus on fighting the illness.
- Keep echinacea on hand. We use a high-quality echinacea tincture at first symptoms. You won’t love the strong flavor that lingers for a while. You will love how it shortens that cold or flu though.
- Zinc shortens your illness. We’ve known for years that zinc is a great defense against colds and even the flu. If you begin taking zinc at first sign of sickness, it can shorten the duration and severity. Even better, it does not require a prescription.
Knowing flu brain is a thing might not make it any easier. It will be a reminder to give yourself a little more time for big projects, problem solving and to be extra cautious when driving. It’s also a good reason to give your body what it needs to fight any battles and take good care of yourself. Who has time to miss a lot of work or to wander around looking for a box of tissues?