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“Brain Fogg” from the common cold

Fog” from the common cold

     Sore throat, runny nose, sniffles, cough—cold symptoms like these rarely stop us in our tracks. But that sluggish, spaced-out, can’t think straight feeling? That’s the assault to our senses that slows our thinking down to a snail’s pace.

     “Brain fog” from the common cold isn’t all in your head. Upper respiratory tract illnesses such as sinus colds cause muddled thinking on par with the cognitive effects of drinking alcohol or getting a bad night’s sleep.

     Reaction time and manual dexterity involved in everyday tasks, such as driving are likely to be impaired when you have a cold. These are the conclusions of Dr.Andrew Smith, a health psychologist at Cardiff University in Wales who did a study on this subject.

     Colds can blunt mental sharpness in other ways too. In a 2012 study published in Brain Behaviour, and Immunity, Smith recruited 198 healthy men and women to do baseline cognitive tests. Within a few months, one-third came back to the lab with head colds, while the rest served as healthy controls in a second round of tests.

     Compared with healthy participants and their own previous cores, those with colds took more time to learn new things, perform verbal reasoning tasks  (memory tests) and retrieve information from their general knowledge banks. The study found that the lower scores were unrelated to the severity of their symptoms, their moods or how many hours they slept. Researchers used symptom check lists to rule out the flu which has totally different symptoms.

     The mental haze that comes with a head cold lasts longer than you think. Cognitive impairments start in the incubation period-24 to 48 hours before other cold symptoms strike—and persist for a couple of days after the coughing and sneezing stop. The study found that the cognitive effects were more severe with influenza and showed that could be impaired for up to 2 weeks after returning to work. It was determined that these short-term declines stem from temporary changes in the brain rather than cold or flu symptoms themselves. Seasonal viruses reduce mental alertness by interfering with neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline, associated with reaction times.

     Colds and flu trigger your body’s immune system to go into attack mode causing inflammation as the body tries harder than usual to seek and destroy the infecting organism. Sneezing, coughing and phlegm production are some of the ways your body tries to surround the virus and eliminate it from your body.

     Colds don’t make us incompetent however. They affect our mental-processing speed more than accuracy, so we might just need more time to write that report or wrap our heads around a spreadsheet. But if our jobs involve driving or operating heavy machinery, the cognitive effects of a sinus cold could be a safety issue. In a 2012 study published in BMJ Open, Smith asked 25 university students to complete a simulated driving exercise on two separate occasions. Fifteen volunteers had a cold in the first session but not the second group, while 10 were healthy on both occasions. While their basic driving skills were unimpaired, those with colds were slower at responding to unexpected events—and detected fewer collision hazards.

     Does that mean if we have a cold we shouldn’t drive? Not necessarily. Simple things such as caffeine, ibuprofen, light exercise or a short nap can boost mental clarity.

     In a 2014 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, Smith compared reaction times in cold sufferers randomly assigned to receive 200 milligrams of ibuprofen combined with 100mg of caffeine; ibuprofen or caffeine alone; or a placebo. Volunteers were tested twice over a three hour period. Out of the four conditions, the ibuprofen-caffeine group showed the biggest improvement in reaction times.

     Caffeine not only increases mental alertness, but also amplifies the anti-inflammatory effects of the ibuprofen.

     Although the cognitive effects of seasonal colds are hard to avoid, when we think of fluids we should be thinking of coffee and tea for the caffeine and even some high potency dark chocolate.

     Of course the whole idea is to stop the cold before it gets too bad so as soon as you feel that first sniffle or throat tickle you should think oregano oil or Echinacea and astragalus in drops or capsules. Not only will you halt the cold symptoms but you will eliminate the brain-fog that comes with them. [print-link]