Long COVID ‘Brain Fog’ Confounds Doctors, but New Research Offers Hope

James C. Jackson, PsyD, a licensed psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and rehabilitation, at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and author of a new book, Clearing the Fog: From Surviving to Thriving With Long COVID ? A Practical Guide, reports in Medscape July, 2023 : “There’s not a lot of imprecision in the term (brain fog) because it might mean different things to different patients,”

Jackson, who began treating [a patient] in February 2023, said that it makes more sense to call brain fog a brain impairment or an acquired brain injury (ABI) because it doesn’t occur gradually. COVID damages the brain and causes injury. For those with long COVID who were previously in the intensive care unit and may have undergone ventilation, hypoxic brain injury may result from the lack of oxygen to the brain.

An April 2022 study published in the journal Nature found strong evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infection may cause brain-related abnormalities, for example, a reduction in gray matter in certain parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, hypothalamus, and amygdala.

Additionally, white matter, which is found deeper in the brain and is responsible for the exchange of information between different parts of the brain, may also be at risk of damage as a result of the virus, according to a November 2022 study published in the journal SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine.
Thus, new data suggest that long COVID is associated with inflammation and both reduced volume of several brain structures and decreases in white matter. These data suggest several novel approaches to therapy that require further study. One is low dose lithium which both increases gray matter volume and white matter integrity. Lithium also has some antiviral properties. This could be combined with anti-inflammatories that could be bought over the counter such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), acetyl-L-carnitine, and celecoxib.

Note of caution. This is only an untested hypothesis and would need to be discussed with one’s physician before any of these options are considered.

Chronic Fatigue, Depression and Anxiety Symptoms in Long COVID Are Strongly Predicted by Neuroimmune and Neuro- Oxidative Pathways Which Are Caused by the Inflammation during Acute Infection

HK Al-Hakeim et al in Michael Maes’ lab report in J. Clinical Medicine (2023) on very important findings about immune and oxidative changes in long COVID with “physio- somatic (chronic fatigue syndrome and somatic symptoms) and affective (depression and anxiety) symptoms. The severity of the long COVID physio-affective phenome is largely predicted by increased peak body temperature (BT) and lowered oxygen saturation (SpO2) during the acute infectious phase…..  We recruited 86 patients with long COVID (3–4 months after the acute phase) and 39 healthy controls and assessed serum C-reactive protein (CRP), caspase 1, interleukin (IL) 1?, IL-18, IL-10, myeloperoxidase (MPO), advanced oxidation protein products (AOPPs), total antioxidant capacity (TAC), and calcium (Ca), as well as peak BT and SpO2 during the acute phase. Results: Cluster analysis revealed that a significant part (34.9%) of long COVID patients (n = 30) show a highly elevated NT (neurotoxicity) index as computed based on IL-1?, IL-18, caspase 1, CRP, MPO, and AOPPs. Partial least squares analysis showed that 61.6% of the variance in the physio-affective phenome of long COVID could be explained by the NT index, lowered Ca, and peak BT/SpO2 in the acute phase and prior vaccinations with AstraZeneca or Pfizer. The most important predictors of the physio-affective phenome are Ca, CRP, IL-1?, AOPPs, and MPO. Conclusion: The infection–immune–inflammatory core of acute COVID-19 strongly predicts the development of physio-affective symptoms 3–4 months later, and these effects are partly mediated by neuro-immune and neuro-oxidative pathways.”

Editors Note:  These finding are important as they may lead to new treatment interventions.  BNN readers are reminded of a previous BNN article by investigators from Yale (written by by Isabella Backman on Dec. 13, 2022) that in a new case study, they found that guanfacine plus N-acetylcysteine (which is an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and glutathione precursor) “mitigated and sometimes eliminated the cognitive impairment known as “brain fog” that often accompanies long COVID.