The other day I was making myself a cup of tea, except I had put the teabag in a wine glass. If there is one symptom that all long Covid sufferers – and half the planet – complain of, it’s brain fog.
Brain fog as a medical term doesn’t exist, says Prof Tommy Wood, a neuroscientist and health and performance coach with a special interest in chronic illness. It’s a phenomenon that sufferers have reported to describe the feeling of a brain stuck in mud. “Causes could be many things from blood sugar fluctuations, stress, the after-effects of a viral illness, hormone imbalances, inflammation, through to early onset dementia” he says. To learn more, he suggested that I find a practitioner trained in the Bredesen Protocol, a US programme believed by some to reverse the cognitive decline seen in early Alzheimers.
This led me to Dr Andrew Greenland who divides his time between his private Integrative Functional Medicine practice in Twickenham and his NHS work at a busy West London hospital. He has a special interest in patients who are either in the early stages of cognitive decline or those with more advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Recently he has started to see more patients with long Covid who are sapped of energy and suffering from brain fog (Dr Greenland confirms that it is not a thing in itself). The approach, however, is the same.
“The first thing I do is look and test for markers of inflammation and immune function, nutritional and antioxidant status, including vitamin D levels and omega 3/ 6 balance.” he says. “Many people are deficient in omega 3 – the most bioavailable source comes from oily fish.”
He routinely puts these patients on an antioxidant rich, anti-inflammatory diet and checks out the health of their gut microbiome. “Fifty per cent of the immune system sits in the gut, and the gut also has its own nervous system,” he says. A stool test is a good place to start. Dr Greenland advises the use of pre and pro-biotics to restore the balance of beneficial gut bacteria where this has been shown to be disrupted.
Chronic stress and lack of sleep (less than seven hours) are key risk factors for dementia and so screens and devices should ideally be turned off 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Dr Greenland explains many CEOs are at particular risk of cognitive decline because of their chronically elevated stress levels (which ultimately lead to inflammation). “Aerobic and resistance exercise is a must for stimulating neuronal regeneration,” he says, but not everyone has the capacity to do so if they are frail or immobile. However, most people have the capacity to do at least some form of yoga and tai chi, which are excellent alternatives.”
And then there’s Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy, which has incredible anti-ageing results according to a recent Tel Aviv study. I headed to the Wellness Lab in Knightsbridge to try it for myself. This treatment was originally devised for scuba divers suffering from decompression sickness and was found to have all sorts of other medical benefits (high levels of oxygen can only be administered in special air pressure conditions. I was effectively 25 feet underwater).
Currently it is used in some hospitals to enhance recovery post-surgery, but increasingly it is being used off-licence to treat a host of conditions including long Covid (and brain fog). Whilst in there, I practiced a little exercise where I try to recall four names, including Kevin Spacey and Tina Fey (don’t ask me why). This has been quite difficult recently but in the chamber the four names appeared without effort. Each session is one hour long (a course of 10 is recommended at a cost of roughly £100 per session). I am only beginning this journey but I am hopeful.
After less than an hour in what looks like a vessel you might fly to the moon in, I felt more alert and slept particularly well that night and was more energetic the following day.
“I would also suggest a good quality fish or krill oil (keep it cool) or, more cheaply, sardines out of the tin,” says Prof Wood. “Ashwaganda KSM-66 is a good herbal extract that may reduce some of the effects of chronic stress. Finally, I take Creapure Creatine, which has been properly tested, has many potential benefits of body and brain and is also very inexpensive (make sure it is Creapure).”
Dr Tamsin Lewis, a former elite GB triathlete, Ironman UK winner and long Covid sufferer herself, swears by medical grade supplement Cogni Aid (which contains things like blueberry extract and bacopa and is available from Wellgevity.com) and the Apollo Neuro Wearable device. Designed by a psychiatrist, this device sits on your ankle and vibrates at different frequencies and claims to help with clarity (I have one but keep forgetting to put it on). “I wear it when I am in clinic to enhance my concentration,” she says. “When I don’t I can feel the difference.”
Finally if you want your brain to work better why not learn a new skill like the shuffle dance? After five minutes of practice I am not only panting (which is good) but able to find my glasses.
Read more: How I’m planning to power through the lockdown slump
Follow Helen’s journey online every Tuesday at telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness