Mental Sluggishness Can Be Caused by Brain Inflammation: Study
Thu, April 22, 2021

Mental Sluggishness Can Be Caused by Brain Inflammation: Study

Mental sluggishness can be described that distorts alertness and can often feel as if the person’s mind is clouded / Photo by: fizkes via Shutterstock

 

Around 12 million people in the United Kingdom have a chronic medical condition and most of them report that they also experience severe mental fatigue that they often characterize as mental “sluggishness” or “brain fog.” This condition is also considered to be as debilitating as the chronic disease itself. Mental sluggishness can be described that distorts alertness and can often feel as if the person’s mind is clouded. 

 

The Link Between Mental Sluggishness and Inflammation

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the University of Amsterdam published their study in the journal NeuroImage, and it revealed that the possible explanation for mental sluggishness can be caused by inflammation in the brain. 

The senior authors of the study, Dr. Ali Mazaheri and professor Jane Raymond of the University’s Center for Human Brain Health, said that scientists have long suspected that there is a correlation between inflammation and cognition, although they have not fully established the connection. For instance, patients who were living with a chronic medical condition may complain of cognitive impairment, but it was hard to tell whether or not it was due to the inflammation of the brain or if there were other reasons that caused this mental sluggishness. 

The team’s research focused mainly on a specific area of the brain that is responsible for a person’s visual attention. The researchers asked 20 male volunteers to receive a salmonella typhoid vaccine that essentially temporarily causes inflammation as one of its side effects. Then the men were tested for cognitive responses to images on a screen just a few hours after they received the injection. Their brain activity was measured while they performed certain attention tasks. The team conducted the experiment on separate days. On the first day, the subjects were given the real injection while on the other day, they were given a placebo but they were tested on the same cognitive attention exam. 

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the University of Amsterdam published their study in the journal NeuroImage, and it revealed that the possible explanation for mental sluggishness can be caused by inflammation in the brain / Photo by: BlurryMe via Shutterstock

 

As reported on Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, the test was conducted in a specific sequence, and the subjects were assessed in three separate attention processes that involved different parts of the brain. The processes were called alerting, orienting, and executive control—each one corresponding to a specific physical manifestation of the subject’s reaction. The researchers claimed that the results showed that inflammation can specifically affect brain activity that is mostly related to staying alert. 

Mazaheri explained that the results of their study showed that there is a unique part of the brain that is greatly affected by inflammation that can best explain the brain fog feeling people get when they have a chronic medical disease. Moreover, Raymond opined that their research is an important step in understanding the links between the physical, cognitive, and mental health that can eventually tell us that even the mildest of diseases can reduce mental alertness. 

Furthermore, according to Dr. Leonie Balter, the first author of the research, medical professionals and scholars are getting better in understanding the true relationship of inflammation and brain function and this can eventually help them try other ways to treat some chronic medical conditions. The team wants to further their research on this, which might shed some light on chronic inflammation’s relation to obesity, kidney disease, or Alzheimer’s disease and help patients benefit from taking anti-inflammatory drugs to help improve cognitive function. 

Other Ways to Overcome Mental Sluggishness

Since the research is in its early stages, here are some ways to counter mental fatigue according to Forbes, a prominent lifestyle magazine that publishes stories about health, society, economics, politics, and culture:

Stay Organized – experts always recommend a conducive and functional area for working as it can boost alertness and productivity. The physical space needs to be clean and tidy in order to have a clear mental space. The best way to keep organized is by getting rid of non-essential stuff that is not critical in staying focused and motivated, assigning a proper place for everything, clearing up the mess right after finishing a task, and lastly, always decluttering your surroundings. 

Be Realistic – it is easier to make a list of important tasks you will have to accomplish each day, but it needs to be realistic. This will keep a person from feeling overwhelmed with how much stuff they would have to do for the day. 

Tackle Rumination and Avoidance – some people would rather avoid a certain task if they are afraid of failing at it. Hence, it is important to remember that it is always better to tackle something big one piece at a time, and eventually, the task will be finished without leaving the person feeling overwhelmed. 

Meditation – spending a few minutes (20 minutes or less) to practice meditation every day can go a very long way in treating mental sluggishness and fatigue. It can also improve memory loss and help a person focus better as well as change the way the body responds to stress. Meditation is a healthy way to cope with the stress that can definitely help people be more alert and stay focused.

Spending a few minutes (20 minutes or less) to practice meditation every day can go a very long way in treating mental sluggishness and fatigue / Photo by: everst via Shutterstock