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Flu Brain: Here is What the Virus Does to Your Central Nervous System

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Flu brain is a thing. And this season especially, everyone is trying to avoid it. And no, you are not imagining it. People really are throwing you a side-eye when you cough, sneeze or sniffle in public. Nobody wants the flu.

You likely know the symptoms all too well. But did you ever wonder what havoc these viruses play inside of the body, particularly the brain? And although this flu season started off slowly, it’s spreading quickly now, making this information more important than ever.

Cold & Flu: Basic Symptoms & “Flu Brain

When it comes to colds and the flu, the cause of infection is often unknown. Was it little Penny? or the door handle at the store? What comes next though, is all too familiar. The coughing, the sore throat, brain fog, crankiness, fatigue, stuffy nose, and aches. This is known collectively as sickness behaviour. Cold and flu symptoms are often grouped together but the two can have some distinct differences.

Both the cold and flu viruses induce fatigue/weakness, a stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat pain and coughing, but the flu virus is characterized by an accompanying fever, headache, exhaustion and general body aches and pains.

As you lay there, unable to function or move properly, as haziness takes over your brain, you may be wondering, “What is happening inside of my head?” This is what I like to call “flu brain.”

This video below explains what happens

Research by Dr Marken Nedergaard; a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester, shows that cerebral spinal fluid washes away proteins that build up in the space between brain cells during the day. This process is even more crucial as the body fights infection and is dealing with a surplus of proteins that need to be removed from the spaces between neurons. Essentially, all of this debris can act to obstruct or slow normal metabolic function and can attribute to the “foggy-headed” feeling. 

The effects of the pro-inflammatory immune response on cognition and mood are a decrease in mental processing, and learning and a depressed state. Much like alcohol or sleep deprivation, seasonal illness impairs cognition by dampening reaction times and the ability to store new information.

Flu Brain: Prevention and Maintenance

Unfortunately, there is not much to be done as your body fights off a viral infection. However, there are some ways to help your body along and make you feel less foggy and more functional during your days of recuperation.

Power of positive thinking

Studies suggest that a positive outlook helps protect against seasonal illness or reduces the intensity of the symptoms, while stress undermines the immune system through cortisol release (the stress hormone) and makes your more susceptible to illness.

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 Sleep deprivation is a no-no when it comes to fighting the flu. As mentioned earlier, sleeping lets your body focus its energy on fighting the virus, allowing the body to wash away the waste products lodged in between your brain cells.

Consider caffeine

A 2014 study illustrated the benefits of caffeine, a stimulant, and ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory. The caffeine and ibuprofen group showed the biggest improvement in reaction times. While I’m not big on using ibuprofen, the study also found some improvement with caffeine alone. So a cup of coffee could perk you up during seasonal illness if you can stomach it.

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Tap flu-fighting oils

Use this guide to the best essential oils for colds, the flu and beyond to help support your body during seasonal illness.

Summary about flu-brain

  • This immune response impacts the brain and central nervous system tremendously.
  • It throws off normal neurotransmitter functioning, leading to everything from muscle pain and brain fog to symptoms of depression.
  • A cold can lead to impaired cognitive function for a few days; the flu may cause weeks of cognitive dysfunction.
  • Seasonal illnesses like colds and influenza activate the body’s immune system, unleashing a wave of pro-inflammatory antibody proteins known as cytokines to keep pathogens under control.
  • Virus-triggered inflammation links the immune, neurological and psychological systems during cold and flu season.

Balanced Healing can assist with your flu prevention, treatment & recovery with the following treatments –

  • Infusion therapy
  • Vitamin booster packs
  • Bach remedies (essential oils)


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