The flu has been front and center in the news this year. Although flu numbers are starting to decline, it is still widespread across the nation. In fact, this year’s flu has been among the worst in nearly a decade and has even caused the death rate to jump. Beyond the normal misery that the flu brings, there are other, lesser thought of effects. Today, we look at some of the effects that the flu can have on our brain but not to worry… Awareness is the first step to prevention and knowing how to identify the symptoms and get the best treatment can allow a quick return to health.
When it comes to a cold or flu, the cause of infection is often unknown. Often sharing the same symptoms of coughing, sore throat, fatigue, stuffy nose and aches and pains, the flu and colds can sometimes be hard to distinguish. However, the flu also comes with a fever, exhaustion and the dreaded Flu Brain. If you have ever had the flu and lay there feeling hazy, you probably have experienced the Flu Brain.
The understand the Flu Brain, it’s important to understand the body’s immune response to the flu virus. Initially, as the virus takes hold, it invades the cells and multiplies. During this time the cells must determine whether the cells are behaving properly or not. The white blood cells, the police of the body, search for foreign objects to destroy. Upon finding virus-infected cells, they kill them while also releasing cytokines, or inflammatory, antibody proteins that activate an immune response resulting in the physical symptoms.
When it comes to the brain, neurotransmitters play a huge role as the immune system response affects the specific neurotransmitters and precursors. The pathways are depleted leading to a decrease in the “feel good” neurotransmitters of dopamine and serotonin, which leave us in a someone saddened state and affects our ability to remember new information. Additional effects of the pro-inflammatory immune response on mood and cognition include a decrease in mental processing and learning. All of this adds up to the Flu Brain.
Is the Flu Brain preventable? Although we cannot do much as our bodies fight infection, there are ways to feel the effects less while you get better.
- Sleep – Sleep is imperative when you are fighting the flu. You must let your body rest, fight the virus and wash away the waste products in your cells and that includes in your brain.
- Caffeine – One study in 2014 showed marked results in patients who were given a combination of caffeine and ibuprofen. A cup of tea or coffee may help to perk you up while fighting a flu… as long as caffeine isn’t a no-no in your regular health plan.
- Essential oils and positive thinking – There is also a school of thought that believes in the power of positive thinking. Keeping your stress levels down is essential to a well-functioning immune system. Some flu-fighting oils may help as well.
As studies into the flu and long-term effects continue, there is more and more evidence that preventive measures such as getting the flu shot can help defend against the flu and even prevent the immune response in our brains if we should happen to get the flu. If you feel the flu coming on, be sure to visit your doctor and practice self-care to get back to normal in no time.