As we continue to learn about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused a world pandemic, researchers and those who have contracted COVID-19 are seeing a rise of memory and cognition issues that may be attributed to long Covid.
In fact, two recent studies say that 7 out of 10 long Covid sufferers have memory and concentration problems. The research team noted that 10 to 25 percent of those who contract Covid are at risk of developing long Covid. Among the patients part of the study, 78 reported difficulty concentrating, and 69 percent experienced “brain fog,” about 68 percent suffered from routine forgetfulness, and 60 percent said they struggled to identify words while speaking.
Doctors have seen brain fog and other cognition issues in patients who had very mild Covid, and even those who said they were asymptomatic. This is often accompanied by varying degrees of memory loss, confusion, recurring headaches, and depression and anxiety.
We spoke with Dr. Jonathan Liu, a professor of Chinese Medicine at Canadian Public College, and learned four natural methods to improve cognition. Dr. Liu has more than 20 years teaching and clinical experience in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture.
His most concerned patients are those in their middle age and younger adults. “In other words, the majority of the workforce,” he said.
“They suddenly realize their minds aren’t working as before. They can’t remember things. Of course they’re worried about this,” Dr. Liu.
Dr. Liu explained why a virus that seems to cause a respiratory disease can so easily affect the mind. “Places with more active blood circulation are actually ‘weaker’ to infection, more easily affected by the infection of the virus,” he said. At resting, the brain easily uses 20 percent of the body’s blood, oxygen, and energy; at times, this could be up to 50 percent.
“So then, what happens when the brain has less blood and oxygen?” Dr. Liu said. “It is almost like a really, really minor cerebral thrombosis or clogged artery in the brain, resulting in that brain fog symptom. For some people, it lasts about six weeks, then it’s gone. But for some people it lasts longer.”
Sars-CoV-2 has a high affinity to blood vessels, Dr. Liu explained, because blood vessels are abundant in ACE2, the functional receptor for Covid-19 infection and entry. Damage to these cells automatically leads to poorer blood circulation, and in some cases microthrombosis, which affects the blood and oxygen supply to the brain, leading to many other problems.
The brain does age over time, Dr. Liu said, but what a patient experiences after Covid is an acceleration of natural aging.
Dr. Liu explained what this block of circulation means in traditional Chinese medicine, methods of prevention, and natural ways to treat these conditions.
‘Dampness’ and Dementia
In modern medicine, what is known as early-onset dementia is in traditional Chinese medicine related to what they call “dampness,” which leads to confusion, loss of memory, and impaired speech, Dr. Liu said. Think of cold like symptoms, where the tongue is coated and the body develops phlegm—that’s “dampness.”
And while a cold and dementia have little to do with each other on the surface, the root deficiencies that lead to both have similarities.
“What we eat is very important, it’s the first cause of dampness. Food with high sugar, high salt, and high oil content can cause dampness; sometimes you’ll notice phlegm after eating them,” Dr. Liu said. “In Chinese medicine, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, arteriosclerosis are also symptoms of excess dampness.”
Dr. Liu suggested a number of natural remedies that help combat brain fog.
“Modern medicine has done a lot of research to improve cognition impairment, but the options are still few. Chinese medicine has thousands of years of history, and does provide treatments of impaired brain function. There are actually many Chinese herbs that elevate the mechanism of brain function, and prevent the degeneration of the brain,” Dr. Liu said.
Hawthorn fruits are red berries sometimes called a thornapple or hawberry.
“Hawthorn is known to aid digestion, avoid stagnation, and reduce blockage in microcirculation, therefore helping clear the blockage and prevent brain fog,” Dr. Liu said.
The tea is easily found in many health food stores, and Dr. Liu says he recommends it primarily for the prevention of cognition issues, but if you are suffering from long Covid you can also experience some benefits.
He also recommended barley tea as primarily a preventative remedy.
“Barley tea has the benefit of being anti-anxiety and antidepressant,” Dr. Liu said. “These are also major symptoms of brain fog.”
“Barley tea also helps to strengthen the spleen and stomach, basically reducing ‘dampness.’ Chinese medicine believes dampness is endogenous, and develops when the spleen and stomach is weak. That’s why barley tea is effective as a preventative remedy,” Dr. Liu said.
Lily Lotus Seed Soup
“A lot of Covid patients suffer from comorbidities, I’ve observed. For instance, fevers associated with yin deficiency. After a fever, the patient’s tongue is abnormally red, the mouth is dry, they’re irritable and quick to upset, suffer from insomnia, forgetfulness, they can’t concentrate, and are absent minded,” Dr. Liu said.
In these cases he recommends them a lily lotus soup:
- 100 grams lily root (often found in dried bulbs, or powdered)
- 25 grams of lotus seeds
- a bit of rock sugar
Let the water boil first before putting in the lotus seeds, otherwise they may not soften on the outside. Simmer for another 20 or 30 minutes until the seeds are soft.
“Lily and lotus seeds are both medicine and food, and they’re both tasty,” Dr. Liu said. “Together, they calm and soothe the nerves, alleviate insomnia, reduce brain fog, and improve concentration.”
Another deficiency he often sees in those suffering long Covid effects is qi, or energy, deficiency. Here he recommends sour jujubes and dried longan fruit pulp.
Sour jujubes nourish the mind, heart, and blood, Dr. Liu said, and even helps with sleep quality. The longan pulp is known to nourish blood and qi, and has a calming effect.
- 30 grams sour jujube
- 15 grams longan pulp
- 10 grams dried tangerine peel
- danshen (Chinese herb)
- 6 grams rock sugar
Wash the ingredients well, cook them together in water, filter the ingredients out, and then add the rock sugar.
“We know that Covid affects the blood vessels, causing inflammation. Danshen is a mild and safe remedy to improve blood circulation and resolve blood stasis,” Dr. Liu said. “Dried tangerine peel is good for relieving phlegm and dampness. Together, these herbs will soothe the nerves, replenish the brain, improve sleep, improve memory, and lift fatigue.”
Another soup uses jujube and walnuts, which Dr. Liu also recommends to elderly patients with kidney weaknesses that lead to tiredness, soreness of the waist, and nocturia, or having to wake up in the middle of the night to urinate frequently enough to affect sleep quality.
- handful of walnuts
- 10 grams fushen (Chinese herb)
- 10 grams sour jujube
- 10 grams longan pulp
For this soup, first cook the jujubes in water for 10 to 15 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes.
“They taste pretty good together, and function together even better, to soothe the nerves, improve cognition, and improve sleep quality,” he said. “It’s particularly good for relieving forgetfulness, so I recommend it to older patients generally.”
Acupuncture and Energy
Dr. Liu also suggested two easy-to-locate acupoints that people can use on themselves at home to help with cognition issues.
“Modern medicine has recognized that many acupoints are especially effective for treating nerve system illnesses, such as a stroke, brain degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Liu explained.
The first is the Baihui point, which is located at the crown of the head, the center of the top of your head.
“Gently massage this point for 100 times to refresh the mind, improve memory, reduce insomnia, and relieve headaches,” he said. “In my clinical studies I found it very effected and patients responded well in improving memory, reducing brain fog, insomnia, headaches. It was also helped patients who were suffering from anxiety and depression due to long Covid.”
“Previously, I also found it effective in treating patients in coma. A patient with a massive cerebral infarction was in a coma for a week, and the family was informed it was unlikely she would regain consciousness. I was a consulting physician and tried acupuncture at the Baihui point three times, and she regained consciousness during the third session,” he said.
The second acupuncture point is the Yongquan point on the sole of your foot. It is a third of the way down the foot, between the second and third toes. You will feel a spot between the bones that feels a little sore when you press down on it.
“First, enhance blood circulation of the feet by soaking in warm water before the massage. Second, what you can do is to press on it with your knuckle, which is safer than using your finger and it presses deeper into the acupoint. You can also use a small, wooden massage stick. Press down on the point 100 times, and do this for both feet,” Dr. Liu said.
“Clinically, we have seen a particularly impressive effect with the pressing of the Yongquan point. It’s a major acupoint. It helps to relieve brain fog, sleeplessness, and especially severe anxiety associated with insomnia,” Dr. Liu said. “Pressing 100 times on both feet should only take a few minutes.”
Acupuncture is related to the energy of the body. “The meridians of the body regular our physical energy, and the meridian is very good at regulating the energy of the human body and enhancing the strength of the energy,” said Dr. Liu. In this respect, Dr. Liu also had recommendation for improving mental health, which many doctors have stressed is important to relieving long Covid symptoms.
In Chinese medicine, there’s a saying that modern people lack the essence of qi compared to the ancients. “Traditional Chinese culture has always been about limiting human desires, and actually from a medical point there’s a lot of stock in this. The ancients paid attention to the spiritual aspect of things more than the material aspect of things; many of them lived frugal and selfless lives,” Dr. Liu said.
In contrast, we live in a time of excess self-centeredness and self-indulgence, Dr. Liu said. From rampant consumerism, the prevalence of alcoholism and drug use, and overeating, these things have even become cultural norms. “Take eating, for example. Too much eating is harmful to the body, no matter if you’re eating good or bad foods,” Dr. Liu said. “Too much of anything is not good for our digestive systems, we can see that with diabetes, heart disease, and obesity increases, linked to excessive eating and contributing to higher Covid risk.”
“Another excess in our modern people is sexual desire and activity. In traditional Chinese medicine believes that it’s damaging to the essence of qi, especially the kidney energy. An old saying goes, one drop of seminal fluid is more valuable than ten drops of blood,'” Dr. Liu said, adding that it’s certainly not a view of modern people anymore.
“But what does this have to do with the brain? Well, in Chinese medicine we say that the kidney is in charge of producing bone marrow, and the marrow it produces is directly connected to the brain. If the kidney’s essence of qi is kept well, the brain will function well,” Dr. Liu said. These excesses that have led to kidney and brain issues are also seen in the rise of ADD, ADHD, depression, and anxiety, he added.
“Today’s education teaches young children about exercising sexual freedom and it’s actually very damaging,” Dr. Liu said, adding that he’s seen that these things have actually decreased people’s happiness, and in many cases their desire to do something positive in life, decreasing their motivation in life.
“What I usually say to my patients is that external stimulants can’t bring you happiness. True happiness comes from being selfless and not having many desires,” he said. “From a traditional medicine point of view, happiness comes from within. ‘No desire’ is considered a virtue. ‘Not greedy’ is considered a treasure. This is the source of happiness. When you don’t have a lot of desires, your mind is peaceful. Inner peace brings joy. This is different from the fleeting happiness obtained through substance abuse or over-consumption. Those don’t last at all.”
Epoch Health articles are for informational purposes and are not a substitute for individualized medical advice. Please consult a trusted professional for personal medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment.