Inflammation can manifest as mental fatigue

Why does malaise always seem to accompany illness? Researchers at the University of Birmingham uncover the link between inflammation and mental fatigue.

Long-term malaise, or mental fatigue, often signals that something is amiss with our physical health. Carrying out routine tasks at home or focusing on responsibilities at work may become increasingly difficult when you’re stuck in a brain fog. Research suggests that bodily inflammation, a complex biological response to threats, could be linked to the onset of fatigue.

The connection between the brain & inflammation

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Birmingham demonstrated that inflammation can affect the brain’s ability to remain alert. Scientists have long theorized about the connection between inflammation and fatigue, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a cause and effect relationship. The cause of malaise is not always clear and may be associated with inflammation, or by something else entirely different. By monitoring three parts of the brain that control particular aspects of attention – including alertness, orientation, and executive control, the researchers were able to identify that only alertness was affected in the presence of inflammation – thus, drawing the link between inflammation and mental fatigue.

Causes of inflammation

But what causes inflammation, and what exactly constitutes a threat to your body? If something causes cell damage, it will prompt a “repair” response from your immune system, and the result will be inflammation. Inflammation can be acute or chronic, and can be a response to infections or injuries that have arisen or lingered without proper treatment. It can also be a response to allergens, pollution and toxins of various forms. While inflammation can be a symptom of an autoimmune disorder, and is said to play a role in diseases like cancer, it can also be a response to something as simple as a food allergies, and behaviors like smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol.

Do you feel sluggish?

We get so consumed with everyday life that we become accustomed to feeling “meh.” When brain fog becomes our new normal, we have a problem. Take a moment before the start of each day to observe your mental and physical health—walk through a park, engage in breathing exercises or meditation and create a habit of asking yourself an important question: How do I really feel? Do I feel disengaged or distracted? Identifying a longer-term feeling of malaise may warrant a check-in with your eating habits, alcohol consumption or sleeping schedule – or it could warrant a more detailed investigation into your health to uncover inflammation in the body, and its causes.


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