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Viruses and the Brain: How Infections Can Cause Cognitive Decline

Viruses and the Brain: How Infections Can Cause Cognitive Decline

Aug 25, 2023 | Disease, Disorders, and Illnesses

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that I may earn a small commission from, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I use or have used myself. All opinions expressed here are my own.

The Link Between Poor Cognitive Health & Viral Illness

It has long been known in the scientific community that viral infection can cause cognitive and mood changes — anyone who has felt brain fog, depression, insomnia, and general irritability during a bout with a flu bug or cold can confirm this fact. But new research has found that this impact isn’t always short lived and can lead to “irreparable neurodegeneration and significant cognitive impairment”.1 Several fascinating studies have even found that certain viruses cause MS-like disease where the neurons become damaged.2 In light of these findings, you may be wondering if there is a way to repair the damage or avoid viral complications altogether? Let’s take a deeper look at the associations between viruses and cognitive decline and explore several natural options that can help.

How Immune Response Can Compromise the Brain

Some studies have found that viral infections of the brain may be involved in the development of neurological diseases — even with autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis. Researchers note that the host immune response may be more significant in disease progression rather than the virus itself:

“If MS is due to an autoimmune attack on oligodendrocytes, it might be initiated by a transient viral infection of those cells. While no single virus has consistently been associated with MS (Atkins et al, 2000), morbilliviruses such as measles and/or other viruses that sometimes infect oligodendrocytes have been associated with the disease (Sips et al, 2007). Viral diseases are particularly difficult to study and interpret in humans. But in animal models of MS, a surprisingly large number of unrelated viruses can induce an MS-like CNS disease. Viruses that can cause MS-like disease, associated with an autoimmune-mediated loss of oligodendrocytes, include measles, VSV, vaccinia, mouse hepatitis, Semliki Forest, Theiler’s, Chandipura, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (Johnson,1998).”2

yellow and red virus on blue background

Additionally, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis C (HCV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), severe acute respiratory virus, and more have all been shown to enter and affect the central nervous system (CNS), which in turn triggers immune activation, encephalitis, and, many times, cognitive decline. Researchers suspect systemic inflammation that follows a viral infection may also exacerbate and trigger immune dysfunction in the brain.

Historically, it has been well-established that RNA viruses, such as polio and rabies, and more recently West Nile virus, cause neurological symptoms — but only in those where the virus infects the CNS, which tends to be relatively rare. Additionally, some viruses have been linked with depression, bipolar disease, and schizophrenia, such as Borna disease virus (BDV).

And now a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found common viral and parasitic infections in those middle-aged and older may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The team took blood samples from 575 adults, ages 41-97, and examined antibody levels of five common pathogens, including four herpes viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1, cytomegalovirus, varicella zoster virus (chickenpox and shingles viruses), and Epstein-Barr virus, along with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is spread to humans by cat feces or by consuming undercooked meat. Participants were then given a Mini-Mental State Examination — a widely-used cognitive test that measures orientation, attention, verbal comprehension, memory, and visual perception. They also took a memory test for a list of words after a 20-minute delay.

What they found is that those who had elevated antibodies for herpes simplex virus 1 or cytomegalovirus performed worse on the global cognitive test. The results were published April 7, 2023 in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.3

“After accounting for participants’ age, sex, race, and the largest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, the data in our study showed that a greater number of positive antibody tests related to five different infections was associated with poorer cognitive performance. To our knowledge, this kind of additive effect of multiple infections on performance on a cognitive test has not been shown before,” notes senior author Adam Spira, PhD, professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and a core faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health.4

The pathogens examined in the study are typically encountered in childhood and are either cleared or become dormant within the body. The team believes that the high levels of antibodies for these viruses indicate latent infections that have become reactivated later in life when the immune system weakens as we age.

Nicole Apelian holding Eastern Blend Tincture

Protecting Against Damaging Viral Infections

If you would like to minimize the risk of cognitive decline due to viral infections, one of the best ways to protect yourself is to reduce your viral load, which in turn lowers the chance of viruses impacting the central nervous system. This is why I developed our powerful Eastern Blend tincture.

Containing a potent formulation of Chinese skullcap, Japanese honeysuckle, Japanese knotweed, and cordyceps mushroom, these research-backed botanicals address a wide-range of health concerns, including: viral and bacterial infections, respiratory illness, and inflammation. It also boosts/modulates the immune system and significantly increases killer (NK) cells.

What’s more, Chinese skullcap protects against oxidative stress and has both neuroprotective and cognitive enhancement effects because it is rich in the compound baicalin. This botanical also exhibits strong antiviral activity for severe acute respiratory illness, the common cold, and influenza. Japanese honeysuckle is also a strong defense against severe acute respiratory syndrome and helps to heal upper respiratory tract infections.

Containing high concentrations of trans-resveratrol, Japanese knotweed has strong antioxidant activity and inhibits viral replication. It too has been shown to be a potent antiviral against severe respiratory infections. Additionally, it improves cognitive function, reduces neuroinflammation, and helps to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Lastly, cordyceps inhibits viral entry and viral replication into the host body’s cells, fights chronic inflammation, improves cognitive function, and has neuroprotective qualities.

“Best anti-viral I have found for today’s times. My entire family has been using this. Those of us who use it preventatively haven’t gotten sick (!) and those who got sick got well SOON. This is a hidden gem and we even got this for all of our employees to keep them healthy. Thank you!” -Tracy

Nicole's Apothecary Brain Bundle

Improving Overall Cognitive Function

For those who need an extra layer of support — or who are already experiencing cognitive decline — our Brain Bundle contains four different botanicals that enhance brain health. This collection includes cordyceps, lion’s mane, and reishi medicinal mushrooms, plus our concentrated extract of lemon balm.

These 3 mushrooms have unique, research-backed benefits that include: lowering neuroinflammation, stimulating Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), boosting cognitive function, limiting neuronal cell death, enhancing memory, calming stress, combating fatigue, and improving energy.

Lemon Balm is associated with improvements in memory, mood, and age-related cognitive performance, a reduction in stress and anxiety, and improved clarity and focus. Lemon balm is an antioxidant, helping to protect the neurological system. Lemon Balm also inhibits the brain’s levels of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme that helps break down acetylcholine (Ach), a critical neurotransmitter involved in cognition and memory; reduced levels of acetylcholine have been associated with Dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

“Wow! The Lemon Balm really helps my ADHD so I can focus. It has also made a big difference in my memory and stress levels. I use the entire Brain Bundle and the Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail and Cordyceps have also been huge game-changers for me. My energy is better and I have less brain fog from the mushrooms. Thank you!” -Martha R.

Are you ready to experience the power of medicinal herbs for yourself? Visit the apothecary today to learn more!

Nicole Apelian

Nicole’s Apothecary Products in this Post

Nicole's Apothecary Brain Bundle

Brain Bundle

Nicoles Apothecary Eastern Blend Defense Tincture

Eastern Blend Defense Tincture

  1. “Immunological consequences of viral infection on brain homeostasis and cognitive impairment” Frontiers in Immunology. https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/49722/immunological-consequences-of-viral-infection-on-brain-homeostasis-and-cognitive-impairment
  2. Van den Pol A. N. (2009). Viral infection leading to brain dysfunction: more prevalent than appreciated?. Neuron, 64(1), 17–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2009.09.023
  3. Alexandra M. Wennberg, Brion S. Maher, Jill A. Rabinowitz, Calliope Holingue, W. Ross Felder, Jonathan L. Wells, Cynthia A. Munro, Constantine G. Lyketsos, William W. Eaton, Keenan A. Walker, Nan‐ping Weng, Luigi Ferrucci, Robert Yolken, Adam P. Spira. Association of common infections with cognitive performance in the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area study follow‐up. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 2023; DOI: 10.1002/alz.13070
  4. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2023, April 20). Common infections linked to poorer cognitive performance in middle-aged and older adults: Findings, based on an analysis of 575 study participants, support the hypothesis that infections may negatively affect brain health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 10, 2023 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230420110130.htm

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