Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Mental Sluggishness - the answer may be more complicated than pouring another cup of coffee

Studies over the recent years have revealed that low-grade chronic inflammation plays a role in many of the chronic illnesses that our society deals with today. Inflammation has been linked to ailments such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and obesity just to name a few. New research (found here) suggests an additional link between low-grade inflammation and decreased cognitive readiness to perform and maintain a task.

Researchers used a vaccination to induce transient mild inflammation, while a saline injection was used as a placebo in the same subjects on a different day. They found that when the participants were injected with the vaccination to induce inflammation, the subjects’ ability to become and remain “alert” was negatively affected, while the saline injection had no effect.

We all know about the mental fog that comes with feeling sick, and this research suggests that this same feeling is likely present much more frequently, or even all the time, in patients dealing with chronic illnesses and other ailments related to low-grade inflammation. While I am usually not having my patients perform mentally challenging math problems and calculations, I definitely expect them to process my feedback and make relatively quick performance adjustments in response to it. Keeping this research in mind, it may be beneficial to slow that process down at times and allow for more repetition and clarification when needed to improve patient performance, compliance, and outcomes.