London: Scientists have uncovered a possible explanation for the mental sluggishness or mental fatigue that often accompanies illness. A team at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health investigated the link between the mental fog and inflammation — the body’s response to illness.

Scientists have long suspected a link between inflammation and cognition, but it is very difficult to be clear about the cause and effect. “For example, people living with a medical condition or being very overweight might complain of cognitive impairment, but it’s hard to tell if that’s due to the inflammation associated with these conditions or if there are other reasons,” said senior study author Dr Ali Mazaheri from University of Birmingham.

A group of 20 young male volunteers took part and received a salmonella typhoid vaccine that causes temporary inflammation but has few other side effects. Brain activity was measured while they performed the attention tests. The results showed that inflammation specifically affected brain activity related to staying alert, while the other attention processes appeared unaffected by inflammation. “This research finding is major step forward in understanding the links between physical, cognitive, and mental health and tells us that even the mildest of illnesses may reduce alertness,” noted Professor Jane Raymond.

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