Even mild inflammation may harm the brain's ability to stay alert

Inflammation, including the kind resulting from mild colds, may impact the brain's ability to become and stay alert, something often referred to as 'brain fog.' The findings come from a new study out of the University of Birmingham, which injected participants with a salmonella typhoid vaccine in order to temporarily induce inflammation in their bodies.

Inflammation in the body isn't unusual — this is a normal response to illnesses and can result from something as simple as catching a virus or developing an infection. However, inflammation should be a temporary state; when chronic, it causes all sorts of health issues, including potentially the development of cancer. Chronic inflammation has been linked to obesity, low-quality diets, autoimmune diseases, and more.

Regardless of what is causing it, the new study found that inflammation in the body directly impacts the brain's ability to become and then stay alert. As a consequence, someone experiencing inflammation may find that they also experience 'brain fog,' a term that is often used to refer to trouble concentrating, slow thinking speeds, word jumbling, and more.

The link was made using 20 male volunteers described as 'young.' The group was injected with the aforementioned salmonella typhoid vaccine in order to induce temporary inflammation, then they underwent a cognitive test a few hours later alongside brain activity monitoring.

Later on in the study, the participants were injected with water and they retook the same tests. The participants had no idea which injections they received on each day and their inflammation levels were monitored using blood tests. Though the inflammation didn't seem to have an impact on executive control or 'orienting,' the researchers found that it did have a negative effect on alertness levels.