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Polio Rising|Effects of Polio on the Brain
Polio Rising|Effects of Polio on the Brain

Polio Rising|Effects of Polio on the Brain

Polio is rising, and we need to pay attention.

The United States has been polio-free since 1979, thanks to the Polio vaccine, developed in the 1950s. Until now.

According to the CDC, most people infected with poliovirus will not have any symptoms. Those vaccinated have approximately a 90% chance of not contracting the virus and mirroring many vaccines, including the COVID vaccine varieties; the polio vaccine helps to reduce the severity of symptoms in those that have had the vaccine.

About 1 out of 4 people who contract poliovirus will have more commonplace symptoms such as a sore throat, feeling tired, headaches, and fever.

The symptoms are much more severe in a much smaller number of people, more like 1-1000.

These symptoms include paresthesia, meningitis, and lastly, paralysis.

Paresthesia is a feeling of pins and needles combined with numbness and pain. Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord and/or brain; paralysis is a weakness or lack of feeling in the arms and legs, and often both.

In high school, in the mid-1980s, I had a teacher who was a survivor of Polio, and he walked with a limp, suffering the long-lasting effects of polio. I recall at the time, he appeared to be in his forties, and the idea of someone being a survivor of polio did not seem that outlandish. In those thirty-plus years, though, I had forgotten all about polio, so the news of it migrating throughout countries, including the United States, has been unsettling. I would have expected in my youth to see adults who had contracted it, but catching a sometimes deadly and often debilitating virus resurface is almost surreal. Much like my high school teacher, there are ancient drawings of people with a twisted, diminished musculature leg, denoting poliovirus.

Post-Polio Syndrome

The additional problem with poliovirus is that one might contract polio, even have a mild or asymptomatic case, and even four decades later, new pain can develop. This often will result in being wheelchair-bound later in life.


Like many debilitating illnesses, those who have contracted poliovirus have a higher risk of suicide. We already know that chronic disease and life-threatening viruses can cause increased anxiety and depression; we have seen this up close and personal with COVID.

With poliovirus, that percentage is incredibly high. From the American Journal of Epidemiology, more than 40% of those who contract polio have an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

“Poliomyelitis may cause a severe central nervous system infection, which may be accompanied by paralysis of the limbs, trunk, or respiratory system.”

Amercian Journal of Epidemiology

Research, “Psychiatric Hospitalizations in a Cohort of Danish Polio Patients”, followed persons who were an average age of 38 years old and found that there was a 40% increased risk of being hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder and the risk of hospitalization tended to be higher among those aged 45 or younger. There was also a slight increase in psychiatric hospitalization for those who had contracted polio before age seven.

Their findings could not be confined to specific groups of psychiatric disorders but increased the risks of several different diseases, meaning that there wasn’t just one psychiatric or mental illness that could be pinpointed.

This creates a wildcard view of how to manage the post-polio syndrome.

Also of note and noted within the research is that there could be an underestimation as the story was on the surviving, longer-living polio patients, which means that the healthiest polio patients were the participants in the study. Also of note is that the average age of the patients; was mid-age adults, so no children or adolescents were able to be researched. The research is also from the early 2000s, following those alive in the 1970s. This means that resources were slightly limited compared to what is available today.

Fatigue and Post-Polio

Fatigue is a common side effect of almost any sign of dis-ease, from mild allergies and depression to cancer and heart disease. It is also a significant player in polio and post-polio.

Note that even with a common cold, someone will often feel fatigued for two reasons- one the obvious is that the body is busy healing. Second, the dopamine center will often lower, causing a lack of motivation and fatigue in the presence of physiological illness to help the person conserve energy to heal. Think of it this way, if you run yourself ragged while sick, your energy would be distracted away from healing. This is a body-mind response to recovery.

Neuropsychological testing has shown large gaps in focus and attention in those who have contracted polio and report fatigue as a symptom.

According to the Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, hyperintense signal (HS) is essentially damage to the brain’s white matter. The brain’s white matter coordinates brain regions and affects learning and brain functions.

A study reviewing the clinical importance of white matter hyperintensities suggests higher rates of dementia, stroke, and death, in damage to white matter.

Post-Polio Recovery

While not a cure, an integral facet of recovery include short-term and long-term meditation. I will only explore short-term meditation for this post as most people will fall into that realm. Short-term meditation takes only 1-5 minutes and is best if accessed several times throughout the day.

The ability to strengthen connectivity through training could provide a means for improving self-regulation and might serve as a possible therapy or prevention tool.

The research presents that general relaxation, as experienced by most people, was not very effective in supporting recovery for white matter. So, for instance, if you feel gardening is relaxing and call it your therapy, that will not create a marked increase in white matter recovery. The research does support that an integrative approach, as in intentional breathing, meditation, and even moving meditations, does, in fact, support white matter recovery.

Research also supports that significant improvement might be made in as little as twelve weeks of yoga and meditation in post-polio syndrome.


The problem is that most people, even without having post-polio syndrome, long-haul covid, or other chronic conditions, are already so stressed that having a consistent practice of short meditation is a struggle and can cause additional stress, which of course, can increase symptoms. It is a cycle of pressure on the body and mind.

A solution for any struggle you experience is finding support.

I have a free weekly DOSE of Zen newsletter that is brief yet focused on inspiration, activities you can try at home, and short meditations.

The DOSE of Zen (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins + Zen) is a blend of ancient wisdom and modern science. It is part of my outreach, at no cost to you.



Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8646313_Hatha_yoga_and_meditation_in_patients_with_post-polio_syndrome

National Center for Biotechnology, The clinical importance of white matter hyperintensities on brain magnetic resonance imaging: a systematic review and meta-analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910261/

Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2932577/

Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8185440/

American Journal of Epidemiology, https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/165/3/319/134802

Psychiatric Hospitalizations in a Cohort of Danish Polio Patients, https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/165/3/319/134802

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