A majority of individuals who contract coronavirus disease (COVID-19) recover within a few weeks. While the severity of the symptoms from patient-to-patient can vary wildly, still most will recover. According to ourworldindata.org, in the United States, as of this writing, the mortality rate is around 1.54%. Meaning for every 1000 people that contract COVID, 1.54 persons will die. But even for those that survive the virus, many continue to experience symptoms long after their initial recovery. They are referred to as, COVID Long haulers. So we pose the questions, can Functional Medicine help with COVID long haulers?
Long-term COVID-19 symptoms are also known as PASC, which stands for Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV. More colloquial names include post-COVID syndrome and long COVID or long term COVID. Those who live with post-COVID syndrome are sometimes referred to as “long haulers.”
A study from the University of Washington published in February found that 32.7% of COVID-19 outpatients developed long-haul symptoms and 31.3% of hospitalized patients became long haulers. In people with autoimmune disease, that number can be as high as 50%.
COVID-19 infections are most likely to produce persistent, chronic symptoms in older people and those with a variety of co-morbidities (pre-existing medical problems), however we are now seeing even young, otherwise healthy individuals experiencing symptoms for weeks to months after infection. The following are typical symptoms that continue to exist over time:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
- Memory, concentration or sleep problems
- Muscle pain or headache
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Dizziness when you stand
- Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities
Problems with mood and fatigue
Because the effects of the COVID-19 virus and its many variants are unpredictable, doctors and scientists are investigating similar viruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. COVID-19 also has some of the same features as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and chronic Lyme disease, such as mitochondrial dysfunction (mitochondria are the energy-producing powerhouses inside our cells), tiredness, brain fog, and muscular discomfort.
The diseases share certain characteristics. Chest discomfort, cough, and shortness of breath are all typical, as well as GI symptoms and abdominal pain. Long-haulers COVID appears to respond somewhat similarly to functional-medicine doctors’ tools and treatments for dealing with conditions such as chronic Lyme and CFS. In the functional-medicine world, doctors look at the different functions that go on in the body. When they look at a post-infectious state where someone is having persistent symptoms across multiple organs, they ask, ‘What’s the functional imbalance that’s going on here?’ So if the root cause of COVID-19 long-haulers’ symptoms is immune dysfunction and mitochondrial burn-out, how do we address it? Treating this requires a specific multi-pronged approach that includes the following:
Your gut and your immune system are intricately linked – and an imbalance in one undeniably leads to a dysfunction in the other. So restoring the health of your gut is crucial to bringing your immune system back into balance which encompasses:
- It’s critical to get rid of anything that may harm the environment of your gut, including common food allergies, parasites, harmful bacteria, and/or yeast.
- Replacement: Your gut needs digestive secretions for proper digestion, so make sure you’re supplementing with enzymes, stomach acid, and/or bile acids.
- Bacteria: When it comes to your gut health and immunity, beneficial microbes are crucial. Reinoculating your gut with a large number of “good” bacteria will aid in the restoration of your intestinal flora and the communication between your intestines and immune system.
- Repair: If the integrity of your intestinal lining is damaged, it can set off a vicious cycle of immune activation. Zinc, antioxidants, fatty acids, and glutamine are all important elements to provide to your gut so that it may heal itself.
- Rebalancing: Your digestive tract is susceptible to changes in your diet, lifestyle, health and emotions. So it’s important to make intentional decisions that support a healthy gut and immune system.
Detoxification is not only beneficial to your overall health; it’s also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Your liver is your detoxification machine, and improving its capacity to process and eliminate toxins is an important aspect of treating COVID long-haulers’ symptoms.
To bolster your liver detoxing capabilities:
- Focus on an anti-inflammatory diet
- Limit alcohol intake
- Drink plenty of water
- Minimize exposure to toxins
- Take liver-supporting supplements like Liver Essentials and detox binders
It’s critical to bring your mitochondrial function back to normal in order to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 long-haulers. Here’s a short list of lifestyle changes that can help you recover more quickly from COVID-19:
- Eating a well-balanced anti-inflammatory diet
- Prioritizing sleep, rest, and relaxation
- Minimizing your toxic burden
- Getting plenty of mitochondrial-boosting nutrients like B vitamins, coenzyme Q10, and Vitamin C
Making simple nutritional and lifestyle tweaks can go a long way in supporting and resuscitating your mitochondrial function.
Post-viral infection has damaged your immune system, requiring repair and healing. As your cells replicate themselves, they are “written” with memories of the viral infection and “transmit” the message of inflammation. So it’s critical to get rid of these old harmed cells and replace them with new cells that don’t retain these “bad memories.”
The process of cell regeneration, which we’ll call “cell repair,” depends on the function of autophagy. Autophagy may be boosted in a variety of ways. The methods listed below are some examples:
- Getting plenty of specific immune-enhancing nutrients like Vitamin D and zinc
- Taking plant-derived phytonutrients and flavonoids that enhance autophagic mechanisms like quercetin, luteolin, and Himalayan buckwheat
- Incorporating intermittent fasting
- Ensuring you’re getting plenty of quality sleep
Enhancing autophagy is an important part of regaining immune function. However, achieving complete rejuvenation of your immune system necessitates a long-term strategy that takes into account numerous elements that influence your general health.
Are You a COVID-19 Long-Hauler?
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of connecting with an Integrative or Functional Medicine Doctor if you’ve had COVID and are concerned about the long-term consequences of this viral infection. While conventional medicine is fantastic, it doesn’t have all of the answers when it comes to helping COVID-19 long-haulers fully recover.
A Functional medicine practitioner will examine the underlying reason for your condition. The residual effects of a coronavirus infection might develop into life-altering and even life-threatening symptoms. As a result, getting the help of a specialist who will treat the problem rather than merely the symptoms is critical in order to begin and sustain the healing process.
If you’re searching for a functional medicine doctor that you can trust, call us and schedule a time to talk. And if you’re searching for methods to implement healthy lifestyle changes or simply want more information before consulting a functional medicine doctor, please look around our site and our ThrivenFM University.