This article is for educational purposes only and is part of a series we are focusing on for World Health Day which falls on the 7th of April, 2021. If you are experiencing long haul symptoms from COVID-19, please consult a health care professional.
“Maybe it’s PTSD.”
“You could use some therapy.”
“He’s just faking it to gain TikTok followers.”
The last things you would expect to hear after having gone through a hellish brush with COVID-19. You got yourself tested. You surely don’t have the virus anymore. Then why do you still feel sick? Is it possible you contracted it again? You give it a few more weeks, but the symptoms remain. Breathlessness, loss of taste, night tremors, palpitations, unable to focus on anything, even TV; you’re unusually forgetful; you mess up simple math. Your thoughts feel hazy and jumbled.
You are not alone.
The suicide of Founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse Kent Taylor brought to the spotlight the plight of Texans and millions of other Americans battling long haul COVID-19 symptoms. He was suffering from severe tinnitus, or a ringing of the ears, which often leads to decrease in quality of life and depression.
As of 4th April, 2021, there have been 2.81 million cases of COVID-19 in Texas. After the first few months of the pandemic, a common thread running across many online COVID-19 support groups. Thousands of presumably recovered patients complained about symptoms that wouldn’t go away. And, unfortunately, many also had stories of health care professionals who wouldn’t believe them.
Long Haul COVID is Real
Long haul symptoms have, since then, been recognized and accepted for what they are. Symptoms that continue well beyond what is understood as a “normal” recovery course. However, the term only begins to describe the COVID-related ordeals recovered patients are enduring. Of all the aspects of the virus we dealt with in 2020, this one is turning out to be the most difficult to recognize, much less fight. There have been complaints of dizziness, forgetfulness, brain fog, fatigue, muscle aches, and insomnia. Much to physicians’ dismay, symptoms of long haulers are so varied and shared that the best they can instruct patients is to go home and get more rest.
The number of patients experiencing health deficits have mounted so much over the last couple of months that the Long Covid Support Group now has 31,000 plus members. There’s even a Patient-Led Research for COVID-19 group where members collect and organize data about themselves. The emerging facts from such groups are that Post Covid Syndrome is as real as it gets, with the random and chronic indicators that affect you indeterminately.
PASC, or Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19, is receiving attention as the number of sufferers with lingering symptoms rises worldwide, with over tens of thousands within the U.S.
To make things worse, the spectrum of post-infection symptoms is quite the mixed platter.
Which PASC or Long Haul COVID-19 Symptoms Are Common?
The most common symptoms are not limited to fatigue, palpitations and tachycardia, body aches, shortness of breath, insomnia, inability to concentrate, inability to exercise, night tremors, loss of appetite and loss of taste, hair loss, gastrointestinal disturbance, and ongoing low-level of inflammation in the brain.
Who is Vulnerable?
While long-haul COVID-19 syndrome is more prevalent in people with underlying health problems, it has been noted in many previously healthy people as well.
What Can Be Done to Help Patients with Long Haul COVID-19?
Not having a clear biomarker makes chronic conditions challenging to treat conventionally. Over the counter medications do not help any longer and come with their array of side effects. And so, an increasing number of people with chronic ailments like PASC are discussing functional and integrative solutions to find relief. Most patients report ongoing inflammation and immune imbalance; functional practitioners are looking to treat the underlying factors that aggravate these two conditions. Now, inflammation is a natural process that our immune system carries out in response to an injury. This is acute inflammation and its a way of natural healing. But if the body is under an ongoing state of strain, the immune system keeps fighting back with more inflammation, and this is when it can turn harmful to us. Read more about what inflammation is and how to find natural ways to reduce chronic inflammation here.
Helpful Strategies to Reduce Long COVID Symptoms
While each case can have different precursors, and not all patients will have the same outcomes, there is no harm in trying these strategies and measuring how effective they are for you.
Diet and Nutrition
All integrative and functional approaches follow a food-first principle. What you put into your body through food can either aid to existing inflammation or reduce it.
Niti Shah, is a functional medicine nutritionist and her Back2Basics holistic rehab clinic is based in Irving, TX. Niti believes that providing a strong anti-inflammatory effect to the body can spark resolution and healing. She says, “As a functional nutritionist, I fear that if the lingering inflammation post COVID-19 is not resolved, it can lead to the development of immune and metabolic disorders in the future. Dietary changes towards a more anti-inflammatory and flavonoid-rich style help to create a healthier gut microbiome”. Shah recommends the following foods to break the persistent inflammation.
Processed sugars, refined carbohydrates, dairy and dairy based products, gluten and gluten based products, soy and soy based products, and alcohol.
INCREASE INTAKE OF
Whole foods rich in protein, phytonutrient-rich foods like ginger, garlic, turmeric, green tea, and fruits. Whole fibrous foods, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and healthy fats. Furthermore, here is a list of 10 superfoods to have on hand this year.
COVID can damage your intestinal microbiome. Adding fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, can help fortify and support the gut’s microflora with probiotics. You can even make your own sauerkraut with this simple method.
Supporting your dietary intake with a good micronutrient baseline is key. Despite having a good diet, a majority of the population in the United States is nutrient deficient. Low levels of zinc, selenium and manganese can mess up viral infection recovery. It is a good idea to include rich zinc sources like oysters, organ meats, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds. You can find selenium in mushrooms, Brazil nuts, Macadamia nuts and seafood.
Other immunity building practices you should focus on
Functional therapists believe and studies show that intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating can help rejuvenate the immune system. Restricting feeding to shortened windows helps reduce mitophagy or degradation of mitochondria.
Intermittent fasting also supports the turnover of damaged cells throughout the body, making room for new, healthy mitochondria and cells to take their place. For learning more on how to pick the best intermittent fasting style for you, click here.
Ease into cardio and strength-building exercises and watch out for signs of exhaustion. Practice yoga and deep breathing for improving your breathing strength. Good mental health is essential for feeling healthier. Talk to an expert therapist if you experience signs of mental distress.
The Way Ahead for Long Haul COVID-19 Patients
Researchers are calling for dedicated COVID-19 clinics to treat patients who have been discharged from the hospital, as it is clear that care for such patients doesn’t end with discharge. Comprehensive care of these patients in the outpatient setting is vital for assessing their ongoing weaknesses.
Baylor College of Medicine in Houston provides care for long-haul COVID-19 through their Post COVID Care Clinic. Here patients can receive treatment for the lingering symptoms or new side effects after having gone through the virus.
The Houston Methodist has an outpatient COVID-19 Recovery Clinic dedicated to this area of COVID-19 recovery.
If you are a long-haul patient, it’s worthy of remembering that your body knows how to recover. It has an incredible ability to heal. Give your body the proper nutrition, ample rest and the support it needs to get through this.