Lifting the Fog of Long Covid
Post-viral conditions such as those seen with Lyme Disease and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) existed long before the COVID-19 sars coronavirus era, however right now, it's even more likely that you or someone you know is suffering with this complex and often debilitating condition.
It is estimated that over 65 million people world wide, or 10-30% of people who had COVID, now have some form of Long-Haul (LH) COVID.
While ongoing respiratory symptoms may be expected, symptoms throughout the whole body that last longer than 2 months should be not go unchecked. There are an astounding 200+ reported symptoms currently associated with LH-COVID. These include but are not limited to: rashes or hives, fevers, muscle aches, dizziness, ongoing fatigue, loss of taste and smell, gastrointestinal issues, cognitive decline and brain fog, heart palpitations and tachycardia, pins and needles or tingles, burning feet, acid reflux, hair loss, insomnia, heat or cold intolerance, as well as persistent cough or shortness of breath.
With a list this long it's hard to know if we have a cold, allergies, food poisoning, hormone imbalance or a just a new bug.
And it doesn't end here. All of this physical toll is certainly going to have a mental toll as well. Tachycardia is whole new level of anxiety. It's hard to know where it all stops and starts. With fatigue being a predominant disabling symptom for most, it can be incredibly challenging for those experiencing LH-COVID to find the help they need, let alone the energy they need to find it.
Don't give up. There is always hope.
If you or someone you know is suffering and suspect this might be related to a past COVID infection here are some things to think about and raise with your health practitioner.
- You can't diagnose what you don't know exists. According to Dysautonomia International 67% of people with LH-COVID have some form of Dysautonomia. Dysautonomia is a neurological condition which effects the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Most Dysautonomia patients experience many years of diagnostic delay, because most doctors have not received training on how to diagnose and treat this branch of nervous system disorders. If your Dr has even heard of it, count yourself lucky. Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for the many forms of Dysautonomia including Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and Orthostatic Hypotension (OH). In some cases Dysautonomia patients may present with a wide range of symptoms including inappropriate sinus tachycardia, excessive sweating or lack of sweating, gastroparesis (loss of gut motility), insomnia or any of the many LH-COVID symptoms mentioned previously, or even some that weren't. The ANS literally effects every system in the body, so symptoms can be everywhere and they may be vastly different from patient to patient. While conditions like Dysautonomia aren't 'curable', for some it can go into remission, or at least the symptoms can be managed through lifestyle, diet and supplements as well as medication and other therapies. Knowledge and understanding what is happening is paramount.
- Functional Medicine approaches include getting to the root cause of chronic post-viral symptoms as key to healing. As with auto-immune conditions and chronic fatigue, a focus on supporting energy production through mitochondrial health, re-establishing a healthy gut microbiome and decreasing inflammation are the cornerstones. Supplements such as N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), Acetyl-Carnitine, Choline, Phosphatidyl Serine, COQ10, Quercetin, Resveratrol, ECGC (from green tea), Vitamin D and trace minerals may be particularly beneficial. Many herbs including Siberian Ginseng, Ashwaghanda and Rhodiola may help with stamina and much needed stress support. Reducing brain fog with mushrooms including Lion's Mane, plus circulation stimulators like Gingko, Turmeric and Ginger may also help. Healing the gut with bone broth, probiotics and L-Glutamine, plus addressing any areas that are crying out for extra support such as insomnia, chronic cough, exercise intolerance, liver function, mast cell issues and so forth are all layers to work through. In a functional way, with the right ingredients, the body can be restored naturally. But it's going to be long term work.
- Using SGB to reset the system. If you are open to pursuing the latest medical procedures, there is recent evidence from a 2022 report that a procedure called the Stellate-Ganglion-Block (SGB) was successful in reducing LH-COVID symptoms. Historically used as far back as the 1920's, the now modernized procedure involves having anaesthetic injected into the sympathetic nervous system branch of the nervous system located in the neck, thus 'resetting' the nervous system and allowing healing and symptom reduction to take place. Could be worth a shot.
- Another 'off-the-beaten-track' medicine that may be prescribed by Naturopathic or Medical Doctors alike is Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN). According to the LDN Research Trust relief of symptoms from LH-COVID through treatment with LDN is so convincing, it should be a standard care. LDN is NOT the same as Naltrexone and is usually prescribed at very very low doses of 0.5 - 4.5 mg for chronic illnesses vs 50 - 100 mg used for traditional addiction support. There is much to be learned about LDN and it's ability to promote healing, however many chronic 'untreatable' conditions seem to respond well to it without a long list of negative side effects. It's certainly worth inquiring more about.
- Eastern remedies like TCM herbs and acupuncture may be a secret weapon. Recent research on the efficacy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has shown promise in it's use to reduce many of the LH-COVID symptoms. In fact, of the many healing modalities, TCM is the only one that has historically acknowledged what we call 'chronic conditions' and 'medical mysteries' like Dysautonomia, post-viral illness, POTS and ME/CFS with thousands of years of ancient literature describing these 'rare' ailments. If you are receiving acupuncture and it's working, you're not alone. Many people with LH-COVID have reported positive symptom improvements after their acupuncture treatments.
- Psychadelics are popping up here too. Time Magazine recently reported (April 2023) that there is scientific interest in the use of psychedelics, in particular psilocybin, to treat chronic conditions including LH-COVID. The article states "Dr. Sue Sisley, who researches psilocybin at Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix and also works in a community Long COVID clinic, became interested in using psychedelics as Long COVID remedies after patients told her they were trying them on their own and seeing improvements in their energy, cognitive function, and memory. “I was initially skeptical,” Sisley says. But “none of the medications I was [prescribing] for them were helping substantially,” so she thought it was worth exploring something that apparently was."
Sometimes we really have to open our minds to find what works. LH-COVID is one of those times.
Being sick on occasion is one thing, it's what our immune systems need to stay on alert and strong and active. However being unwell day after day for months is just plain devastating. If you are stuck in this cycle, our hearts are with you. Please keep trying to find answers, lean into your community, look to your local practitioners for guidance and make sure you advocate for yourself. For complex health issues, especially LH-COVID, it's not going to be a one size fits all approach. And even if your doctor has said they are sorry they can't help you, don't take that as the final word. Go find someone who will. You deserve that.
This is not an easy path to be on. Be prepared to use multiple modalities, use trial and error, gather information from different sources. And know healing will take time.
Kindly note, this information provided is not intended as medical advice.
Written by Sita Huber, BHsc (Nutritional Medicine)
Nutritionist, Content Writer & Digital Marketing Manager at Edible Island