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Ask the Naturopathic Doctor

Natural Rx for Covid Long-Haulers

Around 10 percent of Covid patients continue to experience symptoms long after they’ve beaten the infection. Here’s what you need to know about these lingering issues.

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Q: I got Covid last summer, and I still don’t feel well. I’m tired and “foggy-headed” quite often, sometimes for days on end. I had another Covid test, which was negative. How can I restore my health and vitality?

A: Many viral diseases have a “post-viral” syndrome, in which no discernible trace of the virus can be found, but health is not restored. An early and much-documented example is post-polio syndrome. A more modern example is chronic fatigue, which is generally attributed to a significant infection with Epstein-Barr virus, often occurring in high school years, and known as mononucleosis.

It’s thought that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 may have similar long-term effects in some people. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “There’s no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a post-viral syndrome that really, in many respects, can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus.” Current estimates are that 10 percent of those infected will have prolonged recoveries, and women are four times more likely to report long-haul Covid symptoms. This is likely because women’s immune systems and hormonal cycles are more complex because we’re engineered to bear children.

Long-haulers don’t necessarily have severe disease or require hospitalization. Researchers speculate that even mild cases can trigger long-lasting changes in the immune system. The most common symptoms reported by long-haulers include fatigue, persistent cough, shortness of breath, cognitive impairment (“brain fog”), and joint and chest pain. Loss of the senses of taste and smell also lingers for many long-haulers.

How the Damage Is Done

Many coronaviruses, including the one that causes Covid-19, affect the lungs, and they can be especially dangerous for people who have preexisting lung conditions such as asthma or COPD. Covid-19 differs from many other lung diseases, however, due to the high presence of blood clots. While this has led some to opine that Covid-19 may primarily be an endothelial disease (affecting the inner lining of blood vessels), research has shown that the “spike protein” of this virus can attach to many tissues, inserting itself into those cells and massively replicating itself. There is no doubt, of course, that the virus that causes Covid-19 attaches particularly well to certain ARB and ACE1 receptors in the lungs, but the“debris” from battling the infection is also found in many other tissues.

In the case of long-haulers, the virus attacks primarily the lungs, but can damage just about every other organ or tissue during the disease phase. Our immune systems fight back, and the fallout is inflammation-prolonging debris throughout the body, sometimes referred to as a cytokine storm.

Cytokines are a type of extremely powerful “Helper T” white blood cell. They’re so powerful, in fact, that it can be difficult to get the immune system back in balance after large numbers of cytokines have gone to work. As with many immune disorders, immune modulators can have a significant effect on the nervous system, which is likely why many long-haulers report “brain fog” and extreme fatigue—because more than the lungs have been affected.

Related: Can Improving Heart Health Reduce Covid Risk?

Covid Recovery Strategies

Low-risk, highly effective therapies for Covid-19 long-haulers include N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) 600–1200 mg twice daily, or glutathione, the tri-peptide featuring cysteine that’s particularly effective for healing the lungs. Glutathione isn’t a stable molecule, and is best delivered in a liposomal form (attached to a fat, usually lecithin), such as Readisorb. Glutathione can also be delivered through light therapy patches from LifeWave company. A well-absorbed turmeric product, such as CuraMed, can also be helpful in mopping up the infection debris that causes lingering Covid symptoms.

As mentioned above, blood clots are also a serious symptom of Covid-19, and one of my favorite clot-preventing nutrients is omega-3 oils from fatty fish. Remember the acronym SMASH for the healthiest fish choices: salmon (wild, not farmed), mackerel, anchovy, sardine, and herring.

If your symptoms include a racing heartbeat and/or lightheadedness, consider taking adrenal-supportive supplements. Some of my preferred adrenal tonics include vitamin C, licorice (medicinal grade), or an herbal combination that contains licorice (Glycyrrhiza) plus any two other of these adaptogens: eleutherococcus, astragalus, ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola, or schizandra.

Recovery from long-haul Covid is possible with restorative steps including rest, hydration, a whole-foods diet, and stress management. Walk in nature. And take baths. Support is also important. If your doctor dismisses your concerns, try another doctor. And connect to an online community where you feel heard.

Find a licensed naturopathic doctor for a virtual (telemedicine) or in-person consultation at naturemed.org/find-an-nd.