Integrative Approaches to Long Covid
Dr Elizabeth Thompson – CEO and Holistic Doctor
Kiriaki Marselou – Holistic Pharmacist
This blog post accompanies the Holistic Doctor Webinar of the same name recorded on 29 September 2021. The full recording of that Webinar is available to view on the Wellbeing Hub. Click here to find out about Membership options.
What is COVID-19?
Covid-19 is an infectious, multi-organ disease caused by coronavirus that affects multiple systems in the body. For many, it presents as a flu’ like illness with a fairly quick recovery, but for some, the effects on the body and organs are much more pronounced and can result in a very serious, and in some cases life threatening, illness.
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a high temperature, a new continuous cough and/or a loss of change to you sense of smell or taste. Current statistics show that there are about 1 million people in the UK experiencing post-COVID-19 symptoms, also known as Long-COVID.
What is Long-COVID?
Long COVID is defined as a ‘syndrome’ which means that the variety of symptoms it triggers can affect any organ or tissue of the body. Long-COVID is the body’s response to the virus beyond the initial illness, but it’s not contagious.
Understanding about Long-COVID is emerging from lots of studies taking place around the world including PhospCovid. This is a UK consortium of leading researchers and clinicians working together to understand and improve long-term health outcomes for patients who have been in hospital with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 (https://www.phosp.org).
The timeline for COVID / Long-COVID looks like this:
- 0-4 weeks – acute infection
- 4-12 weeks – ongoing symptoms
- 12 weeks onwards – Long COVID (for many, but not all people who’ve had COVID)
In Long-COVID we typically see a cluster of overlapping symptoms which can fluctuate and change and affect any system in the body.
Long-COVID does not affect everyone in the same way. There is a higher prevalence in people aged 35-69 years old. It’s something more likely to be see in in women (5:1 women to men ratio) and in people with a history of disability or activity limiting health conditions. The statistics also show that there are proportionally more cases in economically deprived areas.
The duration or Long-COVID can’t be precisely defined but it’s estimated that in the UK about 700,000 people have experienced Long-COVID for at least 12 weeks, 70,000 for over one year, and many people are experiencing it for longer than six months. Children experience symptoms for about eight months on average.
Symptoms of Long-COVID
The most common symptoms of Long-COVID are
- fatigue (clinical overlap with ME)
- breathing difficulties
- brain fog / memory
- cardiovascular, e.g. palpitations
- gastro-intestinal symptoms, e.g. diarrhoea
- tingling, pins and needles
- sleep disturbance
- dermatological, e.g. rash
When we experience a novel virus such as COVID-19 (meaning we’re not used to it), the stress response in the body is high and its various systems go into survival mode.
In some people, prolonged symptoms can trigger a stress response in the body (activating the sympathetic nervous system) which stimulates the production of cortisol, affecting your resting heart rate, digestion and breathing.
In some people, there is also a fear about developing Long-COVID and this adds to the body’s stress response.
The good news is that there are positive signs that people can manage their symptoms with range of approaches. Data collection and research studies are providing more and more insights.
What’s interesting is that in conducting COVID research we’re learning much more about – and from – other diseases and syndromes, such as chronic fatigue (also known as ME), diabetes, mitochondrial disease and histamine intolerance.
When it comes to integrative approaches, there are a number of things that can make a difference to how you feel and how you can manage symptoms of Long-COVID.
Lifestyle approaches – in particular diet for improving gut health, and reducing inflammation in the body, holistic approaches and conventional approaches all have a role to play.
1. Lifestyle (Food)
A study published in the British Medical Journal in June 2021 showed that a plant based or pescatarian diet can lower odds of COVID-19 severity by 73% or 59% respectively.
That means eat your greens!
In addition to eating less meat, it has been shown that reducing dairy, gluten and alcohol and increasing your fibre intake (albeit slowly at first) will support better gut health and help to reduce inflammation in the body which leads to better overall health. This in itself is important when it comes to reducing the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
There are a range of supplements you might like to consider, but please remember that it’s important to seek advice from – and be supervised by – experts to ensure there no contraindications with other medication and to check the correct dosage.
- Vitamins – C, D, E, Niacin
- Minerals – Zinc, Quercetin, Selenium, Magnesium,
- CoEnzyme-Q10 – if the symptoms are linked to your mitochondrial function
- Turmeric – anti-inflammatory
- Alpha lipoic acid – antioxidant
- Glutathione – for immune function
- Milk thistle – for improved liver function
- Licorice Root – anti-viral / anti-inflammatory
- Herbal teas – licorice, ginger, tulsi, dandelion, burdock root
- Bitter herbs – artichoke / dandelion
Supporting bowel and liver health has been shown to reduce Long-COVID symptoms
2. Holistic Approaches
Acupuncture – we already know that this can improve immunity and regulate the nervous system and it is currently being researched in relation to COVID.
The Perrin Technique – a manual technique for people with ME. The theory is that stress factors can cause excessive strain on the body. Perrin is an osteopathic approach which manually stimulates fluid around brain and spinal cord and includes fascial movements which move toxins out of soft tissue and into lymphatic system where they will be eliminated.
Homeopathy – this has been shown to be very good for ME. Trials and studies in Brazil and India as well as several other countries are taking place right now and preliminary findings are that homeopathy is associated with improvements in COVID symptoms.
3. Conventional Approaches
Psychological approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness as well as relaxation techniques have all been shown to reduce anxieties around COVID.
What we know about Long-Covid is that it’s a reality and impacting many people adults and children alike.
We also know that understanding body’s unique response to viral infection is important. And that using a range of personalised integrative approaches can really help to manage the syndrome.
If you’re concerned about Long-COVID, do get in touch and arrange to speak to one of our Holistic Doctors or someone else from our multi-disciplinary team – holistic pharmacist, nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner, medical homeopath, or acupuncturist.