Common Symptoms Of Long Covid – How Can Functional Medicine Help?
Common Symptoms Of Long Covid – How Can Functional Medicine Help?
After three and a half years, COVID-19 in Australia is still with us. Most people who contract the virus recover within a few weeks but a significant portion of the population (5 – 10 percent) continue to experience health problems long after having COVID-19.
This is now known as Long Covid, and an increasing body of research is looking into how we can better manage often-debilitating symptoms. It presents challenges to the medical community as patients often present with different, and vague symptoms that may or may not be part of another illness or issue.
As there is no medication available to treat long covid, Functional Medicine is a powerful way to suppress symptoms and start the road to recovery.
Find out how the Functional Medicine health practitioners at Advanced Functional Medicine are supporting their patients with natural immune boosting and gut restoring therapies.
What is Long Covid?
The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care describes Long Covid as:
- ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 – COVID-19 symptoms lasting more than 4 weeks.
- post-COVID-19 condition/syndrome – COVID-19 symptoms after 12 weeks that are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.
Long COVID can present differently in different people and symptoms can range from mild to severe. 
Who is at risk of getting Long Covid?
The people who are at most risk of getting long covid are those who:
- had severe illness with COVID-19, including those who were hospitalised or needed intensive care
- had underlying conditions or disease prior to COVID-19, such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and obesity. 
- Sometimes seemingly healthy people can suffer from long covid, so there is still much we don’t know about this disease
Also, researchers have recently identified factors that can lead to a higher risk of long-COVID:
- the level of coronavirus RNA (Ribonucleic acid – a nucleic acid present in all living cells that has structural similarities to DNA) in the blood early in the infection. This is an indicator of viral load.
- the presence of certain autoantibodies — antibodies that mistakenly attack tissues in the body as they do in autoimmune conditions.
- the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). 
What are the symptoms of Long Covid?
The most commonly reported symptoms of post-COVID-19 syndrome include:
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort
- Lung (respiratory) symptoms, including difficulty breathing or shortness of breath and cough
Other possible symptoms include:
- Neurological symptoms or mental health conditions, including difficulty thinking or concentrating, headache, sleep problems, dizziness when you stand, pins-and-needles feeling, loss of smell or taste, and depression or anxiety
- Joint or muscle pain
- Heart symptoms or conditions, including chest pain and fast or pounding heartbeat
- Digestive symptoms, including diarrhea and stomach pain
- Blood clots and blood vessel (vascular) issues, including a blood clot that travels to the lungs from deep veins in the legs and blocks blood flow to the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
- Other symptoms, such as a rash and changes in the menstrual cycle 
What can Functional Medicine support you through Long Covid?
There are no medications currently that treat long covid so Functional Medicine has an important role to play in addressing symptoms with natural treatment options.
There are several ways a Functional Medicine health practitioner will help you with long covid. These include:
Improving your gut health
Sixty to 70 percent of your immune cells live in your gut lining. This means that when treating long covid, having a healthy gut microbiome is key to strengthening your immunity.
Viral infections often upset the balance of good vs bad bacteria in your gut. This can also lead to inflammation and an overgrowth of yeasts and bacteria (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or Candida).
Some diet guidelines to follow include:
- Eliminating inflammatory foods including gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs and toxic foods such as sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. 
- Adding gut-friendly probiotic foods such as yoghurt, kombucha, kefir, natto, tempeh, miso and sauerkraut.
- Add plenty of prebiotics to stimulate the growth of good bacteria in your gut. These include Jerusalem artichokes, beans, oats, nuts, bananas, pomegranates, onions, garlic and lentils.
It’s a good idea to add a probiotic supplement to your diet as well.
Boosting your immune system
Although everyone’s experience of COVID-19 is different, there are ways to boost immunity with depleted vitamins that will help your recovery. You can find these vitamins naturally occurring in foods and you can also find over-the-counter supplements that will give you a concentrated boost.
These vitamins include:
Vitamin C may have a number of immune-modulatory mechanisms that can help to mitigate or reduce COVID-19 pathophysiology.  Vitamin C is anti-inflammatory, shortens the duration of colds and acts as a natural antihistamine and antioxidant that protects cells and tissues. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits, tomatoes, green capsicum, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussel sprouts and rockmelon.
Vitamin D is a powerful nutrient for supporting the immune system and has protective properties against respiratory viral infections. And unfortunately, just under one in four (23%), or 4 million adults, has a Vitamin D deficiency, which comprised 17% with a mild deficiency, 6% with a moderate deficiency and less than 1% with a severe deficiency. Overall, rates of Vitamin D deficiency were very similar for both men and women. 
Daily supplementation is the best way to take it although you can find Vitamin D in foods such as cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, tuna, fortified orange juice and milk, sardines and beef liver.
Quercetin is a naturally occurring phytochemical found in a wide variety of plants. These include apples, berries, capers, grapes, onions, shallots, tea, and Ginkgo biloba. This flavonoid can support the optimal function of your heart and vascular system. Through its support of the vascular system, it can also positively impact airway function. 
COVID-19 increases oxidative stress and lowers glutathione levels. Glutathione supplementation has been proven effective in treating severe cases of oxidative stress from other causes, researchers have suggested that the same treatment could also be beneficial for COVID-19 treatment.  It is also a powerful supplement to use for people suffering from long covid.
Zinc plays a significant role in boosting immunity. It can help reduce the severity and duration of colds and inhibits viral replication. The best source of zinc is oysters but if they aren’t for you, you can find it plentiful in beans, nuts, crab, lobster, whole grains, breakfast cereals, and dairy products.
Vitamin A is very helpful in fighting infections, particularly respiratory infections.
Vitamin A can be found in a variety of foods such as leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli), orange and yellow vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and other winter squash, summer squash), tomatoes, red capsicum, mango, beef liver, fish oils, milk and eggs.
Selenium: Selenium reduces oxidative stress and as an antioxidant, protects the body from viruses and bacteria. There are many foods rich in selenium such as Brazil nuts, pork, beef, turkey, chicken, fish, shellfish, and eggs.
Overall, its best to focus on a nutrient dense diet, rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and anti-inflammatory foods like oily fish rich in Omega 3.
Include lots of immune boosting foods such as garlic, ginger, turmeric and honey, leafy greens and citrus fruits and herbs such as liquorice root, cardamom, cinnamon and rosemary.
- Drink plenty of water to flush out toxins
- Ensure you get good quality and enough sleep to help your cells restore to their optimal function
- Get enough rest for recuperation; you won’t be able recover if you are running on empty
- Get regular exercise to boost immune system function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation, and decreasing stress hormones. Establish and follow an exercise program to not only help prevent respiratory infections but also to improve cognitive and physical resilience. 
Reduce your stress
The ongoing effects of COVID-19 have a significant toll on our mental health, not only from the stress of dealing with a pandemic but if you have Long COVID, this, in itself is a constant stress.
Looking after your mental health is key to recovery and not something to be taken lightly. We know that the impact that stress has on the body can be debilitating so if you can reduce the amount of stress you are under, your body will thank you.
Some of the steps you can take to recover mentally and emotionally include:
- Seeing a professional counsellor, therapist or psychologist to work through any issues
- Taking up yoga and/or meditation
- Finding time to do the things you love
- Spend time with loved ones
- Taking time in nature – a walk or a run or just sitting in a beautiful space outdoors
How can we help
In the absence of specific medication for long covid, and with symptoms presenting themselves so differently for individuals, as with all functional medicine treatment, thorough assessment and testing, followed by a regime to balance your biochemistry and gut is required to rebuild your health.
At Advanced Functional Medicine, our team can help you find natural ways to boost your immune system, restore your gut microbiome, balance your biochemistry and put you on the path to health. If you think you may have Long Covid, don’t hesitate to reach out and see how we can support you in your recovery.