Covid-19 Long Haul Syndrome: What You Should Know
We’re learning more about Covid-19 and its effects on the body every day. These advances in research and practical application are resulting in fewer deaths from Covid-19, even while the number of cases rise. Yet we’re also learning about “Covid-19 long haul syndrome” which is affecting otherwise healthy, younger people who contract the disease. If you’re like me, once you understand what we know today about long haul syndrome, you’ll redouble your efforts to guard against contracting Covid-19, even if you’re not in a high-risk group.
First, I want to clarify that a syndrome is not a disease. It’s a group of signs and symptoms that may accompany more than one specific disease. In this case, the syndrome affects some people who have contracted the virus that causes Covid-19 and can mimic the symptoms of other, seemingly unrelated diseases.
What is Covid-19 Long Haul Syndrome?
Approximately 10% of people who’ve had Covid-19 experience prolonged symptoms — that is, longer than the typical two weeks. In some cases, weeks and months longer. We’re also seeing people who experience relapses after they’ve appeared to make a full recovery.
Their typical symptoms can include:
- Cognitive issues
- Erratic heartbeat
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Intolerance to physical or mental activity
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle and joint pain
- Shortness of breath
Covid-19 long haulers report that these symptoms flare up unpredictably. They are often in different combinations and can be debilitating for days and weeks at a time.
According to a recent statement by Dr. Anthony Fauci, “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.” While it’s certainly good news that the syndrome is being acknowledged, there is much to learn about the length and severity of what long haulers are experiencing.
In one Italian study, Covid-19 long-haulers experienced fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, and chest pain, in that order. None of the patients in that study had a fever after their acute illness had passed. However nearly half of them reported their quality of life had suffered.
Covid-19 Long Haul Syndrome Theories
There is no single, definitive reason why some people are experiencing the long-term or recurring symptoms of Covid-19 long haul syndrome. One theory is that infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus somehow triggers long-lasting changes in the immune system. In some organs, such as the lungs, those changes can persist far past the point at which people have stopped shedding the virus. That is, the symptoms continue long after they are no longer contagious and spreading the virus to others.
Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale, believes that in Covid-19 long haulers, the virus itself is gone. Yet the immune system, having been provoked by it, is stuck in an overactive state that lingers.1 That sounds a lot like the early stages of autoimmunity — ongoing inflammation that eventually leads to the body attacking itself.
In fact, researchers who are studying Covid-19 long haul syndrome are finding that long haulers don’t just have reactions that are similar to people with autoimmune disorders. They actually produced autoantibodies found in autoimmune disease. Autoantibodies are produced by the immune system specifically to target the body’s own proteins. In Covid-19 long haul syndrome, autoantibodies associated with blood-flow issues are particularly common.2
Other Covid-19 long haulers experienced unusual symptoms including:
- Extreme fatigue
- Impaired memory or short-term memory loss
- Inability to concentrate
- Vibrating sensations when they touch surfaces3
These symptoms are very similar to those in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS. This syndrome is characterized by fatigue that is worsened by exertion yet is not improved by rest. This condition can be the result of a virus such as Epstein-Barr or EBV. In fact, one explanation for Covid-19 long haul might be that infection with the virus that causes Covid-19 may be triggering latent EBV in the Covid-19 long haulers.
Autoimmunity and Covid-19 Long Haul Syndrome
As I write in my New York Times bestseller, The Autoimmune Solution, EBV is one of the few infections that has been extensively studied regarding its connection to autoimmunity. It correlates to various autoimmune conditions, including chronic fatigue, lupus, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s, Graves’ disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The correlation between EBV and MS, and EBV and lupus is particularly significant. One hundred percent of people with MS have EBV, while those without the virus don’t seem to develop MS. Meanwhile, 99% of children with lupus have EBV, whereas only 70% of those without lupus have it.
The virus that causes Covid-19 may also be triggering autoimmune diseases directly, not just indirectly through another virus. For example, the rock band Tool’s frontman was diagnosed with Covid-19 in February. He reported in October that he was still recovering from the disease, which puts him in this category of a Covid-19 long hauler, and continues to experience a cough and breathing difficulties. Additionally, the disease caused inflammation in his wrists and hands as a result of an attack of the autoimmune condition rheumatoid arthritis.4
Covid-19 Long Haulers Take the Lead
One really hopeful piece of news is that the research into Covid-19 long haul has been a grass-roots movement. The citizen scientists’ group Patient-led Research for Covid-19 has organized the first detailed patient survey of Covid-19 long haul. The survey is unique in that it has been issued by a group of individuals who are dealing with Covid-19 long haul syndrome themselves.
People are taking back control of their health, and conventional medicine is starting to take notice! The work of this group of people experiencing Covid-19 long haul syndrome has informed agencies including NIH and WHO among other groups. The group is working on its second report now.
What Can You Do About Covid-19 Long Haul Syndrome?
Many of those experiencing Covid-19 long haul syndrome are falling through the cracks as they visit their conventional medicine doctor to treat their symptoms. These symptoms are dismissed as anxiety or depression. Many had cases of Covid-19 that were so mild that they tested negative, yet they have symptoms over the long term. If this is you, don’t succumb to believing that your symptoms are all in your mind. You know your body.
At the same time you are recovering from a serious illness, you may also be dealing with loneliness and isolation. Try to maintain contact with loved ones and seek out emotional support. This is a stressful time so please be kind to yourself.
Here are concrete steps you can take to hasten your journey to optimal health.
Find a Functional Medicine Doctor
Functional medicine practitioners will be at the forefront of treating this syndrome
Seek out a healthcare practitioner who will listen to you! It’s critical that they take a full history, and treat your body as a complete system rather than a collection of unrelated organs. Check out this list of physicians I recommend or this referral network to find a provider near you. Functional medicine practitioners and researchers will be at the forefront of treating Covid-19 long-haul syndrome. That’s because they are accustomed to treating chronic illnesses such as Lyme disease, autoimmune disease, and Epstein-Barr, for example, and have successful approaches to care when conventional medicine fails.
Listen to Your Body
If you are fatigued, you need sleep, likely lots of it, to give your body the rest and repair it needs. Do not try to push yourself beyond your physical limit. Do, however, try to keep a positive mindset. The vast majority of people can expect a gradual improvement in energy levels and breathlessness, even if it takes a long time.
Heal Your Gut
Your gut is home to 80% of your immune system and needs to be in top shape. Ensure your gut and immune system can function optimally with the 4R approach that I’ve used with hundreds of thousands of people around the globe:
Remove the bad. The goal is to eliminate anything that negatively affects the environment of your gut such as inflammatory foods including gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs; infections such as from Candida overgrowth, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO); and toxic foods such as sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
Replace what’s missing. Follow a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of organic greens, vegetables, and fruits, healthy fats, and quality proteins. Adding digestive enzymes to your regimen will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. It will also assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses. Low stomach acid leads to a whole host of digestive issues that cause inflammation, swelling, and fluid retention in the stomach and digestive tract. That’s why I recommend supplementing with HCL, which can help support a balanced pH in your gut.
Restoring beneficial bacteria to re-establish a healthy balance of good bacteria is critical. This may be accomplished by taking a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. I recommend anywhere from 30-100 billion units a day.
Provide your gut with the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself. My most comprehensive weapon against leaky gut is Leaky Gut Revive®. This custom-formulated powder offers an excellent source of L-Glutamine to nourish your gut cells and includes aloe extract to help restore your gut’s normal mucosal lining along with slippery elm and marshmallow root to maximize gut repair and mucous membrane health. It also has larch arabinogalactan to promote healthy gut microflora and promote gut mending fatty acid production and made sure to include licorice extract to soothe both the stomach and the intestinal lining.
Lighten Your Toxic Burden
The best thing you can do to lighten your toxic burden is to prevent the toxins from getting into your system in the first place. Eat only organic food, and drink and bathe in filtered water. Use nontoxic cleaning products in your home, and toxin free body products including shampoos, lotions, and cosmetics. You’re spending a lot of time indoors and indoor air quality can be surprisingly poor. Invest in a HEPA air filter.
No matter how careful you are, toxins will get into your system. You can support your body’s detoxification process by drinking lots of water and by sweating. One of my favorite strategies is to use an infrared sauna to help detoxify. Infrared saunas are especially useful for those who are limited in their ability to exercise. There are also foods you can eat and supplements such as Coconut Charcoal that will help eliminate toxins from your body,
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you sit or lie in a chamber where the air pressure is about two to three times the normal air pressure. This increases the amount of oxygen in your lungs and your blood. This extra oxygen throughout your body stimulates healing. There are treatment centers as well as units that can be purchased or rented for home use.
There is growing availability at wellness centers for cryotherapy chambers. These whole-body chambers, with temperatures as low as -140˚F, boost your immune system by increasing blood flow. Recent research also suggests it can help increase white blood cells (the cells that fight infection), decrease cortisol levels, and improve circulation,5 all of which can support your immune system and speed recovery.
Prevent Covid-19 Infection and Reinfection
There is evidence that it’s possible to be reinfected with the virus that causes Covid-19.6 So it’s very important to take precautions including social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing, and sanitizing.
Continue following The Myers Way®. Eat organic fruits and vegetables as well as grass-fed meats, organic chicken, and wild-caught fish. Avoid toxic and inflammatory foods including gluten, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. Exercise outdoors away from others or in your home. Remain positive, get plenty of sleep, and use this time to take great care of yourself and your family.
Support Your Immune System
Whether you are recovering from illness or seeking to support your immune function, supporting your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally is critical. Here are some of my top choices:
Glutathione is your master detoxifier and the most powerful free radical scavenger produced by your body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that travel through your body and cause damage. Free radicals are responsible for a host of inflammatory issues. Ensuring they’re under control and moved out of your body is critical to your health.
Especially in this time of Covid-19, I recommend virtually EVERYONE take a high-quality multivitamin. When I custom formulated The Myers Way® Multivitamin, I poured more than a decade of research into selecting the nutrient forms that work best with your body. This means methylated B vitamins, chelated minerals, vitamin D as cholecalciferol, and, of course, zinc which supports the immune system.
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.
- Vitamin C
Healthcare professionals are administering vitamin C intravenously to deliver it directly into their patient’s bloodstream to be immediately available. My Liposomal vitamin C is the next best option. It’s the most bioavailable form of vitamin C on the market today. The liposomal form can survive the digestive process to be up to 135% better than traditional oral vitamin C.
- Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 is essential for supporting healthy immune system function. It works hand in hand with your body to modulate both innate and adaptive immune responses which regulate everything from reactivity to antigens and pathogens.
A Final Word To Those with Covid-19
If you have had Covid-19, have it now, or are caring for someone who does, you can join the Body Politic Covid-19 support group. This is sponsored by the same group I mentioned above which is spearheading research into Covid-19 long haul syndrome. It is available to anyone who has experienced Covid-19, not just long haulers. Please also join The Myers Way® community Facebook page. It’s an incredibly supportive group and a wonderful resource.
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