Nine months on from the global action to combat covid-19 we’re seeing that post-infection responses are not unnaturally, very individual. Many appear entirely asymptomatic. Others sail through with minor or barely detectable symptoms. A smaller group still, suffer more severe symptoms, some so severe as to be fatal for those with underlying conditions. Those who survive may take up to 6 weeks to recover. But now there’s another group: those who are suffering with what’s being termed, ‘long covid’ in the UK or ‘long-hauler syndrome’ in the US.
Whilst the media are making much of long covid, please bear in mind that this only affects a very small minority. Prof John Ioannides, professor of medicine at Stanford university and the most cited scientist in the world, reminds us that 99.7% of people survive covid-19, with over 80% of those cases only having mild to moderate symptoms which are akin to having the flu.
What is long covid?
‘Long covid’ is the term given to the lingering post-viral symptoms that can last weeks or months experienced by some people after having been infected with SARS-CoV-2. These long-haulers are perplexing the mainstream medics as their needs seem to be unique to them as individuals, rather than fitting a common symptom picture. Sufferers appear to be from different age groups and include those noted to be high-risk for covid-19, as well as those with other underlying conditions. But, perhaps more surprisingly, they also include those who appear to have been healthy pre-infection.
There is a growing list of symptoms associated with long covid, which you may be surprised to note (as we were), have been compiled by Members of the UK Parliament after speaking to their constituents and not from the medics! A similar list can be found on the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, which serves as useful corroboration.
Table 1. List of 16 common symptoms of ‘long covid’ reported to UK MPs by constituents. Data sourced from the UK MPs list and US CDC list.
However, the most common symptoms appear to be shortness of breath, a lingering cough, aches and pains and crushing fatigue. Could it be that genetic predispositions or variations in certain pathways are playing a role?
Even if they are, because our health is so intimately linked to gene expression, every effort should be made to create optimal internal and external environments. Actions such as ensuring we are replete with macronutrients (protein, healthy fats and complex carbs) and micronutrients (such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) from a healthy diet; reducing our toxic load by avoiding chemicals in our food, personal care and household products and air; reducing exposure to potentially harmful electromagnetic fields (EMFs); prioritising regenerative sleep; managing stress, and maintaining daily physical activity, all have the ability to drive gene expression toward health and away from disease.
That’s why our nutrition and lifestyle behaviours are so critically important as they have the power to change the way our genes express.
Behind the long covid headlines
In the UK, a study from Kings College London at the end of October 2020 is fuelling the flames of hysteria. Media reporting about the paper suggested that 1 in 20 who contracted covid-19 were suffering the effects of long covid. If this were so, it would amount a large number of people; based on Worldometer data on cases, around 800,000 in the USA and 90,000 in the UK. That might justify the headlines and hysteria.
The study itself looked at data from 4,182 incident cases of covid-19 who logged their symptoms in their Covid Symptom Study app over an 8-week period. Worth noting before we go further is that 8 weeks isn’t generally long enough to be classified as chronic, a term normally applied to conditions lasting 12 weeks or more.
However, the Kings research team do acknowledge that if you had to extrapolate these data out to the rest of the UK population, only 1 in 45 would be likely to be experience some symptoms of long covid for 12 weeks (that’s more like 40,000 people, again based on Worldometer numbers).
What’s likely going on inside the body of a long-hauler?
Post viral syndrome from any infection isn’t pleasant and can be life-changing, but we need to keep our feet on the ground with regard to what we hear about long covid and use what we know from the data and physiology as a reality check.
This is not to decry or ignore the possibility of more serious complications post covid-19 infection, like scarred lung tissue or damage to the endothelium of blood vessels. As new scans become available it will be easier to diagnose the severity of these conditions, but the treatments will still encompass the methods this article goes on to discuss, as well as new breakthroughs, such as using proteolytic enzymes to safely break down scar tissue and clotting proteins.
But first, after decades of being told that ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) are psychosomatic, with sufferers having had decades of inappropriate and often damaging medical advice, it’s somewhat ironic that suddenly you have the likes of Dr Anthony Fauci saying (listen from 33:19 mins in) that post-covid syndrome is highly suggestive of ME. If nothing else, we hope that this will ensure that long-haulers are able to benefit from the learning that’s come out of the ME and CFS groups. Most importantly, that everyone is different in their presentation and response and that treatment approaches must be individualised. Not something that siloed mainstream medicine has understood or dealt with adequately as yet.
Individualised medicine is something that Jeffrey Bland PhD knows a fair bit about given that he’s honoured as being ‘the father’ of Functional Medicine and the co-founder, with his wife Susan, of the Institute for Functional Medicine. In his video, released on 25th September 2020, entitled, Covid-19: The Functional Medicine Solution for “Long Haulers”, he asserts categorically that the answer will not be found in conventional medicine. Instead, he urges sufferers to seek out a functional medicine practitioner to make use of their deep understanding of systems biology and upstream thinking. According to Dr Bland, these practitioners are the most knowledgeable providers to help individuals who are struggling with serious post-covid-19 health concerns.
And here you can listen to how Dr Bland backs up such a potentially inflammatory statement:
How might we reduce our risk of long covid?
Reducing the risk of long-term symptoms post infection speaks to the body’s ability to vanquish the pathogen and resolve the resulting damage from the ensuing battle, e.g. inflammation, removal of damaged/dead cells, rejuvenation of scarring, resuscitation of energy etc.
Our ability to do this successfully depends on our state of health pre-infection, our genetic predispositions, stress levels and general metabolic and immune resilience. But it also depends on whether we receive the relevant and appropriate treatment support for our illness. Covid-19 has turned a flood light on all of these issues given the enhanced vulnerability of those with underlying conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as factors like nutritional deficiency of the main immune support nutrients — vitamins A, D and C, zinc, selenium and iodine. Much has been made of the dangers of low vitamin D levels and immune function. But it’s a damming indictment of conventional healthcare to find that in 2020 severe covid-19 sufferers were pretty much in scurvy territory (≤ 11 µg mol/L) so deficient in vitamin C were they. In essence, we need to keep in the best shape possible using healthy diet and lifestyle choices to meet the onslaught of immune and life challenges.
If we do succumb and require medical intervention, then the nature of that intervention is also important for our recovery. Hence, the furore we’ve seen over treatment protocols. The subject of which we have covered previously, and the pitted battle over the use of hydroxychloroquine. Just like the punishment should fit the crime, you could view this as, so too, should the treatment fit - not only the disease - but also the individual. This is the likely reason why patients of integrative medicine doctors like Dr David Brownstein or those treated with the MATH+ protocol do not appear to be long-haulers.
Clearly, treating patients successfully without the use of ventilators was not something the US authorities wanted shared as the FTC shut down Dr Brownstein’s blog for explaining how he was curing covid-19 patients from his parking lot! He has since found many other routes to get his information out. Here, Dr Mercola discusses one of Dr Brownstein’s key interventions for covid-19 and upper respiratory infections with nebulised hydrogen peroxide. We’ve not yet heard Dr Brownstein saying that any of his treated patients have any resulting lung scarring from covid-19. Hydrogen peroxide is not something we should be scared of. In fact, intravenous vitamin C in levels over 24 g creates hydrogen peroxide and is extremely effective at reducing inflammation, knocking out viruses successfully and safely treating sepsis - with no adverse side effects or lasting damage. It’s also been proven very effective for cancer. You could say it’s one of medicines best kept secrets because it’s cheap as chips, there are no patents and it’s not a big earner for pharma!
How can long-haulers enhance recovery?
Here is a summary of clinical pearls from a functional medicine perspective that may be helpful for long-haulers. These are for information purposes only as we’d always recommend consulting with an appropriately trained health professional before starting any programme to address long covid. It’s very important that each programme is fully individualised.
Gastro-intestinal restoration - the gut immune connection is intimately involved in chronic inflammatory states. Most naturopathic and integrative practitioners will address the gut as the first step in any health restoration programme. Functional medicine health professionals work with the ‘4R programme’ — remove (inflammatory foods, drugs, caffeine, stress etc), replace (with healthy, ‘clean’ foods), repair (using nutrients and lifestyle changes to repair the gut), and reinnoculate (with beneficial microorganisms to restore a healthy microbiome).
Detoxification - supporting the liver and other organs involved in detoxification to convert toxic substances for successful elimination through urine and faeces. Many people have genetic predispositions (SNPs) that affect these pathways, which can impact function and require specific support. Taking other actions such as reducing overall toxic load by making dietary changes, choosing non-toxic personal care and household products and ensuring daily access to clean, fresh air is critical in supporting this process.
Reduce inflammation - it’s very common to be left with a level of systemic, or localised, inflammation after a severe infection and the ensuing ‘cytokine storm’. Our immune system is complex and made up of many components that all need to turn on and off at different times and smoothly interact, much like a well-tuned orchestra. Often, particularly when there are deficiencies in nutrients which power the immune system (e.g. vitamins A, D, E, K and C; minerals zinc, selenium, iodine, plus essential fatty acids and nucleotides to name a few), there can be exaggerated (cytokine storm) or mis-timed responses that can leave lingering inflammation.
Immune-rejuvenation - in light of the previous point, such immune systems can be damaged from the insult of the viral infection. In these cases, the immune cells ‘remember’ that injury. But we can rejuvenate the immune system using a process called autophagy (cleansing or getting rid of old, damaged or dead cells), which regenerates the right kind of new, active, immune cells. This kind of damage is caused by inflammation, which then also perpetuates the symptoms of long covid, or post-viral syndrome. Our natural evolutionary autophagy mechanism is fasting, which is why intermittent fasting provides such an array of health benefits. However, in immune rejuvenation, it’s important to also support this process with nutrients such as vitamin D, zinc, vitamin C and plant compounds called flavonoids e.g. rutin, quercetin, hesperidin and kaempferol. You find flavonoids in vividly coloured veggies and fruits, but particularly in those of the cruciferous family e.g. kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts. There are many reports of quercetin (in red onions, kale, blueberries, apples) being beneficial in the treatment of covid-19 with its anti-inflammatory properties and inhibitory effect on blood clots.
Mitochondrial resuscitation - using nutritional and lifestyle support to improve energy production in cells to combat fatigue. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a common side-effect of inflammation and immune challenge because of the massive demand that both place on the mitochondria, the energy factories in our cells. If we go into an immune challenge with a level of mitochondrial dysfunction, then we will be unable to mount a proper defence or power the smooth orchestral delivery of our immune response. Long covid is essentially a mitochondropathy - an illness caused by the malfunctioning of mitochondria, which is why debilitating fatigue is an integral part of the symptom picture. This is also why any form of exercise prescription is likely to be very damaging until a level of mitochondrial resuscitation has been reached. Again, autophagy plays a critical role here, as well as a range of nutrition and lifestyle strategies inherent in a systems biology approach to health creation and healing.
Separating health from politics
There is little doubt after the last 9 months that covid-19 has emerged as a political disease. Battle lines have been drawn around treatments and vaccines, economies have been crashed, ostensibly to save national health systems (that have never reached anywhere near breaking point), and crony ‘corporatism‘ has flourished to the tune of millions. Citizens are the losers in all this. But far more so at the hands of politicians, the corporate elite and powerful globalist organisations like the World Economic Forum, the WHO and the International Monetary Fund than from any virus. After all, we have evolved symbiotically in partnership with viruses - and all other microbes - since time began. Our complex and intelligent immune systems know how to deal with new viruses. Each and every one of us need to be questioning the lack of talk about healthy diets, immune-modulating vitamins and minerals, and natural treatments like quercetin, turmeric, silver and hydrogen peroxide. Yet continuing focus bordering on obsession with social isolation, masks, vaccines and what is amounting to totalitarian control.
The way out of long covid, as with any other post-viral syndrome, lies in the appropriate response to each individual’s symptoms to restore the loss in function. Most often these responses will be rooted in nutrition and lifestyle approaches, not drugs, because they are such powerful medicine and alter the way our genes are expressed.