I was drawn to an article on the front page of the Guardian on Saturday “Long Covid study finds abnormality in lungs that could explain breathlessness” as this is one of the main symptoms that I have.
I had COVID in late October 2021 and since then I have been breathless. It’s slowly getting better but there are days when I feel like my recovery is stalling. I made an appointment with the GP before Christmas as I was getting concerned and I was sent for a chest X-ray in early January – which came back as clear. But maybe the damage caused by COVID was too small to be picked up by an X-ray. The other obvious symptom that I have, which is also becoming milder, is that at random times all I can smell is burning rubber.
My interest in resolving these symptoms has led me to undertake a lot of CPD (Continuous Professional Development) in Long COVID to understand the role that nutrition and specific nutrients can play in recovery.
Long COVID is defined as having symptoms for more than 12 weeks after contracting the virus. There appears to be little correlation with the severity of actual COVID symptoms and the likelihood of developing Long COVID. When I contracted the virus I felt quite unwell for 3 days with the worst symptom being pain in my upper and lower back which at the time I attributed to inflammation in my lungs, heart and kidneys. I had headaches, a fever and was wiped out, but I didn’t develop a cough.
It is estimated that 1 in 45 people who contract COVID will go on to develop Long COVID. The Office for National Statistics have estimated that there are currently 1.3 million people in the UK with self-reported Long COVID and of these 40% have been suffering for over a year. 64% of people are reporting that their symptoms are adversely affected their day-to-day activities. The main symptoms that people are reporting are fatigue, breathlessness, loss of smell, brain fog and difficulty concentrating. More recently shedding hair is being reported as a symptom of the Omicron virus.
So how can nutrition help with Long COVID?
In order for our immune systems to function well both to protect us from viruses, as well as to recover from infection, we need to have a diet that is abundant in the many nutrients that support it. This includes antioxidants, Vitamin D, all the nutrients that support energy production, iron and other minerals that enable the production of key enzymes, fibre to support a healthy gut, protein and good fats.
It is believed that inflammation has a role to play in the symptoms that people are experiencing. Loss of smell could be attributed to inflammation of the nasal passages. Breathlessness could be due to inflammation that still hasn’t been resolved in the lungs. A poor diet devoid of nutrients will predispose to inflammation and this could be what is stopping many people recover. In a recent study (Butler, Barrientos 2020, The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences) it is stated that “consuming healthy foods has a rapid anti-inflammatory effect even in the presence of pathology” and that consuming a Standard Western Diet (i.e. unhealthy) will compound the negative long term effects of COVID.
There are key nutrients that have a role to play in the generation of energy that could be compromised following COVID infection. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a term used to describe the poor functioning of the organelle responsible for generating energy within cells (mitochondria) which is susceptible to damage following a viral infection. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a key area of focus when working with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and many Long COVID symptoms are very similar to those reported by those with CFS. Mitochondrial dysfunction can also result in oxidative stress and inflammation, which in turn cause fatigue.
There is also evidence that the COVID virus is stimulating latent viruses such as Epstein Barr which is responsible for Glandular Fever and the herpes virus which can cause cold sores.
Histamine intolerance can also be aggravated by the COVID virus which could result in symptoms such as headaches, vertigo, breathlessness, rhinitis, sinusitis, itching, increased menstrual pain, diarrhoea, skin flushing. This is something that I believe is a factor for me as I know from having undertaken the Histamine Intolerance report from Lifecode GX that I have a problem breaking down Histamine and believe that it is likely that I have undiagnosed Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). MCAS sufferers are more likely than others to develop Long Covid symptoms (Weinstock LB, Brook JB, Walters AS, Goris A, Afrin LB, Molderings GJ. Mast cell activation symptoms are prevalent in Long-COVID. Int J Infect Dis. 2021 Nov)
There are many areas to explore in understanding the drivers of Long COVID and each of us will be experiencing different symptoms with potentially different triggers. I would love to help guide and support you to improve your diet and nutrient status so that you can start to recover. If you would like explore whether this is the right approach for you please book in for a free 15 minute Discovery Call.