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Long Term Effects of COVID – A Functional Medicine Approach

Holistic Health

“While there is so much yet to understand about post-COVID syndrome, functional medicine already has the tools to support individuals with the symptoms of post-COVID syndrome.”


In Part 1 of this blog series on COVID-19, I discussed risk factors as well as simple lifestyle tools to improve the strength and resiliency of your immune function. While that blog was all about prevention, in today’s article I discuss the possible long-term effects of COVID. 


Most people who get a COVID infection only have mild to moderate symptoms, similar to a flu, and recover fairly quickly. However, there is a significant sector of the population who continue to experience symptoms and don’t return to their baseline level of health. Functional medicine practitioners are uniquely poised to support these patients in recovery because we already have the tools in our toolkit for a personalized, root cause approach.  


Keep reading to learn to learn more about:


Let’s jump in!


What is Post-COVID Syndrome?


In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 179 patients were followed for 2 months after being hospitalized for COVID. At the two-month follow up, after the acute disease had resolved, over 87% still reported experiencing at least one COVID symptom, primarily fatigue and shortness of breath. 


Another study reports around 35% of non-hospitalized COVID cases also experience persistent symptoms. So while those with severe disease are more likely to experience the after effects of COVID, those with mild disease can also be long haulers.


Post-COVID syndrome, long haulers syndrome or post viral syndrome all refer to these cases of long-term symptoms experienced after the acute COVID episode. A syndrome refers to a collection of symptoms and those reported by chronic sufferers tend to be similar to symptoms of the disease itself, with fatigue being the overwhelming commonality between people. 


Post-COVID symptoms include: 


It’s been noted that the symptoms and presentation of post-COVID syndrome is quite similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis. Even COVID expert Dr. Anthony Fauci states that post-COVID syndrome is “highly suggestive” of chronic fatigue, which is characterized by exhaustion that doesn’t resolve from rest. 


In my practice, I’ve definitely seen chronic viral infections, such as Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mono to be a trigger for chronic fatigue symptoms and autoimmune disease. It’s possible that chronic coronavirus infections may have similar effects. 


Some researchers also speculate that post-COVID syndrome is similar to mast cell activation syndrome where the immune system is in an overactive inflammatory state. A recent study also found autoantibodies (antibodies against human tissues) in both early and longer lasting COVID cases, suggesting that post-COVID syndrome may be more akin to autoimmune disease. The autoantibody response can vary greatly between individuals. 


Of course, these are all preliminary speculations and we obviously need more time, and research, to fully understand this condition. 


Functional Medicine After Coronavirus, How It Can Help


While there is so much yet to understand about post-COVID syndrome, functional medicine already has the tools to support individuals with the symptoms of post-COVID syndrome. This is especially true because post-COVID syndrome seems similar to other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disease and mast cell disorders where conventional medicine is limited in how it can help patients. 


Here are some of the things functional medicine has to offer:







While some may be more at risk for developing severe COVID disease as discussed in Part 1, others may be more prone to developing post-COVID syndrome for reasons that we are still learning about. This makes it a tricky territory to navigate and why having a trusted functional medicine provider on your care team is so valuable today, and moving forward. 


References

  1. Carfì, A., Bernabei, R., Landi, F., & Gemelli Against COVID-19 Post-Acute Care Study Group (2020). Persistent Symptoms in Patients After Acute COVID-19. JAMA, 324(6), 603–605. Advance online publication. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349096/ 
  2. Garg, P., Arora, U., Kumar, A., & Wig, N. (2021). The "post-COVID" syndrome: How deep is the damage?. Journal of medical virology, 93(2), 673–674. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7461449/ 
  3. Afrin, L. B., Weinstock, L. B., & Molderings, G. J. (2020). Covid-19 hyperinflammation and post-Covid-19 illness may be rooted in mast cell activation syndrome. International journal of infectious diseases : IJID : official publication of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, 100, 327–332. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7529115/ 
  4. Wang, E.Y., Mao, T., Klein, J. Dai, Y., Huck, J.D., Feimei, L. Zheng, N.S., Zhou, T., Israelow, B., Wong, P. Lucas, C., Silva, J., Oh, J.E., Song, E., Perotti, E.S., Fischer, S., Campbell, M., Fournier, J.B., Wyllie, A.L., Vogels, C.B.F., Ott, I.M., Kalinich, C.C., Petrone, M.E., Watkins, A.E., Yale IMPACT Team, Cruz, C.D., Farhadian, S.F., Schulz, W.L., Grubaugh, N.D., Ko, A.I., Iwasaki, A., & Ring, A.M. Diverse Functional Autoantibodies in Patients with COVID-19. Brittish Medical Journal. This article is a preprint: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.12.10.20247205v5 

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Phone: (615) 721-8008
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