What is Long COVID?
Long COVID can show up in many different ways depending on the person with the condition. There is no test to confirm Long COVID but it is generally defined as continued symptoms beyond the initial phase of the COVID-19 infection that can last for weeks, months, or years. Some examples are chronic cough, shortness of breath, sleep problems, headache, depression or anxiety, change in smell or taste, brain fog, fatigue, and muscle or joint pain.1,2
What if I have Long COVID?
If you have Long COVID most of the things you can address yourself will be around anti-inflammatory practices. Long COVID, and many long-term chronic conditions, create a lot of inflammation in the body. Sometimes our lifestyle can also be inflammatory which can make long-term conditions worse. Working to reduce inflammation in the body will help support recovery.
Relieving Symptoms of Long COVID
1. Eat A Diverse Anti-inflammatory Diet
Your mom was onto something when she said to eat your fruits and vegetables. There are compounds in plants called flavenoids which are a type of polyphenol. Some of them are famous for their benefits such as curcumin (found in turmeric), EGCG (found in green tea), and tannins (found in coffee). These flavonoids found in most fruits and vegetables help to combat oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.3 You can add lots of different flavenoids by eating a diverse diet with different colors and textures. Think about including as many different types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and teas as you can in your weekly diet. To add diversity you could buy a different type of lettuce for a salad at the store or try a new variety of tea. Consider expanding your vegetable colors. What colors do you normally eat? Where can you try something new?
Vegetables and fruits also contain vitamins and trace minerals which are very important in supporting the immune system and fighting infection.1,4 Healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and Omega-3-rich fish also have a variety of vitamins and minerals. Healthy animal proteins like eggs, poultry, seafood, and lean red meat also provide many trace minerals and fat-soluble vitamins that are important for the immune system.
There are some things we eat that tend to be inflammatory. While recovering from an inflammatory condition such as Long COVID it can help to decrease the amount of inflammation in the body by avoiding inflammatory foods. Sugar,5 alcohol,6 dairy (if not tolerated), gluten (if not tolerated), and ultra-processed foods are all very inflammatory. Reducing the amount of inflammation your body must address can help divert resources to healing damage from Long COVID.
Breathwork is a wonderful tool to help manage stress and it can also help with covid breathlessness7 A basic box breath can be a good place to start. Empty your lungs completely then inhale to the count of 4. Hold your breath to the count of 4. Exhale to the count of 4. Inhale to the count of 4. That is 1 complete box breath. You can repeat several times in a row to help manage stress and practice breathing. As you practice you can increase to 5 or 6 counts and beyond.
3. Stress Management
Supporting the vagus nerve is a good way to address stress and inflammation.8 In some cases COVID can directly affect the vagus nerve which is connected to most of the organ systems in the body.9 Some ways to stimulate the vagus nerve are meditation, prayer, humming, gargling, singing, laughing out loud, and breath work. These things also help to manage stress so you are getting a 2 for the price of one deal! Pick something that strikes you and give it a try for a week.
Our body repairs itself at night and our brain uses that time to “take out the trash” as well as solidify learning and memory. Long COVID can affect the amount of and how much deep sleep your body gets.10 It’s important to make sleep a priority to help address the lower quality sleep Long COVID can cause. Schedule your sleep time – block out at least 8 hours of sleep opportunity every night (the time when your body could be sleeping). Create a regular sleep-wake cycle. Get up at the same time everyday weekday or weekend end. Consistency will help regulate your circadian rhythm. Create a wind-down routine to help train your body to know when it’s time to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet.11
Healing from Long COVID can take time. Supporting your body with anti-inflammatory practices can help to recover. There are many ways to incorporate anti-inflammatory practices into your daily life but if you need more support Pollack Wellness can help address your condition in person or virtually.
Megan Pfiffner MS, CNS
Functional Medicine is All About You.
Wellness is not just the absence of disease, but a daily feeling of health and well-being. Functional medicine provides the body with balance and strength from the inside out by healing the root causes of disease to foster your true vitality.
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- Bland JS. The Long Haul of COVID-19 Recovery: Immune Rejuvenation versus Immune Support. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2020;19(6):18-22.
- CDC. Post-COVID Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 16, 2022. Accessed January 30, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html
- Panche AN, Diwan AD, Chandra SR. Flavonoids: an overview. J Nutr Sci. 2016;5:e47. doi:10.1017/jns.2016.41
- Calder PC. Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. Published online May 20, 2020:bmjnph. doi:10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000085
- Ma X, Nan F, Liang H, et al. Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Front Immunol. 2022;13:988481. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481
- Wang HJ, Zakhari S, Jung MK. Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World J Gastroenterol. 2010;16(11):1304-1313. doi:10.3748/wjg.v16.i11.1304
- Roth A, Chan PS, Jonas W. Addressing the Long COVID Crisis: Integrative Health and Long COVID. Glob Adv Health Med. 2021;10:21649561211056596. doi:10.1177/21649561211056597
- Tracey KJ. The inflammatory reflex. Nature. 2002;420(6917):853-859. doi:10.1038/nature01321
- Chen Y, Yang W, Chen F, Cui L. COVID-19 and cognitive impairment: neuroinvasive and blood‒brain barrier dysfunction. J Neuroinflammation. 2022;19:222. doi:10.1186/s12974-022-02579-8
- Mekhael M, Lim CH, El Hajjar AH, et al. Studying the Effect of Long COVID-19 Infection on Sleep Quality Using Wearable Health Devices: Observational Study. J Med Internet Res. 2022;24(7):e38000. doi:10.2196/38000
- Bedroom Environment: What Elements Are Important? Sleep Foundation. Published October 26, 2018. Accessed February 3, 2023. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment