What is Long Covid?
Officially known as post-Covid syndrome, the condition is a mixture of symptoms affecting different organs in the body. There are thought to be around 2 million people in the UK who are suffering from this. This term is usually used if symptoms persist for three months or more.
The most common symptoms include:
- Brain fog
- Anxiety and depression
- Muscle pain
Some of these symptoms are likely to ease over time, but others may continue especially if there isn’t another important cause for your symptoms, which may be treatable. You should see a GP who can assess your symptoms.
How nutrition can help
As Covid is a relatively new virus, the treatments which could help against long Covid are not yet well known. However, there is existing knowledge of how one’s diet may help for post-viral fatigue syndrome, which may have some similarities.
Unfortunately, little can be done for lung scarring, but it is also likely that the immune system has been thrown out of kilter by a Covid infection and there are various strategies for repair.
Food for your Microbiome
The majority of the immune system is housed in the intestines, and gut bacteria has an important role in our immunity. It is important to have a good balance of gut bacteria and your diet can help with this. There are two kinds of foods which are beneficial and they are known as prebiotics and probiotics.
- Prebiotics – these high fibre foods act like a fertiliser for the good gut bacteria. You might increase vegetables such as cabbage, kale, onions, garlic and artichokes. Pulses and legumes are also good, especially lentils and beans. Nuts and seeds are helpful, especially ground flax seeds (also known as linseeds) and quinoa is one of the healthiest grains.
- Probiotics – the fermented foods which help to boost numbers of good gut bacteria. These include bio-active unsweetened natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.
Preventing a ‘Leaky Gut’
Diet can also help to maintain a healthy intestinal barrier, helping to prevent toxins, proteins and bacteria from passing into the bloodstream. This also is likely to have an important role in helping to address the symptoms of long Covid. Actions to reduce ‘leaky gut’ include minimising emulsifiers in the diet. These food additives may reduce the mucin layer which protects the gut lining. Emulsifiers are found especially in margarines, processed mayonnaise, many ice creams and also some milk substitute drinks. It is better to swap to butter (in moderation), home-made mayonnaise, natural yoghurt and to check labels on packaging to see if they include emulsifiers.
Other measures, such as reducing or eliminating gluten in the diet and eating less processed foods may also help to prevent ‘leaky gut’.
Low Carb/Minimal Sugar
Keeping blood sugars normal is crucial because it has been shown that a raised blood sugar can effectively ‘stun’ the immune system. This is one reason why people with poorly controlled diabetes have been at high risk of severe Covid infections. However, even those of us without diabetes may get raised blood sugars after sweetened foods or drinks. Cut down on sugary treats and you can reduce inflammation in the body. People who take this further, by reducing starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes may achieve the best blood sugars.
B Vitamins, Crushed Garlic and Magnesium
B vitamins are good for our immune system. They are found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, whole grains, pulses and legumes like lentils and beans and also yeast products like marmite and nutritional yeast flakes. Vitamin B1, known as thiamine, has an important role in prevention of fatigue. Amazingly, if you regularly have crushed garlic e.g. in salad dressing, then it will help you to absorb the B1. It’s not hard to do, but you may wish to brush your teeth afterwards, if you are worried about ‘garlic breath’! Magnesium is the last piece of this jigsaw, helping to give the best results. This mineral is readily available in pumpkin seeds, nuts, spinach, chard, dark green vegetables and quinoa.
Improve Mitochondrial function
The mitochondria are like the battery packs within our cells. So, supporting your mitochondria may help to improve energy levels. Fortunately, the basic principles above, such as reducing sugar and starches, increasing fruit and vegetables and having healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil are all good for your mitochondria. And try not to over eat or over-do the snacking.
Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants in the body and also has an important role in prevention of fatigue. Foods rich in glutathione include; cabbage, kale, cauliflower, onions, eggs, nuts, pulses, fish, chicken, spinach and okra.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
To keep as fit and healthy as possible following a Covid infection, you should exercise gently and be aware of not over-doing exercise on better days. This may mean taking things very slowly and cautiously. Try not to smoke, and drink alcohol only in moderation, and make sure that you drink plenty of water. Counselling may also be beneficial if you are feeling over-anxious or depressed.
Although the cause of persistent Covid symptoms is unclear and best treatment options, as yet unproven, thankfully there is already a lot known about how diet can help for persistent fatigue which is likely to also help ease the symptoms of Long Covid.
Author Dr Jackie Rose, is an experienced retired GP who specialises in nutrition and head ups the Nutrition Clinic at Private GP Extra. The service offers sound evidence-based medical and nutritional advice to help people achieve optimum health and wellbeing without using medication. To find out more, please visit: https://www.privategpextra.com/nutrition-private-gp-extra/