New light on the virus that is plaguing our world has shown that Covid-19 continues to trouble a large percentage of people long after recovery from the acute infection. Having had Covid-19 personally and being a Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist, I have developed insights into potential ways to prevent, treat, and heal from this new virus. I would like to share my journey of this infection from the active stage of the virus to its continued symptoms and the strategies that I have used and researched to help others along this path.
In March of 2020 I contracted Covid-19 and became very ill. I isolated myself in my home. I had very little energy to get out of bed and slept for 16 hours a day. I worked to heal myself through teas, vitamins, herbs and hot baths. There were many unknowns at the time and my brain ran wild with all of the possibilities of my fate. Would I be one of the 3% that didn’t make it? Did I need to go to the hospital? At the time, testing was limited to the extremely sick, and I wasn’t able to receive verification of the virus. I had all the classic symptoms; a low-grade fever of 99.7F, extreme body aches in both my muscles and my joints, headaches, a few days of GI upset, extreme fatigue and a small feeling of phlegm in the back of the throat with very little to no sputum. In short, it felt like I had the worst flu I had ever had. Each day was worse, and I thought it couldn’t possibly continue. At about day 10, I thought I had finally turned the corner. My body aches subsided, and I felt as if I was out of the woods. I had not experienced any chest pain or much coughing up to this point. I decided it was time to go sweat out the rest of the sickness and so I ventured out for a light jog. I got about a half mile down the road and the chest pain started. It felt as if I was breathing air that was too cold for my body to tolerate. My chest began contracting and tightening. I started to cough and eventually began fighting to get breath into my body. It was a scary moment that I won’t soon forget. Fortunately, I was able to recover and walked myself home, wracked once again with worry about my fate and how this would end. Over the next few weeks, I got more used to the chest pain. It came and went in severity and duration. Sometimes it was sharp and other times it was dull and achy. I also eventually lost some of my taste and smell. My tongue, throat and nasal cavity felt as though I had scalded them with hot water. Fortunately, after about a month of this all of my symptoms eventually subsided. I was extremely grateful that I healed without medical intervention and that I finally felt like I had returned to normal…mostly.
Months had past and summer was moving along. Testing had finally caught up and the antibody test became readily available and fairly accurate. I had my blood drawn to see if I had indeed had Covid-19 or if it was just an intense flu. My test results returned and verified that I in fact did have antibodies to the virus. I had immunity for the time being! I felt like I had won the lottery. The trouble was, I was still having symptoms after months of being “recovered”. While engaging in intense exercise, such as climbing on my mountain bike, I was still getting chest pains and coughing spells. I was also getting random muscle aches, fatigue, brain fog and my joints hurt as if I had arthritis. At the time, I was also doing a lot of intense yard work and construction on my house. I assumed my symptoms were just due to a hard day’s work. I found myself wondering if I was just aging because I couldn’t remember ever feeling this tired from landscaping.
The summer wore on in this fashion and my symptoms persisted. I was starting to think that I had developed an auto immune disorder or may be expressing Lyme’s disease. In October I read an article from harvard.edu on the long-term effects of Covid, “The tragedy of post-Covid ‘long haulers’. It was being shown that like myself, many Covid patients were also having long term symptoms. England called it Long Covid, and others Long Haulers. Around this time, I started experimenting on myself to try and treat these persistent symptoms of random chest pain, kidney pain, fatigue, joint pain, and muscle aches.
Recently in the past few months more and more research has been coming out on the pathogenesis of Covid-19 and the mechanisms of how it affects our bodies so it can replicate itself. We understand very little but some themes that could lead to ways to counteract its more severe reactions in people have been illuminated. An article in JCI insight “Covid-19 infection alters kynurenine and fatty acid metabolism, correlating with IL-6 levels and renal status” published on June 19, 2020 highlights pathways that the virus uses to replicate itself.
In addition to known risk factors in our populace that make us more susceptible to having severe reactions to the Covid Virus such as immune deficiencies, chronic illness such as diabetes and asthma and old age, elevated levels of IL-6 are a concern. The noted article above refers to elevated levels of IL-6 (interleukin 6), a cellular chemical (cytokine) that is responsible for pro-inflammatory actions in the body and its correlation to extreme inflammation from the virus. It is my belief that regulating our immune response and lowering the IL-6 levels can help keep our immune system from over reacting and causing multiple organ system failures. Some key strategies to implement in reducing our IL-6 levels and maintaining a balanced immune response thus reducing the extreme inflammatory response are as follows.
-Increasing our NAD+(Nicotinamide Riboside) This is a derivative of Vit. B3 niacin. It is shown that elderly people have lower amounts of NAD+ and that NAD+ is a key component in reducing IL-6 levels in the body. This is one reason that the elderly are more susceptible to extreme inflammatory reactions to this virus.
-Inhibiting our PLA2(phospholipase A2) PLA2 is a pro-inflammatory agent affecting leukotrienes that cause inflammation and constriction in the lungs. This is especially problematic for asthmatics. With Covid-19 affecting lung tissue this becomes very important issue to be aware of and help keep in check.
-Regulating Blood sugar. Elevated levels of blood sugar tend to increase levels of IL-6 and the overall inflammatory response in the body. Diabetics tend to have elevated blood sugar leading to a dysregulation of the immune response. Increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are seen in correlation with increased insulin levels and increased blood sugar levels. Separately, and possibly in correlation to diabetics increased risk for severe reactions to Covid, is that increased cortisol and increased stress moves the immune system into a hyper state of defense and over-reaction of the white blood cells fight against foreign substances. This is a possible reason why diabetics are at higher risk at having extreme reactions. This over response can sometimes lead to auto immune conditions and may be one of the reasons for prolonged Covid symptoms in patients that had more severe acute illness. It might also explain why the long term/ long haulers have symptoms that mimic auto-immune conditions.
-Regulating Immune system- The immune system is a delicate balance between the need to fight and the need to regulate. We need to be able to fight off an infection while not causing too much damage and offense to our own bodies. Immune compromised patients have obvious imbalances in their ability to regulate immune functions and have increased risks of contracting Covid-19.
Natural modalities while having less regulation still need to have doctor supervision. Do not try these without the support of your doctor or a licensed physician to help guide you through the process. I have purposefully included less harmful modalities yet even these could have unintended consequences if used improperly. For more in-depth treatment protocols, seek out licensed Naturopathic doctors, licensed Chinese medicine practitioners and functional medicine Doctors to help guide you along these paths.
Having had this virus and still dealing with the long term effects, I want to discuss the symptoms and possible ways to treat long term Covid-19. While new symptoms and understanding of the long term effects are still emerging, one thing seems to be a common theme. The symptoms seem to mimic CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) and common symptoms of some autoimmune diseases. I have had joint aches, muscle fatigue and aching, occasional mental fog, chest pain with cough, and kidney pain. The tissues that seem to be affected are ones that have the ACE2 receptors in them. The gut, lungs, kidneys, noses olfactory cells, pancreas, gallbladder and heart, all have higher quantities of ACE2 receptors. Treating and helping heal these tissues is a good place to start. While using a protocol for CFS and or autoimmune conditions as a backbone for treatment.
Since the symptoms of post viral long term symptoms vary so greatly, I will just touch on a few key strategies for healing. Using adaptogenic herbs to help support the energy storage and stress response seems to be very helpful. Supporting cell respiration by giving them preferred food sources and enzymes to make energy have been helpful. Keeping to an Anti-inflammatory protocol diet has been helpful. Easing back into old routines with plenty of down time seems to be essential. Managing stress response through breathing, massage, acupuncture, gentle stretching, Tai qi, Qi gong, and decreased exposure is paramount.
It is now coming up on 1 yr post infection for me and I’m still having symptoms especially during times of heightened stress events. Luckily each week seems to get better. I have been helping others that have been placed on this path and it looks like there could be an end in sight. Until that day, small steps seem to be the way to move forward. I would be happy to help at my clinic for those that may want some support.