I don’t have to introduce you to COVID-19. It’s been over two years since our world went upside down. In December 2019, doctors and scientists discovered a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China that we now all know as COVID-19 caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2 infection. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic. You know the rest of the story.
Since then, hundreds of millions have been infected and several million people have died. We have dealt with several variants. We are currently dealing with the Omicron variant, which seems to be somewhat less severe than other strains, but it’s a lot more infectious and is spreading rapidly (1).
Another concern is that COVID-19 is leaving many people sick even after recovering from the initial infection. Most COVID-19 patients tend to recover from a mild or moderate case of COVID-19 within about two weeks. Yet, many people are experiencing lingering symptoms and health problems many months or even a year after their initial illness. They are dealing with long hauler syndrome, a group of long-term effects and chronic symptoms post-COVID (2, 3).
In this article, we will discuss the long-term effects of COVID-19. You will learn what long hauler syndrome is. I will discuss the common lasting symptoms and risk factors for long COVID. I will offer some strategies to reduce your risk and support your immune system. I will suggest some natural strategies to support your health and wellness if you are a long hauler.
What Is Long Hauler Syndrome?
Long hauler syndrome has many different names. The ‘official’ term that refers to long-term COVID-19 symptoms is post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 or PASC. Chances are, you won’t hear this name often though. More common terms used include long hauler syndrome, long hauler COVID, long COVID, long-term COVID, long haul COVID, and post-COVID syndrome. Those experiencing symptoms of long hauler syndrome are often called ‘long haulers’ or ‘COVID-19 long haulers’ (2, 3).
Long hauler syndrome refers to a condition when people are still experiencing long-term symptoms and ongoing health issues weeks, months, or even a year after recovering from an initial COVID-19 infection. Long hauler syndrome is not COVID-19, but a group of chronic symptoms after the infection is resolved. Your long hauler symptoms may be very different from symptoms you experience during your acute COVID-19 illness.
While some people with long hauler syndrome had a severe COVID-19 infection, many long haulers had mild or moderate symptoms of COVID-19 and some were asymptomatic. While certain health issues may increase your risk of developing long hauler syndrome, many previously healthy people without existing known medical conditions are dealing with post-COVID-19 symptoms.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 80 percent of people have reported at least one lasting post-COVID-19 symptom for short-term, for about 4 to 12 weeks after their recovery from COVID-19. About 60 percent have experienced one or more persistent symptoms longer-term 12 weeks after the infection or longer. About 10 percent have reported that their health was so compromised that they were unable to return to work (2).
Yet, there is still not enough coverage of long haulers. Many conventional medical providers don’t know how to deal with this condition. Many of our health care workers and medical centers are simply too overwhelmed with the pandemic to pay attention to long haulers. Turning to functional medicine may be a great idea if you have long hauler syndrome.
Long hauler syndrome is a relatively new health issue and research is still ongoing to completely understand it. However, the concept of immune imbalance and chronic issues after a viral infection is far from new to functional medicine.
Beyond looking at your symptoms and health history, we can look at various functional health markers of inflammation and immune health that can aid both diagnosis and treatment. Because of our experience in dealing with immune imbalances and chronic problems, such as Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme disease, and autoimmune conditions, working with a functional medicine doctor may be your best bet for recovery.
Symptoms of Long Hauler Syndrome
Symptoms of long hauler syndrome vary from person to person. Some people may struggle with only one ongoing problem, others may have all of the common and some other less common symptoms. You may experience mild, medium, or severe post-COVID symptoms.
- Sleep problems
- Brain fog, trouble concentrating, and decreased memory
- Joint pain or muscle pain
- Shortness of breath or ongoing cough
- Loss of smell and/or loss of taste
- Hair loss and rashes
- General pain and discomfort
Additionally, long hauler syndrome may also affect your emotional and mental health. It may increase anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
Risks for Long Hauler Syndrome
Long hauler syndrome is still a relatively new condition and research is ongoing to understand the risks and causes of long hauler syndrome.
Current theories suggest that the following issues may play a role in the increased risk of long hauler syndrome:
- Viral persistence and viral ghosts (5, 6, 7)
- Autoimmune response with widespread inflammation (8, 9)
- Mitochondrial imbalance and cell danger response (10, 11)
- Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and NAD+ imbalance (12, 13)
- Gut microbiome imbalance (14, 15)
- Dormant pathogens awakening in your body (16, 17)
- Persistent brainstem dysfunction (18, 19)
- Overlap of multiple conditions (20, 21)
As research is constantly evolving when it comes to COVID-19 and long hauler syndrome, new findings will likely emerge and we will gain a better understanding as we go.
Reducing Your Risk and Supporting Your Body
As with any infection, your first goal, of course, is to reduce your risk of getting sick and support your immune system to increase the chance of quick recovery if you do get sick.
Follow the following strategies recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada and infectious disease experts at other public health agencies to reduce your risk of a COVID-19 infection (2):
- Practice good hygiene strategies, such as frequent hand washing
- Wear a mask in indoor public settings
- Practice social distancing
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine
I recommend the following strategies for improving your immune system:
- Reduce your stress levels (21, 22)
- Get 7 to 9 hours of restorative sleep each night (23)
- Exercise regularly (24)
- Follow an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet (25)
- Get some sunshine as long as the weather allows it (26)
- Take a daily Vitamin D supplement (27, 28, 29)
- Take a daily vitamin A supplement (30, 31)
- Take a high-quality probiotic supplement (32, 33, 34)
- Take N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) or liposomal glutathione (35, 36, 37, 38, 39)
- Take quercetin (40, 41, 42)
- Take zinc (43, 44, 45, 46)
If you’ve are currently sick with COVID-19, I recommend taking the following supplements to support your immune system and lower your risk of a cytokine storm:
- Zinc (43, 44, 45, 46)
- Quercetin (40, 41, 42)
- Curcumin (47, 48, 49, 50)
- Liposomal glutathione (36, 37, 38, 39)
- Vitamin D (27, 28, 29)
- Probiotics (32, 33, 34)
Follow an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet and get plenty of rest while recovering.
If you need personalized guidance on what supplements to take, I recommend making an appointment with us. Remember, everyone is different. You may benefit from a personalized strategy, especially if you have other ongoing health issues.
Please note that none of these supplements can prevent COVID-19 and long hauler syndrome. They may help to support your immune system, strengthen your body, and reduce your risk factors for serious health issues.
Part 2 of this post will appear later this week, featuring more detailed recommendations for Long Hauler COVID.
I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance to improve your health. You may book your consultation here.