Naturopathic Tips For Long Covid
Long Covid symptoms or ‘PASC’ (Post Acute Sequalae of Covid) are affecting many people at present, so I thought I’d share some of what’ I’ve learnt. Most of these tips are in alignment with what naturopaths have been advising to support viral infections & post viral syndromes for many years / decades.
Like many viral infections, an initial covid experience can vary from asymptomatic, to a couple of days feeling crook, to a week or more of flu like symptoms, to severe illness that requires hospital support / can be fatal. From this wildly variable response, it’s clearly not just the virus that causes your symptoms, it’s the ‘dance’ between the ‘invader’ & your individual system, against the backdrop of your current life & health situation. The ’seed’ (virus) is one part of the equation, but the ‘soil’ (your system / constitution) & ‘current weather situation’ (how you’ve been going health & vitality-wise lately / what else you are dealing with) is the major part! Taking that perspective, here’s some naturopathic covid care tips, acknowledging seed, soil & weather! (Feel free to apply to any other viral hangover situation!)
1 - Proactive Viral Prevention: Long covid is definitely a thing & like any other tricky post-viral chronic fatigue type syndrome, you don’t want it, so, always treat acute covid with haste & respect.
Hindsight is great huh? If you’re already dealing with PASC, this is not super helpful but it’s 100% worth reminding people to ALWAYS look after yourself extra well at the VERY FIRST SIGNS of ANY acute infection. Think of yourself as ‘the soil’ in this equation. Good soil (just like a robust gut microbiome) can retain or regain balance quickly when just a few invaders are introduced. Early care will support your body’s own efforts to avoid overwhelm & minimise the collateral damage that comes with viral infections & help get you back to normal asap. Note - by prevention, I don’t mean hiding out at home / behind a mask or a vaccine - there will ALWAYS be some viral sickness risk, we just want to prevent an acute infection from developing into severe / ongoing illness.
It’s not about avoiding illness altogether, that’s unrealistic if you also want to enjoy some sort of a life! Just keep yourself as close as you can to peak vitality (esp when people are sick around you), be mindful to pick yourself up quickly if you slip up on self care, stay home if you’re feeling vulnerable / haven’t been taking good care of yourself, & if you have any sign of acute illness, jump on it asap!
For the first signs of a cold, flu or covid (any viral thing) - treat aggressively / proactively. The aim is initially to minimise viral load / make viral replication difficult, make your body a less hospitable place for the virus, so that your ‘dose’ isn’t too high! At the first inkling of any infection (sore or weird feeling throat, mild fever, unexpected fatigue, watery eyes / nose), HOCl (hypochlorous acid) can be sprayed liberally & frequently into eyes, nose, mouth, throat, hands etc. Now is the time for antiviral herbs like andrographis, echinacea, olive leaf, & a frequent doses of a supplement with zinc + vitamin C & quercetin, also NAC.
Prioritise good sleep, good nutrition (eat easily digested organics, like soups & stews in winter, juices in summer, focus on getting enough protein & anti-oxidant rich foods to support immune function, avoid any known or suspected food triggers / intolerances). Stay on top of hydration (hot or cold unsweetened, uncaffeinated beverages), get daily sunshine exposure (no burning, but try to get some light colour), do mild to moderate exercise (whatever your body feels like), take regular rests when you feel like it, practice active stress management (ie meditation, laughter, self massage, baths etc). This just ensures your immune system has the best chance / can function optimally.
2 - Don’t block your body’s fever response, support it.
Enduring some short term discomfort can help you avoid long term suffering.
Stay away from fever lowering medications wherever you can. Fever is your body’s best antiviral response, trust that your immune system knows what it’s doing & support this effort by keeping your body temp as high as you can (semi-comfortably) tolerate (just keep the head / brain cool using wet washcloths on forehead / back of neck etc). Value that heat - do not use ibuprofen or panadol just to ‘bring down a fever’. These can be useful to help with sleep if strong pain or discomfort is preventing it, but for fevers I encourage people to say NO to drugs.
Fevers are a sign of health, your body fighting an invader the best way it knows how - not something to be interfered with. Note: Watch young children / babies - there is a small risk of convulsions / brain damage from an uncontrolled high fever. Just sleep beside them within easy reach, keep monitoring their temp, use cool wet cloths & remove layers of clothing & bedding as needed. If you cannot monitor them properly, that would be a reason to use drugs (but ideally try to change the situation so that you can monitor them closely). Otherwise healthy adults can support a fever by jumping into a hot bath with 500g of epsom salts & a cup of hot herbal tea (peppermint or ginger = great to get you sweating), or take a sauna, or try some careful sun-baking. Do these only if you feel like it, they can be super helpful to crank up the temperature if that feels good in your body, but never force yourself if it feels wrong / you’re too fragile! Note: If a fever seems to go on forever (more than a few days) or becomes a long term chronic off & on symptom, that’s a different story. It will become exhausting & unproductive. Seek help from a practitioner in that instance. But for early infection - hot is good! Burn those bugs! Think of a fever as a great detox opportunity. Oh & If you’re not hungry, just fast / stick to liquids. The last thing your body needs when feverish is to try & digest meals!
3 - Be Patient With Yourself.
With any illness, allocate time to recover, allow yourself to feel it, deal with it, take time out & recover. Don’t pretend ‘I’m so healthy, I’m totally fine’ when you’re not feeling great. Acute sickness happens, even to healthy people - we all have our constitutional weaknesses / struggles in life & health. Even a super healthy person can end up in a situation where an exposure (ie covid) + weakness (ie post workout) = sickness! The focus needs to be on being gentle with yourself, practicing self-care rather than ‘soldiering on’ so it doesn’t drag on & morph into a chronic state.
Don’t push yourself to get back into the normal exercise or work routine too quickly, use the energy you have for getting your body back to health. Invest time, energy & $ towards proper healing, know that it will be well spent - even if it feels frustrating at the time, just be patient with yourself. Don’t compare your recovery speed to others - if there’s one thing we know about covid (& most viral infections), everybody can paint themselves a very unique symptom picture & follow their own winding course through to recovery! Keep your sanity any way you know how, & just hang in there - support your body, it’s trying to get you back to normal. Speak to a practitioner via zoom, get someone to drop you some supportive supplements / food / juices / activities etc, get help with managing / delegating your responsibilities so you can really look after you.
4 - If You’ve passed the acute phase & feel ‘Stuck’ In Long Covid - Try these tips:
See someone to help you. Naturopaths are busier than ever with what they excel at - supporting ‘out of whack’ bodies to get back to balance or ‘homeostasis’. Find a practitioner (the world has opened up now with most offering Zoom consults). Look for someone who advertises long Covid support as something they offer. Have a chat to a few, see who feels ‘right’ / who seems to ‘get’ your case, or ask around / look for reviews & testimonials. If you can’t afford professional help, here’s a few general things to try, many of them completely free!
Natural Support for Long Covid
(note- general advice only, see a practitioner for optimal results, every person will be different).
- sunshine exposure (daily if you can) approx 15-20 mins during the middle of the day is ideal. Never get burnt, adjust time to suit your skin type & location, & change positions. Note when you feel any discomfort in the sun, give your skin a rest / roll over. Sunshine delivers amazing anti-inflammatory, healing medicine, but (one of my fave quotes) ‘the difference between a medicine & a poison is the dose’!
- sauna (many gyms or spas have these, or you can order & install one at home, or buy small portable ones). Daily is great, aim for at least 3x weekly if you can’t.
- breathwork (many styles are beneficial, this is great to help balance out your autonomic nervous system - more info in this blog.
- gut microbiome & gut lining support to decrease whole body & brain inflammation (ask in your local health store for food & supplements to heal / support the gut lining & microbiome, ensuring balanced immunity, gut-brain communication & cooperation). Covid seems to hide out in the gut lining, so Blend11 & Blend13, Greens + Aloe, Terra Flora, plus many other things like Zinc, L-glutamine, slippery elm, turmeric etc can help make it less ‘hospitable’! We want to support the microbiome in it’s effort to produce SCFA’s, especially butyrate which is the main fuel source for cells lining the colon, & can also act as a systemic anti-inflammatory as it enters the bloodstream & even crosses the blood brain barrier. Most things that are gut healing are also brain healing! With long covid, we need to support the gut, bring down general inflammation & stabilise the autonomic nervous system. Food is a big player in this, as it’s one of the easiest ways to alter / optimise our microbiome!
- stabilise mast cells (quercetin is great support here, but see a naturopath for diet / other useful supps)
- anti-inflamamtory, nutrient dense, gut friendly diet
- keep your blood & energy flowing, to prevent clotting, aches & stiffness (gentle but regular movement, hot & cold therapy, massage, hydration, ask for herbs & supps to support)
- gut-brain-nervous system support (ask a naturopath)
- fix your circadian rhythm (see the sun go down or look at a fire in the evening, minimise artificial lighting at night & use of sunglasses during the day, be up & outdoors early in the morning sun). And quit your job if it’s shift work (or ask for some flexibility to help you recover). Your circadian rhythm helps stabilise your nervous system / moods / hormones - everything. Respect it.
- connection / time out (allow yourself to do what are you craving, you are craving it because it nourishes you somehow….you need that nourishment now). Note: this ‘craving’ applies to things like connection with a loved one, time out, time spent in a hobby / in nature / travelling / a move to a new climate / job etc etc - not so much to cheesecake or beer or chips. Your body has cravings for some healthy things it really needs, & also for unhealthy things it’s become addicted to (be honest with yourself when deciding what type of craving you’re experiencing!)
- meaning & purpose - find your ‘why’. Connect to your compelling reason to get back to wellness! Visualise all the things you will be doing once you’re feeling amazing again, & really feel it. Create movies in your mind & deeply feel the feelings of health, balance, vitality & abundant energy, as though you have it already. See yourself well, dream it, feel grateful for it, make a vision board.
- schedule some regular time in nature (green spaces / soak up some sunshine / moonlight / spend time in the ocean or a forest).
- get some bodywork to get everything unblocked, drained & flowing smoothly - Qi / energy, emotions, muscles, blood, lymph, fascia…after a few days or weeks not moving properly, some bodywork can really help you feel more normal again, without doing anything too strenuous! Try…
- osteopathic adjustment
- myofascial release
- gentle yoga ie yin yoga
- foam rolling / trigger point release
- remedial or relaxation massage
Just a regular nurturing touch can be highly beneficial when you’re chronically drained / unbalanced. Tip: - many private health insurance ‘extras policies’ will cover you for good amounts of the cost of acupuncture, remedial massage & osteopathy. If you have developed long Covid, it could be a good investment to join up to get some extras / make use of this if the road to recovery is feeling long. Even ask if the waiting periods can be shortened / waived (sometimes possible on extras).
Finally - ask yourself, what are the ways I am (strangely / perversely / unconsciously) benefiting from this sickness situation? When we are in ‘bad’ life situations, often there is ‘something in it’ for us, we are somehow gaining something we may have needed (i.e a lesson, some humbling, greater understanding, more strength, resilience, more empathy for others, more attention, sympathy & kindness, connection, a much needed rest, an excuse to not reach a goal or quit a job or get out of a tricky obligation, or maybe just we really needed to start tuning into our body because for years we’ve been ignoring it). So many possible reasons - if you can become aware of what the ‘gain/s’ may be for you, the weird side benefits you get from being unwell, it can assist greatly in moving through it! Or at least help give some purpose to your suffering. Sounds weird, but worth meditating on, you may surprise yourself! This is by no means suggesting that you’re a hypochondriac or attention seeker - it’s just a weird thing we humans do.
When you’re in a crappy situation, sometimes surrender is the first step to getting out. Whatever you resist persists, so if you’ve been using all your energy in resistance, try surrendering, accepting, looking for the lesson / gain / reason & embracing whatever gifts you can find in your suffering - there will be something there, if you look!