Currently, there isn’t a cure for Long Covid, and experts believe anybody can develop the condition – even if you had the healthiest, most balanced diet before you became unwell.
What we put into our bodies has a big impact on our health, but given the complexity of Long Covid, it is unlikely that diet alone could make someone better.
However, a study undertaken by doctors at Harvard Medical School found that a diet high in healthy plant-based foods was associated with ‘lower risk and severity of Covid 19.’
So, if eating healthily can improve Covid outcomes, it would make sense if the same principle applied for Long Covid. Could tweaking your diet help to lessen the lingering symptoms or speed up recovery? The experts
‘Currently there is not much robust scientific evidence that explains how and what we eat can help with the recovery from Long Covid,’ says Rhiannon Lambert, registered nutritionist and founder of @rhitrition.
‘However, some research from the ZOE COVID Study suggests recovery is similar to that from other respiratory illnesses. This means having a healthy and balanced diet, high in plant-foods such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, omega-3s, nuts and seeds, fermented foods, and pulses and legumes, is important to support the body’s immune system.
‘Diet can support the immune system to function when it is under attack, but also to maintain a protective barrier to help prevent illness as well.’
For those with Long Covid, suffering debilitating fatigue and a whole array of varied and changeable symptoms, prevention isn’t much use.
To figure out if the food we eat could have a significantly positive impact on those with Long Covid, we have to understand what is happening to our bodies when it’s suffering with a chronic condition or a post-viral illness.
Pauline Cox BSc MSc, author and nutritional expert for Wiley’s Finest ethical health supplements, argues that nutrition can make a big difference in any post-viral recovery by helping to support the areas that have been most impacted by the virus.
She says it makes a difference through three main areas:
1) Reduction of inflammation
‘Covid is a disease of inflammation, which wreaks havoc on the body,’ Pauline tells Metro.co.uk. ‘A focus on reducing systemic inflammation for recovery is key.
‘Residual inflammation can result in prolonged symptoms as seen in Long Covid. Diet and supplementation can be very helpful in reducing inflammation.’
Inflammation is a critical part of recovery from illness, helping the body get rid of the source of damage and repair injured tissue, but too much of it can have unwanted effects. Especially when the inflammation continues beyond any actual outside threat. Some doctors think this is what’s happening in Long Covid patients.
Pauline says reducing inflammatory foods – such as processed and high sugar products – could make a difference.
‘Omega-6 oils are inflammatory and omega-3 oils are anti-inflammatory,’ she adds. ‘Sunflower oil, corn oil, margarine, processed ready meals, and soybean oil are high in omega-6, fats that drive systemic inflammation. Reducing intake of these inflammatory oils and replacing them with extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, organic butter and ghee will help reduce the omega-6 dominance.
‘Omega-6 is not inherently bad for us, it is the over-consumption of omega-6 and the highly processed nature of seed oils that is damaging to our health.’
Additionally, she suggests increasing the amount of anti-inflammatory foods including those rich in omega-3 fatty acid, wild salmon, oily fish such as sardines and mackerel.
‘Anti-inflammatory supplements such as turmeric and a high quality fish oil, which is four times stronger than regular fish oils, can also reduce systemic inflammation and aid recovery,’ she adds, pointing to the latest research that shows omega-3s helps reduce neuroinflammation in the brain and may reduce the symptoms of brain fog, anxiety, headaches and insomnia.
2) Fueling to beat fatigue
Long Covid is commonly associated with chronic fatigue, so, Pauline says the food we eat can have an impact on energy levels, support of the immune system and post-viral recovery.
‘The fuel we choose can either add to our health or take away,’ says Pauline. ‘Nutrient-dense foods support the immune system, offer high levels of antioxidants, contain specific vitamins and minerals needed to support the liver, gut, brain and other key organs and systems to recover from an inflammatory storm.’
A clinical trial conducted in September 2021 discovered that a nutritional supplement based on vitamins, minerals, amino acids and plant extracts contributed to significant improvement in chronic fatigue for Long Covid patients.
Can the same effect be achieved through simple changes in diet to help boost energy levels?
‘A diet rich in vegetables, leafy greens, colourful vegetables, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut (rich in vitamin C and gut beneficial bacteria) is greatly beneficial in providing nutrients, as well as supporting gut health and the microbiome,’ Pauline explains.
‘The microbiome has been shown to be altered following Covid infection. This change can result in lower levels of beneficial gut microbes, which not only has an impact on digestive health and immune function but also brain function due to the gut-brain axis.’
3) The function of the ‘engine’
‘The fuel we choose is essential for recovery, however so too is ensuring the engine in which the fuel is used is working optimally,’ says Pauline.
The ‘engine’ in the case of our body, Pauline explains, are the tiny little batteries within the cells – called mitochondria.
There is evidence to suggest that Covid virus can hijack cells’ mitochondria, boosting viral replication but inhibiting their ability to create energy.
‘When our mitochondria are not working well then our energy levels suffer,’ Pauline explains. ‘Supporting our mitochondria is a big part of post-viral recovery and chronic fatigue.
‘Co-enzyme Q10 is a key nutrient for mitochondrial support, found in organ meat. It can also be consumed as a supplement.
‘Resveratrol is another well-researched antioxidant found in red wine and grapes, that may aid the recovery of Long Covid. It is best to obtain this antioxidant in a supplement form rather than via red wine, as this could impact liver function and slow recovery.’
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