Post viral syndromes are very common after infection with viruses. The ONS estimates that at the end of March 2021, over 1 million people in the UK were reporting symptoms of post viral syndrome or ‘long COVID’.
Symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, insomnia, cough, headache and myalgia or muscle aches. Many people are struggling to get back to work due their symptoms and there are now specialist clinics around the UK that are offering their services.
A note on tests - there are no tests for post viral syndromes. Rather, a set of symptoms will be indicative of post-viral illness. Blood tests may come back ‘normal’ and you may be left feeling like you have no answers. The current clinical services for long COVID offer various treatments and rehabilitation from a multidisciplinary team including doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. I would personally go further to add nutritional and supplemental support for full recovery.
Having recovered from post viral syndrome since having COVID myself, and from successfully treating many of my patients for the same thing, these are my top tips to help you recover better.
Prevention is key
Preventing acute illness by supporting the immune system is the best way to avoid long term complications. Our immune systems are complex and sophisticated and work in unison with our microbes. Support gut health with nutrient dense foods to feed beneficial bacteria in the gut and use vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc to maintain an optimally functioning immune system.
I usually recommend vitamin C to bowel tolerance i.e. not beyond the point where it gives you loose stools, with up to 10,000iu of vitamin D and 15mg zinc daily.
If you are suffering from the long term effects of COVID, it’s important that you rest. It sounds simple, but most of us try to go back to our ‘normal’ lives too quickly and we don’t give the body enough time to repair itself. Get enough sleep - go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning to anchor your circadian rhythm. Get outside barefoot, first thing in the morning if you can and look at the sky.
Rehabilitate yourself slowly, by doing small amounts of gentle exercise such as tai chi or yoga. Don’t try to overexert yourself as you can end up feeling more fatigued.
For convalescence, there are few foods that compare to bone broth. Bone broth contains all of the essential amino acids that we need to rejuvenate and repair our bodies. Opt for grass-fed, organic beef or chicken bones.
Place the bones in a slow cooker, cover with spring water and add a splash of vinegar. Add herbs and vegetables towards the end of cooking if you want to. Cook on low for 24 to 48 hours. Allow to cool and store refrigerated for up to a week. Drink 1-2 cups a day of the broth, gently heated. You can make it extra yummy and nutritious by adding a spoon of miso paste.
Herbs and supplements
Depending on the symptoms you have, I recommend adding herbal medicines and supplements to your daily routine to support the recovery process. Herbs such as hawthorn (fruiting in a hedgerow near you now) and motherwort can help with chest pains and cardiomyopathy associated with long COVID. Adaptogenic herbs such as siberian ginseng and ashwagandha can support the adrenals.
I would also add Coenzyme Q-10, L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid to support optimal mitochondrial function as well as medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps and lion’s mane - depending on the symptoms. It’s best to speak to a Medical Herbalist before taking any of these herbs and supplements.
Inflammation causes havoc in the body and impedes the recovery process. It’s important to identify the cause of inflammation in the body - is it microbial? Is it due to an allergy or autoimmune condition? Anti-inflammatories such as turmeric and omega-3 oils combined with a paleo-type diet will significantly reduce inflammation in the body. This is because the paleo diet focuses on nutrient-dense foods by eliminating pro-inflammatory substances like sugar, dairy products and refined carbohydrates.
It is totally possible to recover well from post-viral illness or long COVID - but it takes time. The body will heal itself but you have to give it adequate rest, nutrition and support from herbs and supplements. Reach out to friends and family and talk about how you’re feeling. Know that you’re not alone.
These are guidelines only and I recommend having a consultation for a more tailored approach to your own personal recovery.