Treating Long-Covid With Functional Medicine

The pandemic turned our world upside down and ushered in a new set of challenges for everyone, but especially those in the medical field. When protocols became headline news, traditional medicine lost track of what personalized medicine really is.

As months went by, it became clear that some patients weren’t just dealing with an acute virus. Some were having a very hard time recovering long after their acute symptoms subsided.

As we examined and assessed our patients, we realized that while all of these patients had Covid-19, their prolonged symptoms and how their body recovered were very different.

The difference in symptoms and recovery has proven to be a mystery to most, but this highlights the need for a personalized approach for treating each person.

Functional Medicine equips our providers to treat the person, not just the disease, making this approach extremely effective in helping patients recover from Long-Covid. Symptoms of Long-Covid have included:

  • Unrelenting fatigue and malaise
  • Unexplained pain
  • Migraine and/or headache
  • Difficulty sleeping and trouble getting a restful night’s sleep
  • Digestive issues
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Abnormal lab values and abnormal heart rhythm
  • Skin issues

We’ve seen odd patterns where some patients seem to fully recover from Covid, but eventually develop new symptoms weeks or months later that resemble their initial Covid infection even though they will test negative.

In other patients, we don’t see the return of their Covid symptoms, but rather a new diagnosis of diabetes, hypertension, neurologic disorders or psychiatric diseases.

Some of these Long-Covid symptoms resemble a condition that we’ve treated for a long time: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). The similarities between Long-Covid and CFS are perplexing.

While we don’t have all the answers yet for either condition, we can use the power of the personalized approach with Functional Medicine to help create a personalized plan for each patient.

First, it’s important to understand how your immune system is affected.

Your body is a cellular army. It is constantly watching for invaders and readying messenger cells. When a pathogen, such as coronavirus, invades the body, killer cells are ready to both engage with the enemy and signal the body to begin producing antibodies.

While your killer cells and antibody cells are great in combat, they sometimes have a hard time disengaging with the enemy. This leads to cellular burn out and systemic inflammation, which in turn means your immune system is worn out.

The longer your immune system is down, the easier it is for any dormant viruses in your body to reactivate. These dormant viruses are like an underground enemy, that’s been lying in wait and ready to take advantage of your body when it’s already under attack.

The coronavirus has proven to open the door for many latent viral infections including shingles and Epstein-Barr virus.

As your immune system works to eliminate the threat of coronavirus, it shifts into overdrive to fight a multi-front war against these other viral infections that have come to life now, depleting you of Vitamin D, which is crucial for immune system function.

Vitamin D is important to your immune system for many reasons:

  • Vitamin D Activates of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs): When vitamin D binds to vitamin D receptors in your immune cells, it triggers an increase in the production of compounds known as antimicrobial peptides or AMPs. AMPs help to block pathogens from entering your cells while suppressing pathogen replication.
  • Vitamin D enhances phagocytosis: Vitamin D promotes autophagy in your immune cells – the process of encapsulating and neutralizing invading threats.
  • Vitamin D regulated T Cells: Vitamin D influences your immune cells in a way that prevents your immune system from spiraling out of control. Pumping the brakes on the inflammatory cascade so that your immune response doesn’t inadvertently cause more harm than good.
  • Vitamin D enhances the integrity of mucosal barriers: The epithelial and mucosal cells that line your eyes, nose, mouth, and digestive tract are your first line of defense against potentially invading pathogens. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining and strengthening the integrity of these mucosal barriers by promoting the production of specific enzymes and proteins that seal the spaces between mucosal and epithelial cells.

Once we process the important role vitamin D plays in immune system regulation, we can better understand the impact viral infections like COVID-19 have on your body and how this contributes to prolonged strain.

While our bodies may be focused on fighting battle after battle, Hope is still available.

There are several ways to support your body during an acute viral illness and the downstream conditions. As with patients suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, we similarly treat a Long-Covid patient and begin with these Functional Medicine basics:

  • Minimizing exposure to environmental toxins: Environmental toxins can essentially “clog up” and overwhelm your immune system while simultaneously throwing many of your hormones out of whack. Minimizing your overall exposure to environmental toxins can help free up some of your immune system’s resources so it can get a grasp on any lingering or reactivated pathogens that are contributing to ongoing symptoms.
  • Replenishing Vitamin D levels: Vitamin D is a critical nutrient involved heavily in immune function. Restoring cellular vitamin D can help your cells combat new or reactivated pathogens.
  • Restoring gut health: The health of your gut and microbiome plays a pivotal role in immune activation and inflammation levels. Healing any gut dysfunction and promoting a diverse, thriving gut microbiome is foundational when it comes to supporting your immune system. There’s a direct link between ACE2 deficit and microbial dysbiosis in COVID-19. ACE2 has a very special role in the GI tract. It transports a lot of large neutral amino acids into the body. ACE2 deficiency produces tryptophan deficiency. Loss of tryptophan not only alters neurotransmitters, it also results in a loss of proteins called beta defensins, which are really important for regulating the microbiome.
  • Prioritize a healthy diet: Diet has a huge impact on ACE2. The kind of diet that most favorably impacts ACE2 also most favorably impacts the gut microbiome and decreases the growth and activity of Ruminococci (bacteria in the gut). A high-fiber, high-polyphenol plant-based diet has been shown to decrease the risk of severe Covid -19 infection by 70%
  • Treating underlying infections: It’s crucial to address any underlying infections that may have been reactivated after contracting COVID-19. Infections like Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, tick-borne bacteria, and even hidden mycotoxins can make healing very challenging if they are not addressed.

We are still in the middle of a prolonged immunity battle. This is the same immunity battle that our bodies have been fighting long before the pandemic.

While Long-Covid has become the focus for new research, we can find hope in making the connection between it and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for the way the body responds.

Due to the complexity of both conditions and the need for a personalized approach, we’ve been responding to the call for help from patients and guests as we look at each individual person through the lens of Functional Medicine.

As we learn more about the patients we see with conditions like CFS or Long-Covid, we consider new discoveries and use the freedoms that integrative medicine allows.

Functional medicine allows us to craft an individual plan that helps our patients overcome complex and mystifying conditions like Long-Covid to regain the life and vitality they once had.

For many, the end is not in sight yet for their battle with acute Covid or Long-Covid, but we are here and ready to tackle any challenge it presents, hand-in-hand with our patients.

If you’re ready to dive into your unexplained symptoms and want more information about establishing as a patient, connect with our New Patient Coordinators and let us help you get your life back.

Keri Sutton - RN, MSN, ANP-C, AGPCNP-BC

Keri is a Nurse Practitioner and founder at Kare Health & Wellness. Keri's pursuit of personal answers to her own health issues landed her in the top of Functional Medicine. As she utilized functional Medicine to get her own health and life back, she made it her life's work to bring this empowering form of healthcare to as many people as she can.

About Us

Our mission is to create a safe environment for our patients to share their story and be empowered to take control of their health.  We constantly challenge patients to think differently about their health. We never find contentment in simply being disease free. We want to help patients optimize their vitality of life so that they can strive for things that they thought were unattainable.

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