What Is Long COVID Syndrome?
Over 160 million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19, and over 3 million have died. It’s been a devastating pandemic. While most people do survive the infection, they don’t always regain their health. Sometimes symptoms persist long after the infection has cleared. How common is this outcome? What types of symptoms do people experience? Do we know why this is happening? How can people recover? My guest is Chris Kresser, one of the most well-known voices in the ancestral health community. He’s a bestselling author, clinician, and top educator in the field of functional medicine.
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- Intro (0:00)
- Thank You To Our Podcast Sponsor – Araza Beauty (2:30)
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- Meet Chris (4:33)
- Chris Kresser is a bestselling author, clinician, and top educator in the field of functional medicine.
- When he was in his early 20’s, he embarked on a worldwide surfing vacation that was cut short when he became very sick with tropical illnesses. While the acute phase passed within a month, it evolved into a decade-long chronic illness. As he sought to heal himself, he discovered functional medicine and decided to make that his career.
- He was then inspired to start The Kresser Institute to teach others the practice of functional medicine. There are two programs: one for healthcare practitioners, and one for health coaches.
- Listen to my prior interview with Chris: Ep. 82 – Healing Mistakes to Avoid.
- How Common Is Long COVID Syndrome? (7:27)
- We’re not sure yet. There have been a number of studies with estimates between 13-35%. The consensus is coalescing around 20-25%. That’s 1 in 4 to 5 people who contract COVID-19 that end up experiencing long-term symptoms after the virus has cleared the body. That’s a high number, and it’s very concerning.
- What Are the Symptoms? (8:56)
- 55 symptoms have been noted for Long COVID Syndrome. No one has all the symptoms. It’s unique to each individual.
- The five most common are fatigue, headache, brain fog, hair loss, and shortness of breath.
- However, COVID-19 is a multi-organ disease. It’s not isolated to the lungs, so symptoms of Long COVID Syndrome can show up throughout the body.
- Research summary.
- Chris’ Clinical Experience (10:58)
- His patients haven’t contracted COVID-19 or Long COVID Syndrome as much as the general population. His theory is that the steps they take to maximize their health also lower the risk of infection and disease. His patients have normal vitamin D levels, eat a nutrient-dense diet, have lower rates of obesity and diabetes, get regular exercise, and also practice social distancing. It’s not 100% foolproof, but it likely lowered risk.
- The Missing Pieces in the Public Health Message Surrounding the Pandemic (14:11)
- While social distancing and vaccines have been very helpful in curbing this pandemic, there are many other things people can do to lower risk that were never discussed in public health recommendations. The pathogen isn’t the sole driver of disease outcome. It interacts with the host (the person), and there are things we can do to strengthen our immune defense and resilience. Chris doesn’t believe in either/or. He believes in using all of the tools at our disposal.
- CDC data shows that 79% of COVID-19 deaths occurred in people who were overweight or obese.
- Kaiser did a study of 48,000 patients, and being sedentary increased risk of hospitalization and death 2-1/2 fold compared to exercising 150 minutes a week. In fact, sedentary behavior was a higher risk factor than any others they studied with the exception of advanced age or organ transplant.
- Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of getting the infection, having a severe outcome, hospitalization, and death. When it comes to vaccines, vitamin D deficiency may also decrease antibody response, making them less effective.
- This is why Chris is so passionate about spreading the message of diet, lifestyle, and functional medicine. It impacts every health issue.
- Robert Koch is a historic figure who proved that bacteria was a cause of infectious disease. It was a groundbreaking discovery with one negative side effect. Modern medicine focuses exclusively on the pathogen and not enough on the host (person). Both need to be addressed.
- Optimal Vitamin D Levels (24:35)
- Chris recommends 40-60 ng/ml.
- One of the problems in vitamin D research is that definitions of deficiency vary. One study might set deficiency at 10 ng/ml, another at 20, and another at 30. Those research results will be very different, and it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Generally, practitioners recommend a minimum of 30 ng/ml as a healthy level.
- The reason Chris chooses 40-60 is that individuals vary in their ability to convert inactive vitamin D to its active form. A level of 40-60 is low enough to have no risk of toxicity, while having a buffer that allows for some loss during conversion.
- Chris’ presentation on the role of vitamin D and supportive nutrients in the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Research into the link between vitamin D levels and COVID-19.
- Thank You to Our Podcast Sponsor – ShopAIP (27:41)
- I collaborated with ShopAIP to create a Phoenix Helix Bundle, which contains some of my favorite AIP pantry items. It’s a great way to sample their products!
- ShopAIP is an online store dedicated to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. With hundreds of items for the elimination phase of the AIP, and new products labeled by reintroduction category as well. You can find protein bars, sauces and condiments, AIP-friendly spices, cooking and baking ingredients, waffle and pancake mix, delicious snacks, and more.
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- Functional Medicine Approach to Long COVID Syndrome (29:05)
- This is a new syndrome, so research is continuing to evolve, but Long COVID appears to be a dysfunction of both the immune & nervous systems. In fact, some studies are showing an autoimmune component, which isn’t surprising since viruses are common triggers of autoimmune disease.
- Prescription for joy is one of Chris’ top recommendations. People often separate mind-body interventions, but there’s nothing we do for our mind that doesn’t also impact the body, and vice versa. In fact, joy releases endorphins, and our immune cells have endorphin receptors. Joy and laughter have a direct impact on our immune system. Cultivating joy can feel counter-intuitive when we’re sick, but it can be the missing piece to your healing puzzle.
- The following nutrients support the health of the immune system: Vitamins A, C, D, E, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics.
- Fasting and/or intermittent fasting can potentially restore proper immune function through autophagy and offers mitochondrial benefits as well.
- Other things that support mitochondrial health include healthy movement, infrared sauna, and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.
- 70% of the immune system is located in the gut, and COVID-19 profoundly alters the gut microbiome as well, so focusing on gut health is important.
- Other lifestyle measures that support healing include sleep & rest and stress management.
- Mysterious Inflammatory Illnesses (40:00)
- Long COVID syndrome is part of a category of illnesses that are triggered by an acute event but symptoms linger long after the trigger has passed. Other examples include chronic Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, POTS, CIRS, etc.
- Autoimmune diseases sometimes follow this pattern as well, being triggered by a virus, a trauma, or a positive event like a pregnancy that ends up dysregulating the immune system long-term.
- Can DNRS Help Long COVID Syndrome?(41:50)
- Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) is a therapy based on neuroplasticity. This simply means that our brains change and adapt to life experiences, and sometimes symptoms can actually become wired into our brains. DNRS is designed to rewire the brain (and body) for health. It’s a self-care technique that can be done at home and has helped many people with mysterious inflammatory illnesses that don’t respond to other treatments.
- DNRS is especially helpful for nervous & immune system dysregulation, and Long COVID Syndrome is a blend of those two things. The nervous system becomes sensitized to a particular trigger and that sensitization persistently triggers the immune system. DNRS is designed to interrupt this cycle and remove this sensitivity.
- DNRS is also helpful for people with multi-system hyper-reactivity. These are people with high food intolerances, lots of environmental allergies, chemical sensitivity, and reactions to most medications and supplements. Their immune system is on hyper alert. DNRS settles the nervous system down to reorient and stop seeing these things as threats.
- Resource podcasts:
- COVID-19 Vaccines & Long COVID Syndrome (47:02)
- Some people with Long COVID Syndrome were cured after getting the vaccine – something they didn’t expect but were thrilled to experience as a side effect. This result doesn’t happen for everyone, but it has happened for some people. They’re studying this now, but the research is too new to have answers.
- Chris has some guesses about what might be happening.
- It’s possible that the vaccine resets the function of the immune system. In Long COVID Syndrome, the immune system has gotten stuck in an inflammatory state. The vaccine stimulates the immune system and gives it a second chance to complete the cycle and resolve the inflammation, returning to a healthy state.
- The placebo effect may also be at work. This doesn’t mean Long COVID syndrome was “all in their head.” The placebo effect should be renamed the self-healing effect, because it produces measurable, objective changes in the body. The ritual of the getting the vaccine could stimulate the body’s self-healing response.
- Finally, vaccination reduces the chance of getting COVID-19 in the first place, but also reduces severity if an infection does happen. The hope is that it will also reduce the likelihood of getting Long COVID Syndrome. It could be the mechanisms that lead to those outcomes also serve as a treatment for Long COVID Syndrome when present.
- This is all speculative right now, but these are some theories.
- Outro (53:03)
- Chris’ website is a wealth of information on ancestral health and functional medicine. His podcast is called Revolution Health Radio. You can find his books on Amazon. And for more information on his training programs, visit The Kresser Institute.
- Eileen (your podcast host) is the author of multiple books, written to help people thrive with autoimmune disease. Learn more on the Books Page.
- If you like this podcast, follow or subscribe through your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe to Eileen’s biweekly newsletter.
- Check out the entire archive of podcast episodes.
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