Doctor’s Tip: Long COVID can ruin your life
Acute COVID-19 can result in severe symptoms requiring hospitalization or death. Ten percent to 30% of people with acute COVID-19 end up with what is known as “long COVID,” with chronic symptoms that are life-altering, can ruin lives of victims of all ages and may last a lifetime (we don’t know yet).
The information for this column is taken from a talk Dr. William Li presented at the September annual International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. Li is a practicing physician, a medical researcher who is founding president of the Angiogenesis Foundation (having to do with formation of new blood vessels) and author of an excellent book, “Eat to Beat Disease.”
Following is a partial list of the 100 symptoms that are associated with long COVID: fatigue; muscle weakness that can cause victims to be wheelchair-bound; joint pain; chronic cough; shortness of breath requiring oxygen supplementation; anxiety; depression; schizophrenia; sleep disturbance; brain fog; heart irregularities; blood clots; chronic kidney disease that can lead to dialysis; hair loss; recurrent fevers; permanent loss of taste and smell; and erectile dysfunction.
There are three known types of damage associated with long COVID: 1) chronic inflammation including autoimmunity similar to what we see in autoimmune diseases, where an overactive immune system causes the body to attack itself; 2) neuropathies — damage to the nervous system including the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord), the peripheral nervous system (sends signals from brain to muscles and transmits pain and other sensations to the brain) and autonomic nervous system that controls functions such as heart rate; and 3) destruction of small blood vessels (called the microvasculature).
For the most part, the underlying problem in long COVID is damage to the miles and miles of blood vessels present in the human body. COVID-19 viral particles enter the body via the lungs, where they enter the blood stream. Electron microscopy shows COVID-19 virus particles in the bloodstream forcing their way into cells of the delicate organ system called the endothelium that lines our arteries. Long COVID damage to lungs, kidneys and nerves, for example, actually involves damage to the small arteries that supply blood to these organs. Imaging studies such as MRIs and CAT scans fail to show this vascular damage.
So far, there have been roughly 216 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., over 700,000 deaths, and over 72 million cases of long-COVID. Dr. Li notes that “a tsunami of disability” is coming as a result of long COVID, which will be a huge financial burden for our country. Two percent of people with long COVID are less than 18 years old; 13% between 18 and 29; 17% between 30-39; 18% between 40-49; 20% between 50-59; 16% between 60-69; 8% between 70-79; and 6% in people 80 and older. So, although more COVID-19 deaths occur in older people, long COVID affects a lot of younger and middle-aged adults.
Dr. Li points out that the way to avoid long COVID is to avoid getting COVID-19, by immunization and appropriate masking and social distancing. There is also evidence that a healthy diet — primarily plant-based, whole food — helps prevent severe acute COVID-19 as well as long-COVID. For more information about improving your immune system, read “Eat to Beat Disease.”
Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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