News from ION

 This episode has been extracted from the Spring 2021 issue of Optimum Nutrition magazine.

With symptoms dubbed ‘long Covid’, many people have found themselves experiencing post-viral fatigue (PVF) following Covid-19 infection, including those who seemingly had a mild bout of the virus.

A study from Trinity College, Ireland, found that out of 128 participants who’d had Covid-19, more than half continued to feel fatigued at least six weeks after infection.   

Registered nutritional therapist Karen Preece Smith says with PVF, symptoms can be a bit different for everyone. “They can include persistent fatigue, muscle pain and tenderness, depressive symptoms and non-restorative sleep,” she says. 

“Persistent breathlessness, issues with memory recall and a lingering loss of taste and smell can occur. Some clients have also reported altered bowel habits, stomach pains and cramps, and recurring brain fog.”

What causes long Covid?

Whilst the exact cause of PVF is unknown, it is thought it might be to do with the body’s immune response to the initial infection. Normally, when your body is fighting a virus the immune system releases chemicals called cytokines which promote inflammation and cause symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains. This attack usually stops once the virus has been dealt with. However, a study from King’s College London suggested that in some cases, cytokine levels remain elevated and this results in persistent symptoms.

When it comes to more severe cases, researchers from Northwestern University, USA, have also suggested that Covid-19 pneumonia acts differently compared to pneumonia from other causes. It was suggested that instead of rapidly infecting large regions of the lungs, the virus causing Covid-19 “sets up shop” in multiple small areas of the lungs. It then hijacks the lungs’ own immune cells and uses them to spread across the lungs over a period of many days or weeks.

Other existing biomarkers suspected to increase long Covid susceptibility include low levels of vitamin D, under active or autoimmune thyroid issues, low B vitamin status, poor diversity in the gut microbiome, imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6, high cortisol, oxidative stress, and low glutathione levels.

A nutritional therapy approach

When it comes to supporting clients with PVF, Preece Smith says there are lots of tailored nutritional interventions she might use, but it is important to start with a nutrient dense diet “built around anti-inflammatory and antioxidant principles”. 

“Following an antioxidant rich diet such as the Mediterranean diet, rich in oily fish, olive oil and a variety of vegetables and pulses, can be a great initial step to reducing neurological and systemic inflammation post-infection,” she says.

When we’re feeling low, it can be tempting to reach for starchy comfort foods, typically high in fat, sugar and salt. But for those suffering from PVF, this is when it’s critical to be loading up on essential nutrients to help to reduce inflammation.

“Processed convenience foods can be pro-inflammatory,” says Preece Smith. “It is best to keep to simple, unprocessed meals which will not exacerbate any post-viral inflammation.”

Eating a diverse and colourful range of vegetables is optimal for recovery, she says. “Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and rocket can help to produce the ‘master antioxidant’ glutathione, so are a useful type of vegetable to include a serving of, daily.”

Blood sugar imbalance can also be a contributing factor to fluctuating energy levels in PVF, says Preece Smith. She recommends having a good source of protein at every meal, such as lean meat, oily fish, nuts and seeds, pulses or grains. To avoid spikes in blood sugar, prioritise lower sugar fruits such as berries over higher sugar alternatives such as banana and mango.

Topping up with nutrients that promote energy production is also important. B vitamin and magnesium rich foods such as dark leafy greens, wholegrains, eggs, lean red meats, nuts and seeds are good for this.

Read the full article in the latest issue of Optimum Nutrition magazine