long COVID and naturopathic medicine

Long COVID is very real and it is fast becoming a part of the future of health care in the United States and the world. A new study from UCLA showed that 30% of people treated for COVID-19 at the university hospital developed Long COVID (Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC)). Though the study found that people with a history of hospitalization, diabetes, and higher body mass index were most likely to develop the condition, surprisingly, ethnicity, older age, and income were not associated with the syndrome. This study supports others that INM has reported on with much higher incidences (50% to 80%) of Long COVID. More importantly, as many hospitals around the country report that they are not equipped to address Long COVID, naturopathic medicine has a successful track record with treating complex conditions that involve multiple conditions and overlapping syndromes. Expect to see more research on Long COVID and naturopathic medicine in the coming year.

The UCLA research showed that of the 309 people with long COVID (from 1,038 people) who participated in the study, the most persistent symptoms were fatigue and shortness of breath (31% and 15%, respectively) in hospitalized persons, and a loss of sense of smell (16%) in outpatients. As INM reported earlier, loss of taste and smell is a common symptom caused by damage to proteins on the surfaces of nerve cells in the nose (olfactory receptors).

Ethnicity, age and income are not linked to Long COVID

“This study illustrates the need to follow diverse patient populations longitudinally to understand the Long COVID disease trajectory and evaluate how individual factors such as pre-existing co-morbidities, sociodemographic factors, vaccination status and virus variant type affect type and persistence of Long COVID symptoms,” said Dr Sun Yoo, health sciences assistant clinical professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and medical director of the Extensivist Program.

The Institute for Natural Medicine has been following the progress on the treatment of Long COVID from our naturopathic doctors. Our experts report that naturopathic medicine is ideally suited to help address the complexity of Long COVID and the various concurrent conditions that follow the viral infection.

Heart disease is one particular outcome that need particular attention. In a recent podcast for Natural Medicine Journal, Daniel Chong, ND, a licensed naturopathic physician who has been practicing in Portland, OR, he suggests that people with a history of COVID-19 infection see their physician about heart damage. In the podcast, he says that the severity of the infection is not related to the level of heart damage and that white males are particularly at risk for heart problems. He says the first step is to “raise awareness” because symptoms may be vague and not in the forefront of patients and doctor’s minds.

He recommends a thorough panel of diagnostic tests to better screen for potential problems for anyone who has had COVID. He also suggests that all COVID survivors work with their naturopathic doctors to establish a heart healthy lifestyle and make crucial changes in diet, stress reduction, sleep and movement (see more below).

Listen to the podcast with Dr. Chong here by clicking on the image.

Long COVID’s lingering symptoms may include:

  1. Fatigue and weakness,
  2. General unwell feeling,
  3. Digestive complaints,
  4. Skin issues and hair loss,
  5. Cognitive impairment (brain fog),
  6. Headaches,
  7. Sore throat,
  8. Damage to organ systems (heart, lung, kidney, skin),
  9. Post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) characterized by ongoing extreme fatigue, physical symptoms due to side effects of treatment, and trauma from hospitalization (similar to post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD).

Licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) report positive results through naturopathic medicine, particularly from patients who have been suffering but had not found relief and had run out of treatment options. It’s important to understand that no two patients are alike in how COVID infection will affect them. This is why whole-person, individualized care from naturopathic medicine is ideal for the complexity of Long COVID.

As Michelle Simon, PhD, ND, CEO and President of INM wrote in a column to other NDs, “Our ability to understand the immune system’s interconnectedness and complex processes, give us a unique perspective that could make a significant difference in a patient’s life and long-term ability to function without the debilitating symptoms of brain fog, pain and fatigue.”

What Can You Expect for Treatment of Long COVID from a naturopathic doctor?

What might treatment for Long COVID look like if you contacted a naturopathic doctor? It’s probably nothing like you’ve ever experienced.

  1. The ND would assess your diet and help you find an anti-inflammatory diet just for you. The doctor would correct nutritional deficiencies, remove food allergens or sensitivities and may suggest dietary supplements or botanicals.
  2. Having a balanced microbiome is another important aspect of achieving wellness from Long COVID. Achieving a diverse and active microbiome includes eating fermented foods and drinks, and perhaps taking supplemental probiotics.  
  3. Ensuring the basics of adequate hydration, adequate and restful sleep and tolerable exercise are a key aspect of physical, emotional and cognitive health. Returning to exercise may be require small steps as some post-COVID patients have respiratory weakness, cardiac symptoms or musculoskeletal limitations. Physical, respiratory or cardiac therapy may be needed.
  4. Restoring mental health is a part of naturopathic measures for the treatment of anxiety and depression.  This may include body-mind methods like mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, positive imagery, and gratitude practices,
  5. Brain fog and cognitive decline are common post-infection symptoms. Naturopathic medicine addresses both of these issues.  
  6. Adding hands-on therapies like acupuncture, physical manipulation, massage, cranio-sacral work may improve circulation.
  7. You may still need medications when all other options have been exhausted. Though not a first-line tool, most NDs are able to prescribe many prescription medications; for others, appropriate referral is made.

Above all, remember that COVID-19 and Long COVID are very new to the medical community. Physicians advise that patients talk to your primary care doctor about post-COVID infections and tell them how you are feeling. No symptom is too minor. COVID will be a part of our lives forever, so this topic needs to be a part of everyday health care so don’t be embarrassed about bringing it up.

For more on Long COVID and naturopathic medicine, see this article and case study: What is Long-Haul COVID? How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help Relieve the Suffering.

This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

Source: Sun M. Yoo, Teresa C. Liu, Yash Motwani, Myung S. Sim, Nisha Viswanathan, Nathan Samras, Felicia Hsu, Neil S. Wenger. Factors Associated with Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) After Diagnosis of Symptomatic COVID-19 in the Inpatient and Outpatient Setting in a Diverse Cohort. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2022; DOI: 10.1007/s11606-022-07523-3