Experts say diet and nutrition could help long covid symptoms
Fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties. Those are just some of the common symptoms of “long Covid” that can affect people in the long term after recovery from infection, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
There’s still much left to learn about long Covid. While eating the right foods is not a cure for long Covid, diet and nutrition could play a key role in helping those suffering from it to cope, experts say.
Long Covid is essentially post-infection conditions that could linger for weeks, months or years — long after a person tests negative for Covid-19. It can also be referred to as post-Covid conditions or chronic Covid.
Experts teold the CNBC news network there’s still a lot to learn about long Covid, but nutrition plays a vital role.
“Heart disease, certain cancers, stroke and type two diabetes … you can fight all of those diseases with a knife and a fork,” Dr. Joan Salge Blake, Boston University’s clinical professor of nutrition, told CNBC.
“That is empowering because you have control of what’s on your plate and what you eat.”
1. Mediterranean diet
Experts emphasize the importance of a balanced diet, which they say will be beneficial for general health — specifically, a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts and whole grains.
Fruits and vegetables, in particular, are “powerhouses” when it comes to essential vitamins and minerals, said Blake.
However, that doesn’t mean forgoing animal protein, especially fish, said Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Covid Activity Rehabilitation Program.
Blake added, “Poor protein [intake] can contribute to fatigue, and that’s the one thing you don’t want because Covid is going to give you fatigue … it sure isn’t going to help if you don’t have enough protein in your diet.”
Fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, is a good source of omega-3 acids, which can improve cardiovascular health.
But ultimately, the focus should be building a well-rounded “super diet,” instead of focusing on “superfoods,” Blake said. Superfoods are those rich in antioxidants, fiber and fatty acids, which are beneficial for health.
“It’s a super diet that will help you fight chronic diseases. When all the vitamins and minerals are working together, that is going to be your best defense.”
2. Beware of vitamin deficiencies
Research hasn’t confirmed if specific vitamins are helpful in fighting long Covid, but it is nevertheless important to treat vitamin deficiencies, said Vanichkachorn.
“For example, a deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty thinking,” he said.
Minerals like iron are important too. A recent study indicated that patients with long Covid may have trouble with how their bodies use and store iron.
3. Stay hydrated
Vanichkachorn stressed that all patients with long haul Covid should stay hydrated.
“When individuals have acute Covid, they are often resting and sleeping for prolonged periods of time. With this, their nutrition gets thrown off, particularly hydration,” he added.
“Unchecked, dehydration can make anyone feel miserable, not just patients who are experiencing long-haul COVID.”
4. Stay away from foods that cause inflammation
Because acute Covid can cause “very significant inflammation” in the body, said Vanichkachorn, it’ll be good to stay away from anything that will worsen it.
“We have seen some markers of inflammation ... be elevated in this patient population [suffering from long Covid]. The inflammation likely is secondary to immune system abnormalities, perhaps even autoimmune type probabilities,” he added.
Red meat and processed foods such as sugary drinks and dessert can worsen inflammation.
“I remind patients that we are all human and it is okay to occasionally have a treat. But I would keep such foods exactly that — a treat and not a staple,” said Vanichkachorn.