COVID: What About Those Who Don’t Recover?

April 8, 2021

What causes ill health months after infection, and what can be done to prevent it. Action Alert!

One of the mysteries of the COVID-19 pandemic is why some people who become infected with the virus continue to have symptoms months after infection. Much is still unknown, including what causes “long-haul” COVID, particularly in those who had only a mild case of the virus. But the science is starting to give us some answers, including a possible link with previous autoimmunity. Natural medicine offers some hope, but only if we can pass reforms that allow us to learn about its benefits.

Here’s what we know so far.

How prevalent is long-haul COVID?

It’s estimated that 10 percent of people who have had COVID experience prolonged symptoms one, two, or three months after infection; other estimates put the number even higher at 33 percentAnother study found that only 65 percent of people returned to their previous level of health 14-21 days after a positive test. This amounts to millions of Americans with long-haul COVID; according to the CDC, there have been more than 30 million COVID cases in the US.

What characterizes long-haul COVID? 

The most common symptoms appear to be neurological, with 85 percent of long-haul patients reporting brain fog, fatigue, headache, loss of sense of smell or taste, and impaired cognitive function. Some have suggested that long-haul COVID likely is the same or very similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. Tinnitus, or a ringing of the ears, has also been reported: in a survey of 650 long-haulers, a third reported earaches and two thirds reported dizziness and vertigo. Other studies have suggested that men who have recovered from COVID may be at risk for developing low sperm counts.

Who is getting it?

Clinical experience suggests that most long-haulers tend to fall into the high-risk category—older individuals with existing chronic conditions—but long-haul COVID is affecting a growing percentage of people who were otherwise healthy before infection. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “it still seems random.” A quarter of 18–34-year old’s have reported they have not regained their health.

What is causing long-haul COVID?

We still don’t know. A review in Nature Medicine suggests that cell damage, an inflammatory immune response, and abnormal blood clotting may be the cause of the long-term symptoms. The picture seems clearer in patients who experienced severe COVID infection. In those cases, damage to multiple organs such as the heart, lungs, or kidneys could produce the longer-lasting symptoms. But this doesn’t explain why those with mild COVID cases experience persistent symptoms. 

Some speculate that chronic, low-grade neuroinflammation generated by the disease may cause chronic fatigue and some of the other neurological symptoms of long-haul COVID. Another possibility is previous autoimmunity. According to a new study, approximately 70 percent of long-haul patients are women and 16 percent had preexisting autoimmune disorders. This profile resembles the female to male ratio of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, suggesting an autoimmune contribution to long-haul COVID. 

Other evidence has shown that COVID infection itself can trigger autoimmunity that may be behind long-haul COVID. Research has shown that infection with COVID is driving the development of autoantibodies that mistakenly attack the patient’s own tissues instead of the virus. These antibodies can persist months after the infection has resolved. 

Note that autoimmunity after illness isn’t unique to COVID and can occur after other inflammatory infections like malaria and other respiratory viruses. Autoimmunity is relatively common, estimated at 10-15 percent of the population. One study found that 10 percent of severely ill COVID patients had existing autoantibodies that prevented their immune systems from responding to the COVID virus. 

Should long-haulers get the COVID vaccine?

We don’t know. There are anecdotal reports from a few long-haulers who found relief from their symptoms after the first dose of the vaccine. But there are concerns. There is evidence that vaccines can trigger autoimmune reactions. This happens when proteins on the pathogen introduced by the vaccine are similar to human proteins (called “molecular mimicry”), causing the immune system to attack human cells. The National Academy of Medicine reported in 1991 that there was a causal relationship between the rubella vaccine and acute and chronic arthritis (some types of arthritis are considered autoimmune conditions). Both the flu vaccine and vaccines containing tetanus (like DTaP) have been linked with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. One study cited numerous reports of autoimmune disease following various vaccinations, suggesting that certain genetically predisposed individuals might be particularly at risk. There have been 70 reports of GBS in relation to COVID vaccines, along with 22 reports of rheumatoid arthritis and 32 reports of other autoimmune problems. Dozens of patients receiving the COVID vaccine are reported to have developed a rare autoimmune blood disorder. 

What can we do about long-haul COVID?

As our friends at ANH International point out, reducing the risk of long-haul COVID has to do with the body’s ability to deal with the pathogen and to resolve the resulting damage from our body’s fight with the virus (such as inflammation). Our ability to accomplish those tasks depends on a number of factors like genetic predispositions and state of health prior to infection, including levels of nutrients key to the immune system. We’ve reported on vitamin D’s role in the immune system and in COVID generally; we’re also seeing that severe COVID cases are in scurvy territory when it comes to vitamin C levels. Other immune-supportive nutrients include vitamin A, zinc, selenium, and iodine. Supporting brain function may help address COVID long-haul issues. Brain-supporting nutrients include omega-3 fats, choline, acetyl-l-carnitine, vitamin B12, coconut oil, and probiotics. Many long-haulers may be suffering from gut dysbiosis, allowing pro-inflammatory bacteria to thrive. Dietary interventions aimed at restoring gut health (plenty of phytonutrients, probiotic foods, eliminating sugar, etc.) could be of use to long-haulers.

Check out this week’s video for Dr. David Brownstein’s advice for managing long-haul COVID.

Natural medicine thus has an important role to play in supporting our health and reducing the risk of severe COVID infection and long-haul COVID. But, as we’ve been writing for some time, federal policies prevent us from fully harnessing the power of natural health by stifling the free flow of information about its benefits. Until reforms are passed, we will continue to fight the COVID pandemic, as well as the epidemic of chronic disease, with one arm tied behind our back.

Action Alert! Write to Congress in support of our legislation to allow the free flow of information about the benefits of natural medicine. Please send your message immediately.

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10 responses to “COVID: What About Those Who Don’t Recover?”

  1. William Miller says:

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
    This is an excellent article & more USA doctors need to support the use of natural medicine along with conventional medicine practices.

  2. Hector Montes says:

    Natural remedies have worked for millennia. I am asking you to please open your hearts to US and close your pockets to financial interests. If you so care about your countrymen, let them be healthy. It is cheaper to stay healthy.

  3. Loren Wieland says:

    We need everything we can to help fight this plague

  4. Greg Sias says:

    thank you for the article. im a long hauler. and ive noticed ive infected my dog also. I havent a confirmation from medical sources. but ive been fighting covid since around febuary 2020. ive had symptoms of memory loss and memory fog and diarrhea and my voice has changed to very deep base. it started mild and seemed to go away. the next immersion it was a little rougher with diarrhea added. but the third time.. holy cow… breathing aid was necessary with muccinex and my cpap machine. i currently sometimes get this vertigo your talking about. its just for a moment at the worst times while working up high . I miss my memory. i used to know more words.. now i cant recall them to use in sentences. i used to read dictionaries like books. now all but the most common words are all gone. my spelling used to be immaculate. i can see by all the red underlines that isnt true anymore. and i get ridiculed a lot by young people for my misspellings in tik tok. I noticed that most the people who died from this covid were in the hospital. so i did not want to go there. i just self quarintined and self medicated. i drank a lot of real fruit juice. and coffee.
    my toes at one point used to hurt a lot also. just the big toe. a shooting pain. im under the care of the VA health system. best health care ive ever had. I recommend VA health care to everyone who can get it. but i didnt go to see them at the times i was most unwell in the covid. seems that the health professionals are struggling to care for all the others and they dont know how to fix it. so i said to self.. i can die at home just as easy as dieing in a hospital. so i stayed home in my own bed and cared for my best friend charlie as good as i could. when i die. i want to die with my loved one beside me. i have started coughing up more phlegm yesterday and today. so i suppose the covid is re emerging in me again. more than a year later. im worried about the vaccines. some get worse with them and some get better. its rolling the dice and i dont know if i can afford that roll. I can get Johnson and Johnson vaccine for free through my VA. but, who will take care of charlie if I die?

  5. Patricia Ormsby says:

    With the exception of loss of taste or smell, all of the symptoms of long COVID are identical to microwave sickness. In 1998, I had a prolonged flu, in which I would start to get well and then relapse, with brain fog notable, especially when I went out for a walk. After some searching, I found magnesium recommended for “post-viral syndrome,” and recovered. This was right after cell towers appeared in our neighborhood. A year or two later, I come down with another prolonged flu, and this time magnesium was insufficient. I had to take steps to reduce my exposure to microwave radiation from the towers and other people’s cellphones.
    In 1996, a friend living in central Tokyo had a 5-month flu with peculiar symptoms. She went to a doctor who told her many other people were experiencing the same thing. He said it appeared to be some new form of pollution. She asked me, the greenie, to find out what the cause was. After a half year of looking through journals, I finally found an article called “Microwaving the Planet,” which described her symptoms. I am continually amazed at how thoroughly this information has been suppressed. When I approached the press with this, my writing became suddenly unappealing at venues that used to welcome me. Alan Frey in the 1960s also expressed amazement at how this information was being kept from the public. Now note that if you bring up “5G” and “COVID” in the same sentence, you are a conspiracy theorist.

  6. Walter L Barker says:

    Looking back from age 82, I remember in my informative years and into my thirties I was never well in health as I know it today. I was told on a visit to a heart doctor that some of the ageing symptoms of maturity was why I was at this visit.

    The doctor didn’t find any alarming conditions to justify a treatment or medication but voiced that at the age I was (42)
    I may resign myself to the fact that as I age it will more evident that more health issues will become evident and that I would or should learn to live with OLD AGE.

    I’m enjoying the journey of Health and Wellness as I started Natural Health practices when I left that doctors visit and have neve had any illness or cause to see another doctor because of health issues.

    The only needed vaccination in fifty-six years was when I needed a tetanus for a nail gun accident.

    I have zero meds and do everything (except bull riding) I did at the age when I quit seeing Doctors.

    Life is an adventure

    Walter L Barker

  7. DK Weamer says:

    I am a retired Clinical nutritionist, believe that I have had a mild case of Covid and experienced some continued issues after my recovery. First I knew to take Vit C, D and zinc so as I said had a mild case. Loss of taste and smell is a classic zinc def. and anyone who has these symptoms is zinc def and needs to supplement or eat foods that contain zinc. I recommend Pumpkin seeds. Ever person with this issue I know who has increased zinc in their diet has recovered. I experienced more confusion and forgetfulness, low energy and an increase in Blood pressure. Lion’s mane eliminated the confusion. Cordyceps Mushroom and progressively increasing physical exercise eliminated the exhaustion. There are many supplements which help to reduce BP. I took an essential fatty acid supplement and my BP returned to normal within a week or so. I already ate a primarily anti-inflammatory diet prior to inflection but for those who’s symptoms are associated w increased inflammation, going on an anti-inflammatory diet as well as Curcumin and Proteolytic Enzyme Therapy should be beneficial. Feel free to pass the word.

    • Audrey says:

      I agree with the zinc connection. I’ve seen it help with loss of smell and tinnitus following covid infection. Both of those symptoms are associated with low zinc. I think this virus depletes peoples zinc levels.

  8. Michael says:

    In Arthur Furstenbergs well researched and documented book, “Invisible Rainbow” he discusses the history of electricity and life on planet earth..
    He cites many well documented pandemics that are at least temporally related to increases of the electrical fields of the earth due to roll outs of new technologies. As we rapidly build out the 5G systems, I cannot help but wonder if there might be a relation to Sars-CoV-2.
    There are many people with severe electrical sensitivities and some of their symptoms are constant with prolonged symptoms of Covid-19

  9. Les Peterson says:

    The study on low sperm count post Covid does not really tell us anything. Did the men have fevers? As can be the case with other viral infections that produce fever, sperm counts can drop post infection. Is the sample size too small to make any kind of assessment?

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