Long Covid And Gut Health

on February 02, 2022

Do you know anyone with brain fog? If so, you may hear they will try anything to get rid of it. Brain fog is not a “disease”, it is a symptom people have where they may experience confusion or memory loss or they just can’t focus when asked a question. Covid has brought brain fog into our lives and it is part of what is called long covid.

Long Covid: What Is it?

If you are thinking "long covid" is a new covid strain that has just been discovered and will add to the never-ending variations, you can relax - sort of. Long covid is the wide array of symptoms many experience after covid that seem to last for weeks or months, like brain fog. Other long term effects of covid are fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disorders, fevers, depression and anxiety. 

No one can pinpoint what causes long covid in some people while others recover with speed and no side effects. Is it an autoimmune response? Is long covid in all of us but is triggered is some more than others? Can the vaccine help prevent long covid? Or what treatments may provide help for those who suffer?

Gut Bacteria And Long Covid

New findings released in January of this year show, disruption of the bacteria in the gut is linked with susceptibility to long covid-19. This is the first published research to show a link specifically to covid's long-term effects. (1)

At three hospitals, 106 patients with covid-19 (from February to August 2020), were compared with people who did not have covid and were recruited into the study in 2019. Most had mild to moderate covid. Dr. Siew Ng, MBBS, PhD, an associate director at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for Gut Microbiota Research led the study.

Eighty-six of the covid patients had post-acute covid-19 symptoms (PACS) 3 months after the virus was gone. At 6 months, eighty-one patients had PACS naming fatigue, anxiety, hair loss and trouble sleeping as their main symptoms. The researchers used stool samples and found that those with long covid symptoms at 6 months had a much lower diversity and types of bacteria compared to those without PACS. In other words, their gut health was not as diverse as those that experienced no long covid symptoms.

Dr. Ng says, "Gut microbiota influences the health of the host. It provides crucial benefits in the form of immune system development, prevention of infections, nutrient acquisition, and brain and nervous system functionality. Considering the millions of people infected during the ongoing pandemic, our findings are a strong impetus for consideration of microbiota modulation to facilitate timely recovery and reduce the burden of post–acute COVID-19 syndrome.” 

Is There Treatment For Long Covid Symptoms?

Dr. Ng, when noting microbiota modulation, basically asking; if we change your gut health, can we reduce the time you experience covid symptoms?

A professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, Dr. Eugene Chang, has studied the gut microbiome and gastrointestinal disease, said it's "too preliminary" to say if these new findings will have a clinical influence as the microbes that are present need to be identified for what they are doing. 

Dr. Chang says that by seeing a shifting of microbe patterns associated with certain symptoms is "notable because it suggests that the disturbances of the gut microbiota in PACS are significant.” They still need to decipher if these gut changes are a cause of PACS in some way or just an effect of it. He also states that "If causative or contributory — this has to be proven — then 'microbiota modulation' would make sense and could be a priority for development," He said,”If merely an effect, these metrics and better ones to come could be useful as predictors or measures of the patient's general state of health."

In simple terms, they are looking at the changes of the gut and will keep studying this finding to see if there is a treatment for long covid through microbiota modulation (treating the microbes in the gut).

Should You Take A Daily Probiotic?

Some say the microbiome and the variety and volume of bacteria in the gut may influence the severity of covid as well as the extent of the immune system response to the infection. (2) 

Microbiologist Heenam Stanley Kim, Ph.D, from Korea University’s Laboratory for Human-Microbial Interactions, in Seoul. says, “There seems to be a clear connection between the altered gut microbiome and severe COVID-19.” (3)

We can all agree that the problem with gut health goes beyond covid. There are many chronic diseases already associated with poor gut health and in recent years there have been good discussions on how to improve gut health to have a better quality of life in general. Remember, probiotics provide good bacteria to keep you healthy.

The research will continue on long covid and whether or not probiotics may be one treatment to reduce symptoms. This recent study shows a connection between gut health and long covid that may open doors for identifying those who are most at risk and maybe we can find a way to get rid of brain fog. 

 

(1) MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network. "Gut Bacteria Linked With Long COVID" Thomas R. Collins, January 25, 2022

(2) Gut microbiota composition reflects disease severity and dysfunctional immune responses in patients with COVID-19  doi.org/10.1136/ gutjnl-2020-323020

(3) Do an Altered Gut Microbiota and an Associated Leaky Gut Affect COVID-19 Severity? https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.03022-20 

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