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Supporting your body during and after COVID-19

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

May 7, 2020

Speaking from a patient's perspective who had the misfortune of battling the COVID-19 illness. As a certified health coach, I feel responsible to share my summary on Coronavirus Disease 2019.

COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. According to*, 50% of people with COVID-19 aren't aware they have the virus. This allows the novel coronavirus to spread more rapidly throughout a community.

The disease is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms that may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus include:

- cough

- shortness of breath

or at least two of the following

- fever

- chills

- muscle pain

- headache

- sore throat

- new loss of taste or smell

The spectrum of illness severity is as following** :

- Mild (no or mild pneumonia) , approx 80% of all cases

- Severe disease (eg, with dyspnea, hypoxia, or >50 percent lung involvement on imaging within 24 to 48 hours)

- Critical disease (eg, with respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction)

What can you do during symptoms of COVID-19 and what does “recovery” look like:

People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Please read CDC guidance on self-isolation, home care and emergency warning signs:

If symptomatic, do not leave your home (except to get medical care) or visit public areas.

How are Quarantine and Isolation different?

Mild or severe, however, any case of COVID-19 needs to be taken seriously to prevent its further spread, both within a household and to others in the community.

My number one takeaway message after going through this illness, something that's not addressed strongly enough through the media, is that when treating someone with COVID-19 at home is critical to separate the patient from others. Being exposed to a higher "viral load" as a household member, you might develop a more severe illness, you will become sicker than the general population.

The sick person should at least be in a separate bedroom and, ideally, use only dedicated bathroom facilities. If a separate bathroom is not available, it should be thoroughly cleaned each time the person who is sick uses it.

The CDC says separation is especially crucial for older adults and those who have compromised immune systems, diabetes, or chronic heart, lung, or kidney conditions.

If symptomatic, contact your PCP and discuss therapeutic options. At this time, I encourage you to allow yourself to rest and recover by putting nutritional and lifestyle best practices into place, including:

  • Drink at least 2 L water daily;

  • Sleep a minimum of 8 hours per night;

  • Focus on whole foods whenever possible;

  • Increase your consumption of immune boosting foods: dark, leafy greens, Omega-3 Fatty Acids (salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds), and Vit E (almonds, beets, asparagus and avocado). Whole foods do provide the fundamental building blocks for healing and immunity;

  • Avoid alcohol, highly processed foods and sugar. It is well known that they can suppress you immune function;

  • Boost immune function with a regime of the following supplements: VitD3, VitC and Zinc. Speak with your PCP or functional medicine specialist about dosages and additional optional supplements such as Quercetin, Melatonin and Omega-3;

  • If having any shortness of breath, I encourage you to perform deep breathing exercises, which will not only help you relax but will also improve blood and oxygen supply to your lungs and help lower the risk for pneumonia. See instructions below.

If you are having increased trouble breathing, any persistent pain or pressure in the chest, any confusion or you are getting to the point that you can’t drink any fluids and you just feel really, really sick, you need to call 911.

If you go to the hospital with mild symptoms, chances are they will send you home for recovery. Then you might just be exposing more people to the virus. For mild and some severe coronavirus symptoms (as I had) , doctors recommend to self-quarantine.

What does “recovery” from COVID-19 look like?

Whether you’ve had a mild case of COVID-19 or a more severe illness, there are things you can do to support your body after if it’s been through a difficult infection. The lingering effects of the illness - if any - are largely unknown at this time.

As per CHRISTOPHER COLLER, DO - Doctor at Parsley Health, NYC, “Cytokines, small proteins secreted by cells in the immune system, and other inflammatory molecules become elevated to fight the infection. This increased inflammation can lead to post-viral fatigue, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, and sleep changes. In the case of a respiratory illness like COVID-19, there is likely ongoing lung inflammation, and potential damage, that needs to be addressed as well”.

Here are few recommendations to implement during and post-infection:

1. Eat an anti-inflammatory, low carbohydrate diet.

Even after your immune system has cleared the virus it may take some time for heightened inflammation to normalize. An anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes specific vitamins, minerals, and nutrients found in whole foods that play a direct role in combating the internal inflammatory response. Similarly, limiting the intake of highly processed foods with pro-inflammatory properties will minimize any unnecessary additional inflammation.

These anti-inflammatory nutrients can be found in fruits, vegetables, well-sourced animal and plant based proteins, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Specifically, omega - 3 fatty acids found in wild caught salmon, sardines, anchovies, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are highly anti-inflammatory, helping to switch off inflammatory pathways in the body. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene found in broccoli, bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwis, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, and carrots protect your cells from the effects of free radicals therefore, counteracting oxidative stress and reducing inflammation.

Carbohydrates use more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide when digested, whereas fats produce less. Therefore, what you eat can directly impact the workload of your lungs. While research regarding COVID-19 and nutrition is yet to be investigated, in other lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), eating a diet with fewer carbohydrates and more healthy fats positively affects breathing. So you need to consume fewer carbohydrates from starches like pasta, breads, and grains.

2. Re-regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

Getting in 8 or more hours of quality sleep - and at normal hour - is more important now than ever. When you sleep, your brain releases hormones that encourage tissue repair. During certain hours, like between 2AM and 4AM, your body’s rate of cellular turnover while sleeping triples, literally accelerating the body’s much needed recovery.

It’s likely that the irregular sleep patterns you had while acutely ill have thrown your body off its natural circadian rhythm. To help get back into an optimal routine, work on getting to bed between 8PM and 12AM nightly, ideally around 10PM, and sleeping for at least 7 hours as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Research shows that exposure to bright light in the morning by getting outdoors to take a walk or sitting near a sunny window can help to re-calibrate the body’s internal clock. It's also important to avoid bright light later in the day or at night, so try to refrain from using your phone, TV, or computer 60 minutes before bedtime. Implement a healthier routine by dimming the lights, reading a book, gentle stretching or taking a hot shower to calm your mind and your body. Engaging in these calming activities before bed will stimulate the secretion of melatonin and prepare you for the restorative rest you need while continuing to fully recover.

3. Get back to movement.

Your body begins to weaken and atrophy after a few weeks of little or no exercise. Exercising after you beat an illness helps your body regain strength by encouraging your joints, muscles, and organs to become accustomed to a higher level of activity. Exercise can also help to increase levels of endorphins, the mood-enhancing compounds, and allow for greater amounts of oxygen to circulate throughout your bloodstream—a benefit of the utmost importance when recovering from a respiratory illness that likely impaired your blood oxygen levels.

During convalescence, it’s ideal to pick movement that supports lymphatic flow, the fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. Supporting the lymphatic system in recovery accelerates the process of ridding the body of any built up toxins that accumulated while sick and sedentary. Rebounding on a trampoline, practicing yoga, or even jumping rope or doing jumping jacks if able to, can help to kick the lymphatic system into high gear.

Start with about 20 minutes per day of gentle movement including some of the above exercises in addition to regular walking, stretching, jogging, or biking as tolerated.

4. Develop a deep breathing practice.

In severe cases of COVID-19, it’s possible that lung damage can occur as a result of pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), or sepsis. In those instances, patients may need continued treatment and therapy as directed by a physician. For ways to support lung recovery at home, studies show deep breathing can help by opening up the air passages, boosting circulation and oxygen supply, and preventing the risk of recurrent lung complications such as pneumonia. Deep breathing also greatly improves lymphatic flow and drainage.

To start your deep breathing practice, get in a comfortable position, place your hands on your stomach, and inhale through your nose until you feel your lungs completely fill with air—feeling the expansion of your chest and belly against your hand. Slowly blow air out in one long exhale through pursed lips and feel your stomach fully sink inward. Repeat this breathing series for five full cycles. When complete, end with a short huffing series. Huffing is a short sharp pant, like exhaling onto a mirror or window to create mist. Inhale for 3 second then huff out three times. Repeat this maneuver two more times and then follow with one strong cough to clear mucus, if any, from the larger airways.

Ideally, try to complete this routine two to three times daily for a minimum of 3-4 weeks while recovering.

You can also consider investing in an incentive spirometer. Take 5 deep breaths every 2 hrs using the spirometer.

As an added bonus, deep breathing also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes a state of calmness, reducing anxiety and effectively lowering stress-related markers of inflammation that may be elevated post-infection.

5. Support your immune health.

Specific supplements, in addition to your nutritious anti-inflammatory diet, may help to support your immune health after your immune system has put up a trying fight combating the novel coronavirus,

Your primary care physician or functional medicine doctor can assess and determine the ideal supplement regimen based on your medical history and treatment plan. Common immune supportive supplements post-infection may include a high quality multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acids, broad-spectrum probiotics, vitamin C, and zinc. Other supplements such as quercetin, melatonin, and fibrinolytic enzymes may also be recommended for those that suffered more severe illness.

Please see a specialist for specific recommendations.

Do we know how long it takes to recover from coronavirus?

The exact time frame in which it takes to recover from the illness, including how long someone remains contagious, presently is not fully known. It will take more time and data to answer these questions.

For now, I encourage you to follow CDC guidelines and to continue to work closely with your doctors to determine what is the best recovery protocol.

Overall, the goal in recovery is to support your body with the nourishment it needs, both mentally and physically, to thrive post-infection. Focusing on getting your body back into balance with proper nutrition, adequate sleep, increased physical activity, deep breathing, and limited stress are the foundational elements to optimal health, including after a COVID-19 infection and beyond.

Stay healthy! Stay safe!

Protect yourself! Protect the ones around you!

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