One of the most perplexing issues surrounding COVID-19 is the tendency for some individuals to develop what has become known as “long COVID.” As more is learned about the COVID-19 virus, scientists are discovering that a healthy gut microbiome could be instrumental in lowering the risk of developing long COVID. Could understanding the relationship between gut bacteria and long COVID help you to avoid developing this condition? Here is what you need to know about long COVID and how you can minimize your risk of developing COVID-19 complications that last far beyond the virus.
What is Long COVID?
Once you get past the initial stages of COVID-19, you are not necessarily out of the woods. As many as three-quarters of all infected individuals report noticing at least one lingering symptom up to six months after initially contracting the virus. These lingering symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath and insomnia. Some people have even developed long COVID after only experiencing mild symptoms when infected.
While scientists are not sure why some people develop long COVID and others escape any lasting effects, new research is beginning to shed light on some potential contributory factors. Could the key be in the health of your gut and how it affects the overall function of the immune system?
Link Between Gut Health and the Immune System
It has long been known that a healthy gut will also positively influence the function of the body’s immune system. The body may experience a state of dysbiosis if there is an imbalance or disruption of the various microbes and bacteria that reside in the gut.
Many of the bacteria that line the walls of the gut are there to help support digestion, protect the body from infections and harmful pathogens and to boost the function of the immune system. Because so much of the immune system is housed in the gut, this means that your immune system may not fire on all cylinders if there is not the right balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut.
If you experience this type of gut bacteria imbalance, you may be more likely to suffer from conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, skin problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and various cardiovascular problems.
Relationship Between Gut Bacteria and Long COVID
As scientists continue to try to pinpoint the root cause of why some people are left with long COVID after the initial infection, they are discovering that an imbalance of gut bacteria may be partially to blame. Scientists from the Center for Gut Microbiota Research in China found that those individuals dealing with COVID-19 also exhibited changes in the gut microbiota when compared to people not infected with the virus.
In addition, researchers were able to determine that fecal samples from infected individuals displayed more potentially harmful pathogens and organisms while simultaneously containing fewer friendly types of bacteria. The disruption of the normal balance seemed to be more severe in those who were suffering with more extreme forms of COVID-19, leading more credence to the thought that the virus negatively affects the gut microbiome.
The same Center for Gut Microbiota Research also recently discovered that this gut dysbiosis can occur up to six months after the initial COVID-19 diagnosis. This disruption can lead to serious issues with the function of the immune system, making it more likely that your body is unable to fight off illness.
Those suffering from long COVID also often have increased levels of autoantibodies. This happens because the virus triggers an antibody response in the body’s natural tissues. All of this adds up to an immune system that is not able to self-regulate and function normally.
How to Support a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Taking all of this information into consideration, it is clear that taking steps to support a healthy gut microbiome may be helpful in avoiding long COVID. Here are a few ways that you can maintain a properly functioning microbiome.
Nourish Your Body
What you eat can have a profound effect on your gut health. Focus on eating whole foods while avoiding overly processed items. You should also be conscious about eating fermented foods, including yogurt, kimchi and kefir.
You will enjoy a healthier gut microbiome if you are intentional about getting enough sleep. Irregular sleep patterns can negatively affect the gut flora, leading to an increased risk of developing inflammatory conditions. You should aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal gut health.
A consistent exercise routine is also helpful in regulating the balance of “friendly” bacteria in the gut. Strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. This should include strength building activities at least twice per week.
Finally, one great way to protect your gut health is to take a daily prebiotic/probiotic supplement. A quality supplement such as Florachron® is formulated to deliver a powerful one-two punch with a probiotic (morning) and prebiotic (evening) specialty regimen. Together, these two daily doses work to maintain optimal levels and balances of intestinal flora.
You can put yourself in a better position to avoid the complications of long COVID if you are purposeful about maintaining solid gut health.