Fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties.
These are just some of the common “long Covid” symptoms that can affect people long-term after the infection has cleared, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
However, according to Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Covid Activity Rehabilitation Program, the symptoms are only “half the picture”.
“The other half is how these symptoms affect a person’s ability to live their life. Unfortunately, long-term COVID symptoms can be quite limiting.”
He added that more than a third of Mayo Clinic patients with long Covid report having trouble with some of life’s most basic activities, like getting dressed, showering and eating.
“It’s just a bad movie that we still don’t have the ending for,” said Dr. Joan Salge Blake, clinical professor of nutrition at Boston University.
Long Covid is essentially post-infection conditions that can persist for weeks, months or years – long after someone has tested negative for Covid-19. We can also speak of post-Covid conditions or chronic Covid.
Experts who spoke to CNBC Make It said there’s still a lot to learn about the long Covid, but nutrition plays a vital role in feeling better.
“Heart disease, certain cancers, stroke and type 2 diabetes…you can fight all of these diseases with a knife and fork,” Blake said.
“It’s empowering because you have control over what’s on your plate and what you eat.”
CNBC Make It finds out what you should and shouldn’t eat if you think you have Covid for a long time.
1. Mediterranean Diet
Vanichkachorn and Blake both stressed the importance of a balanced diet, which they say will benefit overall health – in particular, a Mediterranean diet, 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, Blake said.
However, that doesn’t mean giving up meat or protein, Vanichkachorn said, adding that fish and chicken are good options.
Blake added: “Low in protein [intake] can contribute to fatigue, and that’s the one thing you don’t want because Covid is going to tire you out… it’s definitely not going to help you if you don’t get enough protein in your diet.”
Fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, are a good source of omega-3 acids, which can improve cardiovascular health.
But ultimately, the focus should be on building a well-balanced “super diet,” instead of focusing on “superfoods,” Blake said. Superfoods are those that are rich in antioxidants, fiber and fatty acids, which are beneficial to health.
“It’s a super diet that will help you fight chronic disease. When all the vitamins and minerals work together, it will be your best defense.”
2. Watch out for vitamin deficiencies
Research hasn’t confirmed whether specific vitamins are helpful in battling long Covid, but treating vitamin deficiencies is still important, Vanichkachorn said.
“For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty thinking,” he said.
Minerals like iron are also important. A recent study indicated that patients with long-term Covid may have issues with how their bodies use and store iron.
“Iron deficiency can cause many symptoms, including anemia and fatigue. Deficiency can occur for many reasons, such as insufficient intake, but can also be associated with chronic diseases,” Vanichkachorn said.
However, he cautioned against using vitamin or mineral supplements without consulting a doctor first.
“If you’re worried about vitamin or mineral deficiencies, the first step is to talk to your doctor,” he said.
3. Stay hydrated
Vanichkachorn stressed that all long-distance Covid patients should stay hydrated.
“When individuals have acute Covid, they often rest and sleep for long periods. With this, their nutrition is disrupted, especially hydration,” he added.
“If left unchecked, dehydration can make anyone miserable, not just patients who suffer from long-term COVID.”
Recognizing that patients often need reminders to stay hydrated, Vanichkachorn encouraged those with long Covid to take a bottle with them.
He added, “If plain water is too boring, you can also add a piece of fruit like lemon or lime to improve the taste. These simple changes can make hydration so much easier.”
4. What to avoid
Because acute Covid can cause “very significant inflammation” in the body, Vanichkachorn said, it will be good to stay away from anything that will make it worse.
“We saw certain markers of inflammation … be elevated in this patient population [suffering from long Covid]. The inflammation is likely secondary to immune system abnormalities, possibly even autoimmune-like probabilities,” he added.