There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented major challenges not just for governments and physicians but for people from all walks of life.
Here we look at how a functional medicine approach can help people combat the most common COVID-19 symptoms and improve recovery time.
COVID-19 descended on us almost out of the blue in 2020 and soon spread across the entire globe becoming a pandemic that shut down countries and put a huge amount of stress on healthcare systems.
The fact that people could be asymptomatic while having the virus meant that it was, from the very start, highly transmissible.
While most people may have experienced mild to slightly severe symptoms from the virus, older individuals and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity were at much higher risk of severe illness and even death.
Symptoms of COVID-19
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a high temperature, a dry, persistent cough and loss of smell or taste. Severe symptoms included difficulty breathing which for some has meant receiving critical care in hospital.
Conventional Medical Approaches to COVID-19 Treatment
The conventional medical approach to COVID-19 has been to prevent infection and treat the symptoms. The first part of this has been achieved largely by mass vaccination. However, this has been patchy and there is significant anti-vaccine sentiment in many countries, including the USA, which has prevented uptake.
Drugs have been developed that show promise in treating the most seriously ill patients. One issue that we have yet to fully understand is the impact of Long-Covid where certain symptoms persist long after the virus has finished its work.
The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19
The functional medicine approach to COVID-19 looks at the underlying causes of infections to provide a tailored solution for individual patients. This approach to healthcare and wellbeing is integral to the treatment philosophy of Miskawaan Health Group.
Many of the people most affected with COVID-19 were already in poor health and had underlying conditions. Improving a range of lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can assist in reducing the impact of infection. These include:
1. Food and Nutrition
One of the problems with the virus is that our immune response goes into overdrive. While it can seem counter-intuitive, dampening down that immune response a little can prevent more severe symptoms from developing.
This can be achieved by better nutrition and switching to a largely plant-based diet that is rich in vitamins, phytonutrients and other antioxidants while reducing processed foods and those high in sugar and salt.
Eating more fruits and vegetables and foods high in dietary fiber as well as probiotics such as fermented foods can:
- Prevent the prolonged release of inflammatory mediators that lead to more physical damage.
- Reduce oxidative stress which often promotes the production of damaging free radicals.
- Improving the gut biome so that the body gets all the beneficial nutrients it needs. Eating a diverse range of plants is important for this.
- Plant polyphenols may also improve the body’s immune response, giving patients a protective boost.
2. Reducing Stress
Exposure to chronic and acute stress can affect the immune system, which is why we often catch colds more often when we’re feeling stressed out. There is evidence that too much stress can also impact health care such as wound healing negatively.
The functional medicine approach advises using stress reduction management to help improve recovery times and keep the immune system working as optimally as possible.
Sleep helps to restore us and gives the body a chance to repair itself. Good quality sleep has an impact on reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system in particular. There is significant evidence that high-quality sleep can improve a wide range of health conditions.
Even moderate exercise can help boost the immune system as long as it is undertaken regularly. With many people who are at most risk from Covid 19 suffering from one or more underlying conditions, it’s important to tailor any exercise program to their ability.
Indeed, according to some research, sudden exercise after living a sedentary lifestyle can reduce the function of the immune system. Gradually increasing exercise, therefore, is desirable and can ensure better improvement over time.
5. Social Interactions
The final part of the jigsaw is how people interact with others and this too can have an impact on the immune system. In short, beneficial relationships are good for immune health. Poor relationships can, on the other hand, have a negative impact.
Those who have previously been isolated, including older patients with few connections, bringing them into the community and helping them build new relationships can have physiological as well as psychological benefits.
These are all methods of boosting the immune response of which the move to a plant-based diet and exercise are often the most effective. They give the patient a better chance of reducing inflammation and boosting their immune response which can support the use of vaccines and new medications developed to combat the virus.