Quite rightly, there has been a lot of health advice on preventing Covid-19 as well as how to cope during an infection. However there has been very little written on what to do once you are past the infection and how to recuperate.
We have now seen our first raft of post-viral Covid 19 clients this week in our NatureDoc virtual clinics, and even though these people were just well enough to avoid hospital admission, they have all had a terrible time and have been extremely unwell and it is taking longer than they thought to recover.
Some people have described their experience “as never having been quite so ill” and some were bedridden for two to three weeks unable to care for their family – even simple things like getting to the bathroom were a struggle. They have come out exhausted, depleted and still feeling the effects of this very harsh virus a week or two after they were through the worst of it. Some have also said they felt better for a few days, and then the Covid-19 symptoms came back to bite them, as if they were having a relapse. Others had mild symptoms, but have not felt quite right since.
This is where good old-fashioned recuperation time could not be more important. Being kind to yourself, taking it easy and not rushing back into your old habits can make all the difference to both your short and long-term health. It’s time for taking stock, thanking the universe for being alive and building back your strength and resilience. If there is any benefit from lockdown, it’s that you have the chance to reset and renew whilst normal life is on hold.
Why Might You Get It Worse Than Others?
There are many factors that can dictate how badly you experience Covid-19 and we are all aware that age and pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung issues can make things much more serious. The experts are also looking at genetics as well as immune status to ascertain why some people are hit harder than others. Epidemiologists analysing data are trying to work out what are higher risks for severity, and these include socio-economic status as well as air pollution exposure. For some it’s just bad luck, and it is still very early days for our understanding of how the virus works.
However, there are other lifestyle and dietary factors during the months (or even years) prior to contracting Covid-10 to consider, that could contribute to making things worse for some more than others. When talking to our clients this week we saw a common theme. We mainly spoke to women and they have all had a lot of stress over the past few years from job losses, to children being unwell or simply coping with the crazy juggle of working and family life.
I can’t read much into the difference between men and women’s experience, as I suspect women are more likely than men to ask for help with their nutrition and wellbeing. The common thread between them was that they had not been looking after themselves properly for a very long time – prioritising their children, jobs and other commitments over and above their own needs, and putting themselves at the bottom of the pile. They had been compensating by drinking too much caffeine and alcohol, skipping meals, not sleeping enough and either over-exercising or under-exercising. It was as if the coronavirus was the final straw and so knocked them more than they probably should – as if this was the only way to get them to accept that they needed to stop, rest and reflect. Many clients have said it is time to say goodbye to negative habits, and a chance to build in healthier diet and lifestyle behaviours that create greater health, happiness and resilience.
So, with this in mind; here are some of my guidelines to keep you recuperate and build back health, energy and vitality:
Top 7 Tips For Coronavirus Post-Viral Recuperation
1) Prioritise Sleep
Aim for 8-10 hours per night until you are feeling back to full charge. Sleep disruptors include caffeine, alcohol as well as screen time before bed. Positive steps are to switch your glass of wine in the evening to drinking a herbal tea or alcohol-free spirit instead; aim to turn your phone or tablet off at least an hour before bed and keep it out of the bedroom – enjoy getting to bed nice and early. You may need to make this change gradually, as sudden changes of caffeine or alcohol intake can potentially make things worse for a few days
2) Breathing Exercises
Your lungs have had a bashing and they need a lot of TLC to help get your breathing and lung function back. Try to get time in the fresh air every day and keep your windows open to get lots of lovely fresh air through your home. Sitting upright also increases peak ventilation and reduces airway obstruction, as does sleeping on your front or side rather than on your back. Leaning forward with arms bracing a chair or knees and the upper body supported has been shown to improve ventilatory capacity. Breathing better could well help with fatigue as well as any lingering headaches.
Try nasal breathing where you inhale and exhale through your nose for several seconds with their mouth closed. If this feels uncomfortable then exhale slowly through pursed lips instead. Breathing retraining aims to help you regain a sense of control and improves respiratory muscle strength.
Aim to build up your daily walk from 5 minutes to one hour depending on your strength. Once you have achieved a full hour of walking consider starting to incorporate short sharp bursts of running to this walk.
Spend a few minutes every day doing some basic exercises like lunges, squats and press-ups to build up strength. Again, build this up super slowly and do not push yourself too much. Overexertion could potentially knock you back health-wise.
You have probably been out of touch with friends and family over the past few weeks because of your illness, so pick up the phone, Zoom or Facetime those who are close to you, as this will help to cheer you up and keep your endorphins lifted. This is a very important part of recuperation.
- Start each day by drinking at least 500ml water – keep a large water bottle beside your bed. Aim to drink 2 litres over the day.
- Within the first hour of waking, drink a large cup of warm or hot water with a few slices of fresh ginger and the juice from ½ lemon. Add a little honey and maple syrup if you prefer. This is very soothing on a dry and sore throat and helps to clear any mucus in the airways.
- Other drinks to enjoy are: Liquorice tea (particularly good for supporting adrenals and to soothe the throat – avoid if you have high blood pressure), Turmeric Tea or Lemon, Ginger & Honey Tea.
- Hydrating drinks include Coconut Water and Hydration Tablets. Add a little Himalayan or Mineral Salt to foods to build in adrenal supportive electrolytes.
- Enjoy drinking bone broths and soups regularly. These can be home-made or buy fresh soup from good quality brands. The Jewish community have traditionally drunk chicken soup when recuperating as it is a mild anti-inflammatory.
- Minimise caffeine and avoid alcohol as much as possible as these are dehydrating and the alcohol is pro-inflammatory.
This is a chance to nourish yourself back to health with simple, yummy and nutritious food:
- Aim to eat three wholesome meals a day and cook from scratch as much as possible.
- Avoid ultra-processed convenience foods and highly sugary foods as much as possible to include bought cakes, sweets, crisps, sugary breakfast cereals, refined sugar and sweetened fizzy drinks including sweet alcohol mixers.
- If you need to eat a snack always ensure it contains healthy fats and proteins as well as carbohydrate such as seeded oatcakes and hummus, apple slices with nut butter, banana boats with peanut butter and blueberries or crispbread with cream cheese, liver or fish pate.
- Aim to base your meals around vegetables, good quality fats and proteins as well as complex carbohydrate:
- Fill half your plate with veggies and/or salad or veggie-loaded soups and stews.
- Eat quality protein sources – eggs, organic or grass-fed meat, organic or free-range poultry, white and oily fish, legumes/beans.
- Use complex carbohydrates – jumbo oats, brown rice, black rice, red rice, wholemeal pasta, legume pasta, sweet potato, butternut squash, lentils, chickpeas, peas, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, teff. Try legume rice made from red lentils, chick peas or green pea.
- Enjoy healthy fats – organic butter, nuts, seeds, olives, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil.
- Restore your gut flora with yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar or miso.
Variety really counts here and aim to consume upwards from 20 different fruits and veg each week (ideally 30 plus). Do buy the core fruit and veg you all like on a weekly basis and then aim to buy 2-3 new rainbow foods each week to try. Different varieties and colours of the same fruit or vegetable count like purple, white and green cabbages, heritage purple, white and orange carrots; red, green, orange and yellow bell peppers; frozen berry mixes; different varieties of apples; and yellow/green courgettes. They can be raw, steamed, boiled, baked, roasted or mashed and mix them together in stews, soups, pies etc. It is ok to use fresh or frozen produce.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Also consume animal-based omega-3s: salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, pilchards, and sardines are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Limit tuna to once a fortnight due to the high mercury content. Try prawns, crab and mussels. Smoked salmon, smoked mackerel and fish pates are quick & easy options.
Grass-fed meat and organ meats
Lean meat like free range or organic chicken and turkey are great. Beef and lamb are popular grass-fed meats. Organ meats such as liver are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals – try chicken liver pate using organic chicken livers.
Sometimes a better diet and improved lifestyle is not quite enough to support a very depleted immune system, and you need to consider some extra support for a few weeks after the virus to help get you bounce back faster and feel better sooner. Remember when taking food supplements, that we are all very individual and ideally you would discuss what to take with a qualified nutritional therapist, naturopath or functional medicine practitioner. Here are some of the supplements where I have found some sound scientific evidence to helping with recuperation from a virus. These focus particularly on the nutrients and botanicals that help to reduce inflammation from the cytokine storm, reduce oxidative stress to help renew the cells, and also help to regain better lung function:
Several controlled trials have found significant effects of vitamin C against pneumonia. Vitamin C has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and orally up to 2,000mg daily is possible.
As well as having antioxidant and antiviral properties, zinc is also important for the creation of our digestive juices. Those with a zinc deficiency often have a poor sense of taste and smell, zinc is also helpful at clearing up diarrhoea.
Another natural anti-inflammatory, this essential fatty acid has been found to decrease overall lung tissue inflammation as well as reducing cell death in pneumonia.
This is a well-established systemic anti-inflammatory spice. Research has found it has been particularly helpful at supporting those with acute lung injury from infection including pneumonia as it helps to repair lung injury and reduces the inflammatory cytokines.
N Acetyl Cysteine
NAC is the precursor to glutathione which is our master antioxidant, and this regulates immunity, detoxification and inflammatory pathways. NAC is a mucus thinner and may also help improve oxidative stress and inflammatory response in patients with pneumonia. It has also been found to be helpful for those with chronic lung disease.
Green Tea and Mung Bean Extract
The key elements found in mung bean and green tea support the natural process of the immune system’s inflammatory activity. These two extracts work together to balance of the inflammatory response by controlling levels of inflammatory cytokines. The antioxidants they contain are itexin and isovitexin which are thought to help slow a cytokine storm and suppresses the endotoxin induced HMGB1 which occurs in sepsis.
Quercetin from the Saphora plant, is very strengthening to the lungs in chronic lung disease and the polyphenols are helpful at reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. It has been found to particularly be helpful in restoring lung health from acute respiratory infections.
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