ACUPUNCTURE IS BENEFICIAL FOR LONG COVID
Covid-19 is odd in how it can affect some so badly, while for others it’s not much more than a cold or they have few - if any - symptoms. But the problem isn’t over when the initial symptoms go. Long Covid is a new chronic condition that has doctors and researchers worried.
It’s perplexing medical professionals and researchers as they struggle to understand why it affects people the way and does. And while it is so misunderstood, there are limited ways Western medicine has to help those struggling.
But there is hope! Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in helping treat the symptoms and underlying causes of Long Covid, helping bring people back to health(1).
There is a lot to cover, so strap in for the ride …
So what is Long Covid?
Long Covid is a type of Post Viral Syndrome and refers to a range of symptoms that last weeks or months after having the initial Covid-19 virus. Symptoms are diverse and range over several body systems and organs - and may change over time (just to make things even more complicated). Along with the common fatigue and chronic pain, this insidious virus is also causing damage to the brain and heart, as well as diabetes.
Experts say that it’s quickly growing into a major public health concern, already overwhelming GPs and adding stress to overloaded health systems here in NZ and around the world. Not to mention the loss of quality of life to those who suffer with it…
Some facts and figures
Usually people feel better from COVID-19 after 2–6 weeks, with a full recovery within 12 weeks. But some are still struggling months after their initial bout of Corona virus – even if it was a mild case.
It seems there’s no clear reason or pattern as to who gets a bad case and who gets a mild version of Covid, the same lack of logic seems to go for long Covid too.
Studies and reports from around the world are showing that Long Covid-19 can affect between 10-50% of people who’ve been infected with Covid-19 (2) (different research has different results), with them reporting persistent symptoms six months after they tested positive(3).
No one knows the actual number of people affected, but it is estimated that over 100 million people will have some kind of issue post-Covid 19 and a large percentage of those will become Long Covid(4).
The most common symptoms of Long Covid include:
• Fatigue, weakness and extreme tiredness
• Cognitive issues including difficulty thinking, headaches, brain fog
• Changes to mental health (depression, anxiety)
• Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
• Joint or muscle pain, pins and needles
• Changes to your sleep, insomnia
• Smell or taste changes
• Changes to your hormones or period
• Chest pain, heart symptoms and palpitations
• Digestive issues including stomach pain, diarrhoea
Symptoms vary in type, intensity and duration, leading some experts to suggest that there may be several different syndromes at play, which makes it even hard to diagnose and treat.
It’s not well understood what’s causing the issues. Research suggests that even in mild cases, for some people,
Covid-19 symptoms last a lot longer than other viruses. In comparison, over 90% of people with flu recover within 2 weeks(5).
It tends to be more prevalent in those with underlying conditions and in women (which sadly is true for most autoimmune conditions), but it can affect anyone who has had Covid-19 – even if they didn’t know they had it (4). Age is a factor too, but not quite in the way we thought. Older adults are less likely to have long COVID than younger adults. Nearly three times as many adults ages 50-59 currently have long COVID than those age 80 and older(6).
For a more comprehensive list of symptoms, check out Ministry of Health’s symptoms of Long Covid:
So what’s causing it?
How long the virus lasts in the body depends on the individual and the severity of the illness. Like colds and flu where the viral load peaks quickly, Covid appears peak in the first week of illness. However, in some people low levels of the virus are detectable in the body for up to 3 months, with one study finding that people have the active virus for as long as 83 days(7).
The causes of long Covid-19 are not yet known in western medicine. It is believed the virus is causing lingering issues for some by damaging cells or affecting inflammatory markers and the immune system. It can affect all organ systems including the lungs, heart, brain, digestion and more.
In Chinese medicine, Long Covid can be caused by your body being exhausted from fighting off the initial infection or the COVID-19 pathogen still being present in the body - even though the initial symptoms have gone.
Acupuncture can help
The great news is that medical professionals and researchers have found that acupuncture is effective for relieving long COVID symptoms(8) . Acupuncture has thousands of years of treating viruses and since the pandemic started it has been widely used in the treatment of COVID-19 around the world. In China, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine has been used in up to 85% of cases!
Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in alleviating coughing, headaches, fatigue, and restoring sense of taste and smell in Long Covid(8). But acupuncture is successfully used to help with heart conditions, lung health and breathlessness, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue, mental health, memory and cognitive health, immunity, pain, digestive issues, and more – all the areas that Long Covid can affect.
A personalised approach
The great thing about acupuncture is that your treatment is personalised to your specific issues and concerns. Rather than treating one specific symptom with a medication, we work to bring balance back to your whole system - meaning we can treat multiple symptoms at once. In bringing balance back, we can also boost your resistance to future (re)infection.
So it doesn’t matter if you are struggling with one ongoing issue or a raft of problems, acupuncture can help. Even better, acupuncture safely works alongside other treatments and medications.
Whether it’s Long Covid or something else you’re struggling with, in my years as an acupuncturist, these are just some of the myriad of benefits I’ve seen my clients get from acupuncture treatment:
• Speeds up recovery time
• Strengthens the overall body to help fight off colds, flus and viruses
• Increases energy
• Improves sleep
• Reduces stress and worry
• Improves chronic and acute conditions
What the research says
While it’s still relatively early days in terms of research results, publications about the role of acupuncture and Chinese TCM herbal medicine in treating Covid-19 have been emerging since early 2020 and there are over one hundred studies underway.
Research published in June 2022 shows that acupuncture can effectively address both symptoms and the underlying causes of Long COVID(7). Another study shows that acupuncture can improve the lungs of people suffering from long COVID(9).
Studies undertaken before the pandemic show that acupuncture can have a direct impact on the immune system as well as having an anti-inflammatory action, which is particularly useful if you are suffering from symptoms caused by COVID-19 or Long Covid. These studies show clear evidence that acupuncture increases the body’s ability to fight infections (10), while at the same time calming the body’s tendency to overreact – which can be a big part of the ongoing issues with Long Covid.
I could go on, but the long and the short of it is, acupuncture can help.
The great thing about acupuncture is it’s effective on its own, but is also safe to use alongside pharmaceuticals as well as supplements, herbs and other treatments. So no matter what symptoms you have, if you’re struggling with getting back to full health after having Covid-19 – or any health issue – I’m here to help.