Desperate Long COVID Patients Turn to Unproven Alternative Therapies

Editor’s be aware: Discover extra details about lengthy COVID in Medscape’s Long COVID Resource Center.

Sept. 22, 2022 – Entrepreneur Maya McNulty, 49, was one of many first victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Schenectady, NY, businesswoman spent 2 months within the hospital after catching the illness in March 2020. That September, she was identified with long COVID.

“Even a easy job akin to unloading the dishwasher turned a significant problem,” she says.

Over the following a number of months, McNulty noticed a variety of specialists, together with neurologists, pulmonologists, and cardiologists. She had months of physical therapy and respiratory remedy to assist regain energy and lung perform. Whereas most of the docs she noticed had been sympathetic to what she was going by means of, not all had been.

“I noticed one neurologist who instructed me to my face that she didn’t consider in lengthy COVID,” she remembers. “It was significantly astonishing for the reason that hospital they had been affiliated with had a protracted COVID clinic.”

McNulty started to attach with different sufferers with lengthy COVID by means of a assist group she created on the finish of 2020 on the social media app Clubhouse. They exchanged concepts and tales about what had helped each other, which led her to strive, over the following 12 months, a plant-based food plan, Chinese language drugs, and vitamin C dietary supplements, amongst different remedies.

She additionally acted on unscientific experiences she discovered on-line and did her personal analysis, which led her to find claims that some bronchial asthma sufferers with power coughing responded effectively to halotherapy, or dry salt remedy, throughout which sufferers inhale micro-particles of salt into their lungs to scale back inflammation, widen airways, and skinny mucus. She’s been doing this process at a clinic close to her residence for over a 12 months and credit it with serving to along with her power cough, particularly as she recovers from her second bout of COVID-19.

It’s not low-cost – a single half-hour session can value as much as $50 and isn’t lined by insurance coverage. There’s additionally no good research to recommend that it could assist with lengthy COVID, in accordance with the Cleveland Clinic.

McNulty understands that however says many individuals who reside with lengthy COVID flip to those remedies out of a way of desperation.

“On the subject of this situation, we type of should be our personal advocates. Individuals are so determined and really feel so gaslit by docs who don’t consider of their signs that they play Russian roulette with their physique,” she says. “Most simply need some hope and a technique to relieve ache.”

Throughout the nation, 16 million Individuals have lengthy COVID, in accordance with the Brookings Institution’s analysis of a 2022 Census Bureau report. The report additionally estimated that as much as 1 / 4 of them have such debilitating signs that they’re not in a position to work. Whereas lengthy COVID facilities might supply therapies to assist relieve signs, “there aren’t any evidence-based established remedies for lengthy COVID at this level,” says Andrew Schamess, MD, a professor of inner drugs at Ohio State Wexner Medical Heart, who runs its Submit-COVID Restoration Program. “You possibly can’t blame sufferers for searching for different cures to assist them. Sadly, there are additionally lots of people out to make a buck who’re promoting unproven and disproven therapies.”

Sniffing Out the Snake Oil

With few evidence-based remedies for lengthy COVID, sufferers with debilitating signs could be tempted by unproven choices. One which has gotten loads of consideration is hyperbaric oxygen. This remedy has historically been used to deal with divers who’ve decompression illness, or the bends. It’s additionally being touted by some clinics as an efficient remedy for lengthy COVID.

A really small trial of 73 sufferers with lengthy COVID, revealed this July within the journal Scientific Reports, discovered that these handled in a high-pressure oxygen system 5 days per week for two months confirmed enhancements in mind fog, ache, power, sleep, anxiousness, and depression, in contrast with comparable sufferers who bought sham remedies. However bigger research are wanted to indicate how effectively it really works, notes Schamess.

“It’s very costly – roughly $120 per session – and there simply isn’t the proof there to assist its use,” he says.

As well as, the remedy itself carries dangers, akin to ear and sinus ache, center ear harm, non permanent imaginative and prescient adjustments, and, very hardly ever, lung collapse, in accordance with the FDA.

One “significantly troubling” remedy being provided, says Kathleen Bell, MD, chair of the Division of Bodily Medication and Rehabilitation on the College of Texas Southwestern Medical Heart, is stem cell remedy. This remedy continues to be in its infancy, however it’s being marketed by some clinics as a technique to stop COVID-19 and likewise deal with long-haul signs.

The FDA has issued advisories that there aren’t any merchandise authorized to deal with lengthy COVID and recommends towards their use, besides in a medical trial.

“There’s completely no regulation – you don’t know what you’re getting, and there’s no analysis to recommend this remedy even works,” says Bell. It’s additionally prohibitively costly – one Cayman Islands-based company advertises its remedy for as a lot as $25,000.

Sufferers with lengthy COVID are even touring so far as Cyprus, Germany, and Switzerland for a process often known as blood washing, during which massive needles are inserted into veins to filter blood and take away lipids and inflammatory proteins, the British Medical Journal reported in July. Some sufferers are additionally prescribed blood thinners to take away microscopic blood clots which will contribute to lengthy COVID. However this remedy can also be costly, with many individuals paying $10,000-$15,000 out of pocket, and there’s no revealed proof to recommend it really works, in accordance with theBMJ.

It may be significantly exhausting to discern what may fit and what’s unproven, since many main care suppliers are themselves unfamiliar with even conventional lengthy COVID remedies, Bell says. She recommends that sufferers ask the next questions:

  • What revealed analysis is there to assist these claims?
  • How lengthy ought to I count on to do that remedy earlier than I see an enchancment?
  • What are the potential unwanted side effects?
  • Will the medical supplier recommending the remedy work together with your present medical crew to watch progress?

“In case you can’t get solutions to those questions, take a step again,” says Bell.

Sorting By way of Dietary supplements

Yufang Lin, MD, an integrative specialist on the Cleveland Clinic, says many sufferers with lengthy COVID enter her workplace with baggage of dietary supplements.

“There’s no information on them, and in massive portions, they might even be dangerous,” she says.

As an alternative, she works carefully with the Cleveland Clinic’s lengthy COVID middle to do an intensive workup of every affected person, which frequently contains screening for sure dietary deficiencies.

“Anecdotally, we do see many sufferers with lengthy COVID who’re poor in these nutritional vitamins and minerals,” says Lin. “If somebody is low, we are going to recommend the suitable complement. In any other case, we work with them to institute some dietary adjustments.”

­This often includes a plant-based, anti-inflammatory consuming sample such because the Mediterranean diet, which is wealthy in fruits, greens, whole grains, nuts, fatty fish, and healthy fats akin to olive oil and avocados.

Different dietary supplements some docs advocate for sufferers with lengthy COVID are supposed to deal with irritation, Bell says, though there’s not good proof they work. One is the antioxidant coenzyme Q10.

However a small preprint study revealed in The Lancet this previous August of 121 sufferers with lengthy COVID who took 500 milligrams a day of coenzyme Q10 for six weeks noticed no variations in restoration than those that took a placebo. As a result of the research continues to be a preprint, it has not been peer-reviewed.

One other is probiotics. A small 2021 research revealed within the journal Infectious Diseases Diagnosis & Treatment discovered {that a} mix of 5 lactobacillus probiotics, together with a prebiotic referred to as inulin, taken for 30 days, helped with long-term COVID signs akin to coughing and fatigue. However bigger research have to be finished to assist their use.

One which will have extra promise is omega-3 fatty acids. Like many different dietary supplements, these might assist with lengthy COVID by easing irritation, says Steven Flanagan, MD, a rehabilitation drugs specialist at NYU Langone in New York who works with lengthy COVID sufferers. Researchers on the Mount Sinai College of Medication in New York are studying whether a supplement might help sufferers who’ve misplaced their sense of taste or odor after an an infection, however outcomes aren’t but out there.

Among the many few options which have been proven to assist sufferers are mindfulness-based therapies – particularly, mindfulness-based types of exercise akin to tai chi and qi gong could also be useful, as they mix a delicate exercise with stress discount.

“Each incorporate meditation, which helps not solely to alleviate among the anxiousness related to lengthy COVID however permits sufferers to redirect their thought course of in order that they will address signs higher,” says Flanagan.

A 2022 research published in BMJ Open discovered that these two actions decreased inflammatory markers and improved respiratory muscle energy and performance in sufferers recovering from COVID-19.

“I like to recommend these actions to all my lengthy COVID sufferers, because it’s cheap and simple to search out courses to do both at residence or of their neighborhood,” he says. “Even when it doesn’t enhance their lengthy COVID signs, it has different advantages akin to elevated energy and suppleness that may increase their general well being.”

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