Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for Long Covid: Can it Help?
The majority of COVID-19 typically recover in a few weeks. But others progress to a prolonged ill state called Long COVID or Long–Haul COVID. The symptoms linger or reoccur even after getting cleared of the virus. Some even suffer from chronic pain. Can acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for Long COVID help mitigate this condition?
Long COVID patients are called “long-haulers.” They don’t recover to their pre-infection baseline health. Most develop a multisymptomatic condition. Some exhibit at least one symptom. We can only imagine how difficult it can be for them to return to their everyday routines.
According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 87.4% of COVID-19 survivors experienced persistent symptoms, particularly fatigue and dyspnea. Moreover, a 2021 study found that 61.9% of survivors reported persisting symptoms more than three months post-infection.
The World Health Organization predicts that Long COVID will remain a serious public health issue in the years to come. Yet, most countries have already moved on from masks and lockdowns. We must, therefore, assume responsibility for our overall health and well-being.
What can we do to address Long COVID, then? We can take steps to navigate our current circumstances. We must equip ourselves with all knowledge necessary to combat the infection. Let’s dive right into the typical symptoms.
What are the common symptoms of Long COVID?
Long haulers may develop a range of new or recurring symptoms, which can vary individually. Even worse, engaging in physical or mental activity can exacerbate these symptoms. The following are common symptoms of Long COVID:
- Extreme fatigue
- Post-exertional malaise
Respiratory and heart symptoms
- Chest pain
- Persistent coughing
- Brain fog
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of smell or taste
- Dizziness when standing
- Pins and needles feelings
- Stomach pain
- Skin rashes
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Joint pain and body aches
What are the organs most affected by Long COVID?
Long COVID can damage many of our organs. The following are some of the most vulnerable ones:
Lung infection is not surprising, given that COVID is primarily a respiratory condition. Thus, respiratory health is compromised. Lung scarring can occur in extreme situations, making the lungs stiff. Breathing and blood circulation become even more difficult.
Long COVID can also cause mental health issues, such as concentration. But that’s not all. Inflammation is another problem that can arise. This can result in seizures, disorientation, and persistent headaches, seriously impairing day-to-day activities.
Long COVID can also lead to a wide range of heart issues. Blood clots can form, which increases a patient’s risk of heart attacks or strokes. A recent study found that it can cause cardiovascular illnesses, including pericarditis and myocarditis.
Some people suffering from Long COVID who had no prior kidney issues can exhibit signs of kidney impairment. The virus itself infects the kidney cells. It can bind to kidney cells, invade, and multiply there, potentially harming the organs.
People who suffer from Long COVID may encounter gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, acid reflux, and loss of appetite three months after hospitalization. Moreover, a 2021 study published in The Lancet journal revealed that long haulers had less numerous gut microbes that support the immune system at six months.
There have been reports of patients with high enzyme levels who afterward developed aberrant liver functioning after healing from the initial infection. A 2020 study found that antiviral medicine use, a viral infection of bile duct cells, or both may contribute to liver damage in COVID patients.
The TCM View on Long COVID
In TCM, conditions like Long COVID are classified as Latent Pathogens. A pathogen is a microorganism, such as a virus or bacteria, that can cause disease. “Latent” denotes being dormant or inactive. Hence, a latent pathogen is just waiting to cause havoc again.
Latent pathogens frequently encase themselves in tiny snot balls called biofilms. They can evade detection by our immune system this way. When we become vulnerable, these sneaky little evils come out once more.
Here’s the real kicker! Long COVID primarily invokes pathologic heat when the body is in poor condition. The virus, which initially entered the body, changes into heat. Later, it manifests as interior heat. This latent heat develops slowly and infiltrates the body without immediate symptoms.
A kidney deficiency is the specific cause of latent heat generation. Remember that a major decline in kidney function happens during the early infection.
Additionally, long COVID is described as having Qi Deficiency Syndrome in TCM. The body’s Qi (energy), which was used to combat the infection, may have become depleted. This would account for the symptoms.
So what happens if your defensive Qi is weak? Your body cannot eliminate the pathogenic factor. Afterward, the Qi disturbance spreads deeper, causing symptoms in the GI tract and lungs. The organs are not damaged yet at this stage. For instance, images of the lungs would continue to be clear.
Organ malfunction may occur if your Qi Defense fails. The infectious heat starts to penetrate further into the level of the organs. It is no longer restrained at the body’s surface. Thus, more severe breathing issues can appear.
Furthermore, the invasion may potentially reach the blood at a deeper level. This can result in cardiac and vascular issues. This condition is categorized as a liver disturbance with blood heat and stagnation. During this period, organ damage and clotting disorders can also take place.
Acupuncture for Long Haul Covid
TCM- based acupuncture is a holistic strategy that can help fight Long COVID. Treatment is tailored individually to support the patient’s body in self-healing. The acupuncturist will identify a combination of acupuncture points to address the patient’s imbalance. The goal is overall improvement rather than treating one symptom at a time.
The fine needles used in an acupuncture treatment help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps calm down the stress hormones that trigger fear and flight. Moreover, acupuncture also soothes the shen (spirit).
In addition, acupuncture controls the yin and yang balance of the organ systems to aid in their recovery of function. It also aids in restoring the fluids’ normal flow, including blood and qi.
Acupuncture can help relieve Long COVID symptoms like pain, anxiety, and headaches. It has also been proven to improve quality of life and lessen chronic fatigue. Patients who have received acupuncture report feeling better overall. They sleep more soundly and become less tense.
A case history of a 50-year-old Long COVID patient also demonstrated how acupuncture helped her fully recover. She suffered from fatigue, chest tightness, palpitations, and other symptoms for eight months. Here are the key findings following seven sessions of body, scalp, and auricular acupuncture:
- Treatment 1 – Absence of palpitations and chest pressure
- Treatment 2 – Enhanced overall energy
- Treatment 3 – Improved sense of smell and absence of labored breathing
- Treatment 4 – Reduced coughing attacks
- Treatment 5 – Improved cognitive function
- Treatment 6 – Resumed regular exercise
- Treatment 7 – No relapse
In a nutshell, acupuncture’s combined natural effects on the body and mind can lessen pain, increase energy and metabolism, and enhance overall well-being. It also boosts disease tolerance. This is crucial to reducing the after-effects of infection and regaining health for long haulers.
Chinese Herbal Formulas for Long Haul Covid
Chinese herbal treatment has been shown to help relieve symptoms of Long COVID. The following are the seven most popular herbal formulations you can take on the advice of a medical practitioner.
- San Wu Huangqin – offers a wide range of antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and other properties. It helps in immune system regulation.
- Sheganmahuang – helps dispel heat. Its active ingredients produce significant anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects.
- Zhu Ye Shi Gao – nourishes Qi and strengthens the spleen.
- Bu Zhong Yi Qi – alleviates fatigue symptoms.
- Qing Fei Paidu – helps clear interior heat, relieves cough, and reduces inflammation.
- Gan Cao Gan Jiang – treats yang deficiency of the spleen and stomach, cold hands and feet, dizziness, and other symptoms.
- Maxingshigan – reduces lung inflammation and improves the immune function of the body.
Final Thoughts on Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine for Long COVID Symptoms
Reclaim your life and vitality! Consult a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist to help you fight or prevent Long COVID with a personalized plan designed to reduce and even clear away debilitating symptoms.