Sign of the times….
We – just as many health practitioners nationwide – have been seeing our share of patients coming in with what can best be described as post-viral syndrome following their encounter with the SARS-COV2 virus. Post-viral syndrome is a constellation of varying symptoms that can happen after a viral infection. During the viral infection, you, of course, feel sick. However, if you have post-viral syndrome, you will feel drained, tired, or otherwise unwell, even after recovery and after your body has cleared the virus.
You can develop post-viral syndrome after a bout of the flu or the common cold. Other viruses that may result in post-viral syndrome include the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), herpes, pneumonia, and HIV. Thus, a COVID-19 infection can also lead to post-viral syndrome or as it’s known and named currently “Long hauler syndrome” or “long-COVID.”
Long hauler syndrome is a condition characterized by various chronic symptoms after a COVID infection. These long-term symptoms may last for weeks, months, or even a year after recovering from the original COVID-19 infection. A 2021 study published in JAMA Network Open has found that over 30 percent of COVID-19 patients struggle with long-hauler symptoms even 9 months after the initial infection. They found that 36 percent of people were not able to return to their baseline health even 9 months after the infection.
Some of the cases we’ve been seeing in the office include:
- Lingering fatigue;
- Lowered immune resilience presenting with frequent bouts of flu-like and viral ailments;
- Lingering muscle and joint pain;
- Continuing respiratory difficulties such as — congestion, ongoing cough, shortness of breath;
- Cognitive issues such as “brain fog”/difficulty concentrating and loss of memory; and
- Menstrual dysregulation.
The Chinese Medicine Approach – How We Are Helping
Chinese Medicine has a unique, consistent way of getting to the core principles of a disorder as an efficient way to inform appropriate treatment for any kind of disruption. While terms like deficiency, excess, stagnation, and retained pathogens may seem simple, they can be effectively related to modern medical explanations of diseases (like post- COVID syndrome).
Western biomedical research into Long-Haul COVID (LHC) looks at immune and dysfunction at the cellular level that can lead to organ and tissue damage. However, whatever the “discoveries” at the cellular level these play out in the body in ways that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has for long recognized as specific patterns of imbalance. TCM considers these imbalances the root of the various LHC symptoms like fatigue and chronic pain. There’s a lot of overlap in Eastern vs. Western understanding of possible causes for these various symptoms…Chinese Medicine’s just been treating it a lot longer.
In addition, Acupuncture has a long history of treating lingering symptoms from epidemics. Throughout the past 2,000 years, acupuncturists have documented how to successfully treat these patterns. Chinese physicians described methods of acupuncture to re-energize the patient, move blocked energy, clear pathogenic “dampness” (ie: fluid imbalance, mucous and biofilm buildup etc.), and cool or warm the body as needed. They also laid out treatment approaches for difficult relapsing cases where the wei qi (immunity) was weak.
Acupuncture has thus had many years to hone its skills in treating post-viral syndromes. And while research on long Covid has only just begun (and many clinical trials are currently underway) there is already a growing body of present-day evidence supporting its worth. Data collected from the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) showed an overall positive response to acupuncture. Many patients reported improvement with long Covid symptoms like chronic fatigue, heart arrhythmias and nausea. In another analysis of acupuncture for LHC, it was shown to help with headaches, myalgia, and abdominal pain. Preliminary findings from some of the new clinical studieshow strong support for the role of acupuncture in the treatment of post-COVID syndrome.
A recent Pubmed publication concluded:
“Contemporary scientific literature and case studies support the value of acupuncture for symptoms associated with acute and chronic respiratory viral infections, such as influenza, including SARS and COVID-19. Recent reports provide early evidence of acupuncture’s effectiveness in managing Long COVID symptoms and may also have disease-modifying benefits. Acupuncture is a viable adjunctive health care modality as part of a multidisciplinary approach for symptom control and disease management to improve quality of life in Long COVID patients. Since acupuncture may favorably modify the length and outcome of this condition, the model of acupuncture presented in this article warrants broader use in the integrative clinical setting…”
So how is it actually helping, from a biomedical perspective?
Let’s just look at two main mechanisms of action relevant to the current understanding of LHC.
The latest research suggests that acupuncture’s overall regulatory effects come from its interaction with our nervous and immune system and this gives it the upper hand in dealing with LHC. Through its ability to stimulate or sedate immune function, evidenced by measurable changes in various immune cells, it can both help to fight infections and calm any immune over-reactions. When acupuncture successfully regulates immunity, it in turn protects the cells, tissues and organs from further harm from infection and inflammation, and allows the body to shift into healing and repair mode.
The mitochondria is an intracellular structure that is known as the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell because it is the site of ATP (energy) production. Viral diseases, like SARS-CoV-2, are known for their ability to disrupt the intracellular environment, with a special focus on our little energy factories. Not only does this activate inflammatory pathways via the immune system, it of course deprives the body of energy leading to what many know as “covid fatigue” and “brain fog.”
Increasing evidence supports the efficacy of acupuncture for improving the mitochondrial structure and protecting mitochondrial functions. Acupuncture intervention has even been shown in numerous studies to reverse mitochondrial damage. Acupuncture, with very few side effects, is known in TCM to boost qi (energy) and its role in mitochondrial support looks like it could be one of the main ways it accomplishes this.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
In addition to acupuncture Chinese Medicine repertoire includes a long tradition of the formulation of traditional herbal prescriptions that have been tried and tested for centuries to help with a variety of syndromes. When prescribing herbal remedies Chinese herbal practitioners consider the individual’s constitution in conjunction with the presenting clinical symptoms when identifying the disease pattern of disruption in order to match the most effective herbal formulation.
Indeed at Harlem Chi we have been actively prescribing traditional herbal remedies with much success to address and relieve many of the long-haul symptoms. In addition to successfully addressing varying degrees of fatigue and immune disruptions we have also been very successful with regulating menstruation just as we had pre-COVID.
If you or a loved one is suffering with Long-Covid please consider making an appointment with us.