We hope that with the information provided in our previous Blog “Digestive Health and Immunity” , you feel empowered by understanding how to comprehensively and holistically reduce your risk of infection and how to take care of your defense system. On this occasion, we want to focus on supporting our body after an infection and avoiding consequences for your health.
We often underestimate how long it can take to recover after an infection until we persistently experience symptoms. Recovery "normally" lasts one to two weeks. However, in some cases this recovery process can last months, even years, and is characterized by prolonged post-infection symptoms such as chronic fatigue, mental confusion, muscle pain and digestive disorders.
Identifying the underlying factors of persistent post-infection symptoms and how they can affect our physical and mental health is the first step. Then, facilitating the implementation of personalized nutrition and lifestyle interventions will give you a better chance of helping people feel better. Nowadays, the emerging problem of "post-viral syndrome/fatigue" is known, and its prevention is essential.
We'll delve into the "why" and "how" behind these prolonged post-infection symptoms, focusing on three comprehensive areas: energy, cognitive health, and digestion.
For many of us, getting sick with a viral infection can keep us lethargic for a week or two, but we recover quickly. However, this is not everyone's experience. We are seeing more and more people, particularly in light of the current pandemic, experiencing a chronic state of fatigue (classified as fatigue lasting more than six weeks) after infection and prolonging their recovery.
Post-viral fatigue is a well-recognized symptom as seen in infections such as Epstein-Barr virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), so it is not surprising that we are seeing a rise in cases. Common symptoms include: debilitating fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, and palpitations. So what is driving these ongoing symptoms?
"They're mitochondria, not hypochondria." Dr Sarah Myhill
The body needs a large amount of energy to fight an infection. This is due to several processes carried out by the body, in particular inflammation, which releases molecules called cytokines and interleukins that drive an inflammatory response. This process requires a lot of energy, also known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is produced by our mitochondria. Fighting an infection places a high demand on this ATP and in some cases, to a point of exhaustion that contributes to the development of extreme fatigue.
Alongside this high energy demand, we often experience a change in our appetite as being bedridden or feeling unwell often means our diet becomes increasingly restricted resulting in reduced nutrient intake. . This can decrease the supply of vital nutrients, particularly B Complex vitamins, CoQ10 and Magnesium , which are necessary for energy production, which can further increase fatigue. Therefore, it is important to ensure we have an optimal daily intake of these vitamins and minerals when combating infectious processes and the consequent energy requirements.
In fighting an infection, the immune system creates molecules known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) to create a hostile environment for the pathogen, helping to facilitate its eradication. However, in excess, this can lead to an imbalance between ROS and antioxidants (those protective molecules that help quench free radicals and protect cells), leading to an inflamed oxidative state within the body that subdues our mitochondria. to additional tension. Our bodies depend on adequate dietary intake of antioxidants, such as Vitamin C , E , Selenium and beta-carotene, to help effectively quench ROS and prevent tissue damage.
Environmental factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle, emotional and physical stress, and a high toxic load (e.g., from processed foods and exposure to agrochemicals), can further increase inflammation and ROS production, generating further disruption of mitochondrial function.
Inflammation itself is a source of stress and a drain on our nutrient status, which can result in even greater disruption to our energy levels. This can be aggravated in the case of those who already have a high degree of underlying inflammation, as is often the case with those who have diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Therefore, the level of inflammation within the body before an infection can directly affect how well it can be fought and the speed of recovery.
Nourishing our mitochondria through diet and lifestyle is a vital consideration when it comes to ensuring rapid recovery. For this, it is essential to increase dietary and supplemental intake of the same nutrients necessary for the production of ATP, vitamin B2, B3, B12 and Magnesium . This also includes oxygen, which is a critical nutrient for energy production. Slow, deep nasal breathing is an excellent way to simultaneously increase blood oxygenation and calm the nervous system, both of which can help restore energy levels after infection.
Given the negative impact of inflammation and oxidative stress on our mitochondria, it is essential to include a nutrition protocol that supports our body's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant system. A great starting point is to enjoy a diverse, colorful, plant-rich diet that provides plenty of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, with a particular focus on "superfoods" such as turmeric, ginger, green tea and grenade. Additionally, it would be worth supplementing with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant supplements to help achieve a more therapeutic dose, with a particular focus on Omega-3 , Vitamin C and turmeric.
Last but not least, rest is key to give your body the time it needs to fully heal and recover.
Mood and Cognition
"Don't let your mind bully your body into thinking it should carry the burden of your worries." Astrid Alauda
Something we don't always think about when it comes to the impact of an infection on our lives is the toll it can take on our brain, mood, and cognition. In fact, recent research has found neurological and neuropsychiatric complications following viral infections and many present with a cerebrovascular event.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit information between nerve cells. Two key neurotransmitters that affect our level of arousal and engagement, specifically in relation to mood and motivation, are serotonin and dopamine. Together, the synthesis of these neurotransmitters requires folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and vitamin C for their formation . Additionally, methylation (a vitamin B-dependent process) is also essential in the conversion of serotonin to melatonin, and when this process is disrupted it can cause even more disruption to our mood and cognitive health. For example, dysfunctional methylation status has been linked to anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
A poor diet can also result in insufficient levels of key nutrients such as phospholipids, found in eggs, and essential fatty acids (Omega 3) found in oily fish. These nutrients are structural components of cells and essential for cellular communication. Additionally, high levels of dietary trans fatty acids from processed foods have been shown to reduce memory and cognition in adults and inhibit the production of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory and cognition-enhancing properties, possibly due to their regulatory effect on insulin and changes in the connections between nerve cells (neuroplasticity).
Diet and digestion can also impact neurotransmitter levels through multiple pathways. One study showed that 84% of people with gastrointestinal disorders had anxiety and 27% had depression. Poor digestion of dietary proteins (particularly gluten from grains and casein from dairy) can produce "exorphins" that are similar in structure to endorphins. Combined with intestinal permeability, these undigested proteins can exert a morphine-like effect on the nervous system, which can alter social awareness and behavior. Preliminary research indicates that patients with viral infections may be prone to gut dysbiosis, showing that the impact an infection can have on mood and cognition could be related to gut health.
The intestine is the first point of contact for many pathogens and, therefore, quite often the place where inflammation is located, being a natural part of the immune response and vital for controlling threats. Inflammatory molecules called cytokines are produced upon detection of an infection and can act on the brain and drive 'cytokine-induced illness behaviours', where symptoms include fatigue, disinterest in our social environment and altered mood. Increased cytokines can induce the breakdown of tryptophan and therefore potentially reduce its availability to produce serotonin, which may have important neurological implications. Severe viral infections can induce high levels of proinflammatory cytokines, which have been suggested to cause cognitive impairment and increase the risk of subsequently developing neurological disease, particularly Alzheimer's. When viral infections cause damage to lung tissue, this could also lead to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) in the brain and further increase brain inflammation, and could potentially cause increased brain fog, fatigue, and depression. This could be aggravated by poor blood oxygenation, for example due to low levels of Folate, Vitamin B12, Iron , mouth breathing and sleep apnea.
So if you are recovering from an infection, whether bacterial or viral, be sure to nourish your nervous system through real foods and consider supplementing with a good Methylated Multinutrient , Essential Fatty Acids and Probiotics .
"Somewhere inside ALL of us is the power to change the world" Roald Dahl (Matilda)
Digestive symptoms are common in patients during any infection, these may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In a recent study of hospitalized patients, 57% suffered from digestive symptoms.
Those who suffer from digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or poor fat digestion, are more likely to be in a preliminary state of nutrient depletion. Digestive support, with Probiotic supplements and prebiotic fiber, is a key consideration to encourage nutrient absorption and subsequent replenishment for intestinal and immune system health.
The use of medications during an infection can have long-term consequences on the intestine. For example, antibiotic treatment can alter the gut microbiome and reduce the colonization of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, as well as potentially increase pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and H. pylori. Antibiotics can also cause a long-term reduction in short-chain fatty acids, this can reduce the functional status of the mucosa in the colon, thus increasing the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Other medications often taken during an infection are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen for fever and symptom relief, however, research shows that NSAIDs can damage the intestinal mucosa and lead to gastric ulcers. On the other hand, viruses have been shown to induce long-term effects on enzymes involved in drug metabolism, specifically the CYP3A enzyme important for the detoxification of statins, omeprazole and prednisone. This can promote drug-induced side effects and toxicities.
Gut dysbiosis has also been linked to conditions such as IBD, and this can be exacerbated by chronic inflammation, either pre-existing or caused by infection. Inflammation can also disrupt tight junctions in the intestine, leading to increased intestinal permeability and further disruption of intestinal function. Other external factors can further drive intestinal hyperpermeability, such as stress and poor diet (gluten, dairy).
If you are unsure how to improve your gut health, a great starting point is to increase levels of beneficial bacteria by using a researched, clinically effective and stable Probiotic supplement, and ideally supplement with Glutamine to support gut wall recovery. in the case of having hyperpermeability.