COVID-19 and Gut Issues: Dysbiosis Linked to More Severe COVID Symptoms
The initial fear of COVID-19 seems to have calmed a bit as we are realizing it may be here to stay. With the recent release of vaccinations to the general public, the concern has been reduced even more. However, the vaccine isn’t a complete cure and even those who have gotten the vaccine are still at risk for contracting the virus (with lesser symptoms).
Since it’s still a very real risk, we want to help you support your immune system by sharing information about the link between your gut and immune health and the severity of COVID symptoms. We will also talk about what symptoms are being seen in COVID patients since there are different strains of the virus and what you can look out for to protect yourself.
SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 is an mRNA virus that emerged at the end of 2019 near Wuhan, China. The virus has spike proteins that allow it to stick to cells for easy replication.
The virus spreads through respiratory droplets that are introduced to a new body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Wearing face masks and cleaning surfaces thoroughly while practicing social distancing has seemed to help decrease the number of cases being seen.
A recent vaccine has been created and is being given to the general public after a short period of testing. While it’s still quite a controversial topic, the CDC and other important health organizations recognize it as being a generally safe vaccination. They recommend everyone consult with their healthcare providers to see if it’s the right method of protection for them.
COVID-19 Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Issues
As cases were streaming into the hospitals and urgent cares across the world, the initial symptoms were dry cough, fever, and sore throat. But as more cases came about (along with the toilet paper shortage), other common symptoms were recognized as part of COVID-19 — most of them being gastrointestinal (GI). The new symptoms that emerged and seemed to be worse with more severe cases included:
- Extreme diarrhea
- Abdominal pain/cramping
Researchers looked into this and found that the patients who were suffering from a more severe COVID case ended up with worse GI symptoms. This made the GI symptoms a concern for early-stage COVID allowing doctors to monitor patients closely who presented with symptoms in this manner.
Interestingly, patients in the higher-risk categories often fell into the group of people who typically have a disturbed gut microbiome.
- Patients with a history of high blood pressure
This led to more research that uncovered a potential link where dysbiosis (gut microbiome imbalance) is what causes certain patients to be at higher risk of a more severe case of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Severity: The Gut Link
Your gut is the home of a vast majority of your immune system. Gut microbes help to extract the nutrients from our foods and send them throughout our bodies to help improve our cellular and organ functions.
When our gut microbes aren’t fed the right foods, this can cause a state of inflammation in the GI tract which creates intestinal permeability or a “leaky gut”. When this happens, gut microbes can escape our intestinal tract and freely float throughout our bodies. While they’re considered to be good within our guts, they’re normal bacteria to the world outside of our guts and they trip the “invader” alarms within our immune systems.
Another thing that happens is that within our gut, these foods feed the bad bacteria which puts our gut microbiome out of balance. The bad bacteria and the metabolites sent out from them create a cytokine storm within our bodies. This influx of cytokines creates an even greater state of inflammation which stresses out our immune systems. (You can read a more in-depth version about the cytokine storm here.)
The cytokines and inflammation make the body unable to fight new invaders since it’s essentially fighting itself. This makes COVID-19 escalate at a more rapid and dangerous rate since your body’s resources are in a depleted state.
Studies show that patients with more severe cases of COVID-19 had higher quantities of cytokines and other inflammatory biomarkers in their stool samples than patients with less severe cases.
How to Reduce the Risk of Severe COVID through Gut Microbiome Modulation
Since the gut seems to be a major determinant of how severe COVID symptoms are, it’s a good place to start when trying to protect yourself if you’re unable to get (or unsure about getting) the vaccine. Even if you get the vaccine, studies are showing that a healthy microbiome might be able to increase the effectiveness of different vaccines.
The best way to have a well-balanced gut is to live a well-balanced lifestyle. That includes:
1. Eating a healthy diet with a variety of foods
Remember to eat the rainbow. When you eat fruits and vegetables of all colors, they give you different nutrients to help add more diversity to your microbiome. This feeds your good bacteria and allows them to generate more of the healthy species and reduce the bad.
Add in foods that contain probiotics as long as it’s been okayed by your doctor. You can also add supplements like Atrantil that support good gut health by being prebiotic and postbiotic so you skip the dangers of probiotics. (Again consult with your doctor before adding any new supplements to your diet)
2. Have a consistent sleep/wake routine
Your sleep schedule has a surprising effect on your gut health. Your sleep cycle and circadian rhythms affect the construction of your gut microbiome. This also affects the times you eat and what kind of foods you crave. So if you’re looking to improve your microbiome you might want to start with your bedtime routine.
3. Exercise every day (taking a 20-minute walk counts!)
When you move your body it helps to circulate your blood and nutrients. This helps to support your digestion and makes it easier for your body to break up the foods you’ve eaten. Exercise has been proven to help promote a well-balanced microbiome and helps you to experience fewer (bad) cravings.
4. Keep stress levels under control
The way that our western world is set up right now causes a lot of stress in our lives. Throw a global pandemic in the mix and it would cause anyone to feel overly stressed out. Finding ways to keep your stress levels in check will help to keep your gut and mind healthy. Stress negatively affects your gut microbiome by releasing hormones that disrupt the balance of good over bad. Incorporate mindfulness techniques, meditation, and/or yoga to help keep your stress in check.
While all of these suggestions won’t place an anti-covid shield around your body, they can help you to avoid having a serious case if you do end up with it. Let us know the ways you keep your gut in check by dropping a comment below!