Why you have unpleasant stomach problems months after the Covid illness

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Sydney nutritionist and food writer Lee Holmes (pictured) explained that too many of us have gained weight in the last six months, but there's still time to lose it before midsummer

A nutritionist has revealed why people continue to suffer from nasty stomach problems months after recovering from Covid – and the simple ways to get your digestive health back on track.

Australian nutritionist Lee Holmes said she has seen many patients visiting her clinic with ongoing gut problems after having Covid, ranging from gas, reflux and bloating to constipation, diarrhea and leaky gut.

Every third Covid patient has suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms. with studies showing those with better gut health had less severe symptoms.

Sydney nutritionist and food writer Lee Holmes (pictured) explained that too many of us have gained weight in the last six months, but there's still time to lose it before midsummer

Australian nutritionist Lee Holmes said she has seen many patients visiting her clinic with ongoing gut problems after having Covid, ranging from gas, reflux and bloating to constipation, diarrhea and leaky gut.

According to Lee, this is because the gut and airways share a common immune system known as the gut-lung axis, which has been further detailed in a number of microbiological studies.

“This axis is bi-directional, meaning that when the gut is affected by bacteria, the lungs are affected and vice versa,” she explained in a blog post.

‘Also, there are about 100 times more receptors in the gastrointestinal tract than in the respiratory tract, so the gut may be able to hold more virus if it’s infected,’ she explained.

Lee said when a person gets Covid cytokines – small proteins crucial for controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells – enter the body through the lungs.

How a healthy gut can reduce the severity of Covid and the flu

In a study of Croatian children attending daycare, half of them received probiotics and the other half a placebo — after three months, those taking probiotics had a lower risk of respiratory infections and had less time feeling unwell if infected were.

Swedish researchers also conducted a study of 272 adults and found that the group that used probiotics had milder cold and flu symptoms and less time with a virus.

It also found cases of cold and flu in participants who took probiotics for an average of 6.2 days, compared with 8.2 days for those who took a placebo.

As consultant gastroenterologist and UNSW Professor of Medicine Emad El-Omar explains, the gut microbiome’s main job is to educate our immune system about our environment.

The lion’s share of our immune system – about two-thirds of all immune cells – is concentrated in the digestive system, which is why UNSW’s Microbiome Research Center is studying how the composition of the gut microbiome affects the immune response and changes in various disease processes.

Source: Pharmacies and NSW Health

Lee says cruciferous vegetables and cauliflower are excellent sources of fiber — which help maintain a healthy gut

Lee says cruciferous vegetables and cauliflower are excellent sources of fiber — which help maintain a healthy gut

This causes inflammation throughout the body, and once these cytokines reach the gut, the virus can travel through veins that drain blood from the digestive tract and affect the all-important vagus nerve, which is responsible for regulating the functions of internal organs such as the heart digestion, heart rate and respiratory rate.’

What is the gut-lung axis?

The concept of the gut-lung axis argues that changes in the gut can have a profound impact on lung disease.

Microbes in the gut can be recognized by host immune cells, which can result in systemic release of cytokines.

Cytokines can then travel to the lungs and cause inflammation throughout the body once they reach the intestines.

This in turn changes the bacteria in the gut, increasing its permeability and causing more inflammation

Source: Mayo Clinic

“Once this occurs, the disease affects the gut barrier, altering bacteria in the gut, increasing its permeability and causing more inflammation,” she explains.

“Increased gut permeability, also known as leaky gut, allows the bacteria to circulate and makes the disease worse. When this happens, we can experience a range of symptoms of indigestion such as bloating or bloating.

“To make matters worse, the medications taken for other COVID symptoms can cause side effects like nausea and diarrhea.”

Research from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that people suffering from Covid-19 had a “significantly altered” microbiome composition.

Separate research from South Korea found that people with a poorly functioning gut are more likely to develop severe Covid-19 as the lack of healthy microbes makes it easier for the virus to infect cells in the digestive tract.

The Hong Kong team examined blood, stool and medical records of 100 hospitalized patients with Covid-19 between February and May 2020, and 27 of those patients also provided samples 30 days after the infection had cleared.

The researchers also collected samples from 78 people without Covid-19 who were taking part in a microbiome study before the pandemic.

The study concluded that the gut microbiome may be involved in “the magnitude of the severity of Covid-19” via modulation of the host’s immune response.

Lee recommends adding foods like kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt to your diet

Lee recommends adding foods like kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt to your diet

The authors found that patients with Covid-19 were deficient in several gut bacteria known to alter a person’s immune response.

For example, there was evidence of elevated levels of some bacteria, including Ruminococcus gnavus, Ruminococcus torques and Bacteroides dorei.

Lee also explains that the gut is the body’s epicenter for health and central to many body systems, including the immune system.

Probiotic Foods

  • kefir
  • kimchi
  • miso
  • sauerkraut
  • yogurt

Prebiotic Foods

  • banana
  • manioc
  • chickpea flour
  • chicory root
  • garlic

“It’s not surprising that the consequences of COVID can come in the form of a range of digestive issues,” she says.

If you suffer post-Covid, Lee recommends a gut-friendly diet full of omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, soups and smoothies.

“A gut-friendly grocery list should include anti-inflammatory turmeric, gut-healing gelatin, omega-3-rich fish, protein, gut-loving slipper elm, and supercharged synbiotic Love Your Gut powder,” she said.

Gut-friendly coconut oatmeal recipe

2 serves

ingredients

  • 50 g (1 3/4 oz/1/2 cup) gluten-free organic oatmeal
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) filtered water
  • Pinch of Celtic or Himalayan sea salt

  • Pinch of ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) coconut milk
  • 1 handful of mixed fresh berries
  • Mint leaves, for garnish

method

  1. Mix oatmeal and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 12-15 minutes or until oats are tender, stirring regularly.
  2. Stir in salt and cinnamon. Blend the coconut milk until creamy and smooth.
  3. Serve garnished with berries and mint and sprinkled with cinnamon.

She also advised cutting down on caffeine, alcoholic beverages and refined sugars and staying hydrated.

Lee added that including prebiotics and probiotics in your diet helps shift the balance of unhealthy microflora into a microbiome.

“Probiotics are live microorganisms found in yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut that add healthy microbes to the gut,” she said.

“Prebiotics found in artichokes, asparagus and chicory root serve as food for the good gut bacteria. Prebiotics can improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and even help with weight loss. Prebiotics and probiotics work in harmony to help the gut flora survive and thrive.

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