It was recently reported that about one-third of people who had been infected with COVID report suffering from long COVID:
- Some 37% of people experienced at least one symptom lasting 12 weeks or more
- Almost 15% said they had three or more symptoms for at least 12 weeks
- Long-term problems were more common in women, and with increasing age
- Higher weight, smoking, lower incomes, having a chronic illness, and having been hospitalized with Covid were linked to a higher chance of experiencing long-lasting symptoms
- Tiredness was one of the most common symptoms, and in people who were severely ill with Covid, shortness of breath was a dominant long-lasting symptom
These are worrying figures indeed. Common symptoms of ‘long COVID’ include persistent breathlessness, fatigue, and cough; less common symptoms are chest pain, palpitations, neurological and cognitive deficits, rashes, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Several research papers describe abnormalities confirming pathophysiological damage ranging from abnormal blood tests to organ damage seen on MRI imaging or in postmortem findings.
Yes, there are good reasons to be worried. Yet others might see this situation as an opportunity. One does not need to be clairvoyant to predict that, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), long-COVID will be the next big thing. Whenever there is a new, common, difficult-to-treat condition, SCAM practitioners and SCAM entrepreneurs fall over themselves claiming that their therapy is the solution. Gwyneth Paltrow’s bizarre was one of the first with her methods of easing long Covid symptoms. The Hollywood star and snake oil saleswoman said she had embarked on a “keto and plant-based” regime on the advice of an alternative medicine doctor. And, of course, it did her a world of good … Gwyneth approves of anything that is alternative.
On Medline, we already find an abundance of articles such as this one:
There is currently no drug or therapy that can cure the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is highly contagious and can be life-threatening in severe cases. Therefore, seeking potential effective therapies is an urgent task. An older female at the Leishenshan Hospital in Wuhan, China, with a severe case of COVID-19 with significant shortness of breath and decrease in peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2), was treated using manual acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine granule formula Fuzheng Rescue Lung with Xuebijing Injection in addition to standard care. The patient’s breath rate, SpO2, heart rate, ratio of neutrophil/lymphocyte (NLR), ratio of monocyte/lymphocyte (MLR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and chest computed tomography were monitored. Acupuncture significantly improved the patient’s breathing function, increased SpO2, and decreased her heart rate. Chinese herbal medicine might make the effect of acupuncture more stable; the use of herbal medicine also seemed to accelerate the absorption of lung infection lesions when its dosage was increased. The combination of acupuncture and herbs decreased NLR from 14.14 to 5.83, MLR from 1.15 to 0.33 and CRP from 15.25 to 6.01 mg/L. These results indicate that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, as adjuvants to standard care, might achieve better results in treating severe cases of COVID-19.
A telephone survey included 495 COVID patients in India. 26% of them said they had people used 161 SCAM products and home remedies during and after COVID infections. More than half of the participants (59.6%) among them had consumed Ayurvedic Kadha. Many respondents consumed more than one SCAM product or home remedy.
A recent review evaluated the effect of SCAM on COVID patients. A total of 14 studies performed on 972 COVID patients were included. The results suggested that different SCAM interventions (acupuncture, Traditional Chinese medicine [TCM], relaxation, Qigong) significantly improved various psychological symptoms (depression, anxiety, stress, sleep quality, negative emotions, quality of life) and physical symptoms (inflammatory factors, physical activity, chest pain, and respiratory function) of COVID patients. The authors concluded that various SCAM interventions have a positive effect on improving the various dimensions of coronavirus disease but since there are few studies in this regard, further studies using different CAM approaches are recommended.
This conclusion is, of course, pure wishful thinking; the available evidence is in fact more than flimsy, and claims of effectiveness are not justified. But will this stop SCAM enthusiasts to make such claims? I fear not. My prediction is that, as this homeopath already indicated, they will see COVID as an opportunity: For homeopathy, shunned during its 200 years of existence by conventional medicine, this outbreak is a key opportunity to show potentially the contribution it can make in treating COVID-19 patients.