Help for post viral fatigue

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Post viral fatigue refers to lingering feelings of extreme tiredness after a viral illness. It is an increasingly common problem. There are a lot of viruses around; colds, flu, RSV, COVID and others are circulating. Most people recover fully after a few weeks, but for others, severe fatigue plus other symptoms can linger for months. Research from Deakin University suggested up to 325,000 Australians may develop Long COVID.

Symptoms of post viral fatigue

The main symptom is exhaustion despite getting plenty of sleep and rest, and exhaustion after the slightest exertion. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Difficulties with concentration, or memory problems
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle or joint aches and pain
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Poor quality sleep
  • Mood changes such as anxiety or depression

Viruses, including the COVID virus can enter the brain via the olfactory nerves (smell nerves) that travel from the upper nasal cavities to the bottom of the brain. The COVID virus can also enter the brain via the blood brain barrier. People who have a past history of not handling viral infections well are more at risk of post viral fatigue. For example, if you took a long time to recover from an infection with the glandular fever virus, or you get very sick with the influenza virus, this means your immune system has trouble fighting off viruses and making them inactive. People with poorly controlled diabetes or fatty liver are also at risk of a longer recovery time from viral infections. Additionally, people with low white blood cells on a blood test (neutropenia) and those with autoimmune disease may be predisposed to post viral fatigue.

Long term fatigue is one of the most common reasons people seek medical help. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is fatigue on an entirely different level. It means that fatigue is consistent and severe enough to reduce normal daily activities by at least 50 percent, for a minimum of six months. This type of fatigue is not resolved after a night’s sleep.

Important investigations in those with post viral fatigue

Certain blood tests are necessary, and it’s important to look at the patient’s overall state of health. Any pre-existing health conditions should be addressed as well as possible.Blood tests for the following are recommended:

  • Full blood count
  • ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate)
  • CRP (C-reactive protein)
  • Liver function
  • Thyroid function
  • Kidney function and electrolytes
  • Vitamin D, zinc, iron and B12
  • Anti nuclear antibodies
  • D-dimer
  • Cortisol
  • DHEA-S
  • Free and total testosterone

I typically find that patients with digestive problems experience fatigue. This makes sense because the health of your digestive organs determines how well you absorb the nutrients from your meals, and also how well you eliminate wastes and toxins. Improving gut health is vital for increasing energy. There is so much helpful information in the book Healthy Bowel, Healthy Body.

Iron deficiency in menstruating women is common. This can be detected via a blood test for iron studies, particularly looking at ferritin levels. The most common causes of low iron are heavy menstrual bleeding; being a vegetarian or vegan, malabsorption due to digestive problems (such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), or the loss of blood from an area of the body (eg. Bleeding bowel polyps). Other common nutritional deficiencies include vitamin B12 (common in vegetarians, vegans, older individuals and people with digestive problems), vitamin D, magnesium and selenium.

Selenium helps to support healthy immune system function and is necessary for healthy thyroid hormone levels. You may not be getting enough of this critical mineral in your diet.

Fatigue will be worse in people with poor eating habits. Life can get very busy and stressful. You may not always have the time to prepare three nutritious meals from scratch. If this is the case, the Dr Cabot 15 Day Cleanse can help to pick up your energy and set you on the path to better eating habits. The cleanse is a 3 step process that helps improve liver, gut and immune health.

Pre-existing chronic infections in the body should be addressed. These can be bacterial such as Lyme Disease from tick bites, streptococcus, staphylococcus, or viral such as the herpes viruses, including glandular fever and herpes virus 6, which is strongly associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.

 Autoimmune disease is a very common cause of fatigue. There are more than 80 different autoimmune diseases. Their symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is affected. Two symptoms they all have in common is chronic fatigue and unrefreshing sleep. A lot of autoimmune diseases cause chronic pain, and this has a very draining effect on a person’s energy level. Long standing, unresolved viral infections can lead to autoimmune disease in genetically predisposed individuals. For more information see our book titled Healing Autoimmune Disease: A plan to help your immune system and reduce inflammation.

Leaky gut is strongly associated with fatigue. This is because if the gut lining is inflamed, the absorption of nutrients is impaired. Unfortunately it also means that high levels of bowel wastes and toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream. They travel to the liver and increase its workload. Since leaky gut is a feature of all autoimmune disease, there is a large section about how to overcome it in our book. Removing food allergens and inflammatory foods from the diet, and taking glutamine to heal the gut lining are critical.

Adrenal gland exhaustion is a very common cause of fatigue in people who have suffered long term stress, or illness or insomnia. Resolving it usually takes some time, especially in people with high stress levels.

Fatty liver can cause unstable blood sugar levels, poor detoxification capability and sluggish metabolism. As a result, the breakdown of toxic chemicals from the environment, food and water is compromised and general body toxin load increases. This will inevitably cause fatigue. People with a fatty liver typically overheat quickly and feel exhausted in hot humid weather.

An undiagnosed thyroid problem can cause fatigue. Sometimes thyroid hormones are borderline; they aren’t abnormal enough for the average doctor to treat, yet the abnormality is significant enough to cause low energy, inability to lose weight, depression and other symptoms. For solutions, see our book Your Thyroid Problems Solved.

There are many other causes of fatigue; some of which are obvious, but some are hard to detect and that is why it is vital to see a medical practitioner who is thorough.

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