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How Long Covid Impacts the Entire Body

We’ve been talking about long covid for what feels like forever. We know what the symptoms are, how it affects the mitochondria, and who’s at risk for the condition.

But, until now, we have really yet to understand how long covid impacts the entire body. New research offers insight into just how Covid-19 can linger throughout the body and impact daily life.

virginia, blacksburg, virginia beach, norfolk, functional medicine, integrative medicine, anti aging, fitness, exercise, weight loss, COVID-19, omicron

Long Covid 101:

Long Covid is difficult to diagnose. It’s a chronic illness with a wide variety of symptoms, many of which are hard to explain using traditional lab testing. Further, chronic Covid seemingly impacts everyone, with people of all ages developing symptoms of the condition.

Fortunately, new research has discovered 4 factors that appear to increase your risk of long Covid:

  • High levels of coronavirus RNA in the blood (the viral load)

  • The presence of certain autoantibodies (antibodies that mistakenly attack tissues in the body, as they do in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus)

  • The reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus (a virus that infects most people when they’re young and then becomes dormant)

  • Having Type 2 diabetes

Currently, one of the best ways to diagnose chronic COVID-19 is through an organic acid test or an amino acid test. However, these tests only look for mitochondrial damage and the presence of a unique protein and that will not be applicable for all long Covid patients.

In the following sections, we’ll break down exactly how long Covid impacts different regions of the body.

The brain:

Impaired cognitive function, including symptoms like brain fog, reduced memory, and trouble with attention, are symptoms that have been found to be caused by even a mild case of Covid. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has described long-term neurological problems caused by Covid as “a major public health crisis.”

It’s currently unclear how often the virus enters the brain, as, even mild cases have been linked to significant brain inflammation. Brain inflammation could cause some of the neurological symptoms linked with long Covid. Moreover, infections, like Covid, can trigger the over-activation of immune cells called microglia, as seen in the image below. The over-activation of microglia is similar to processes that contribute to some neurodegenerative problems.

Other researchers speculate that long Covid patients are unable to receive proper blood flow to the brain, which could also cause neurological symptoms.

Another theory behind how long Covid affects the brain is related to mitochondria within brain cells. Researchers have already proven COVID-19 “hijack” and manipulate mitochondria in the host cell in an effort to evade host immunity.

If COVID-19 is in the brain, the cells it impacts will lead to neurological damage. These effects will last far longer than the virus is actually inhibiting the body, as the mitochondrial damage will already have been done. Mitochondrial damage can lead to symptoms like brain fog, confusion, memory loss, and headaches.

The circulatory system:

The circulatory system is the system that carries blood throughout the body, consisting of the heart, blood vessels, lymph, blood, and lymphatic glands and vessels. Damage to the circulatory system would explain long Covid symptoms like exhaustion, severe muscle fatigue, and problems working out.

One study on long Covid patients found that exercise can trigger unexpected responses. The study found that when long Covid patients rode a bike, despite having normal-appearing hearts and lungs, their muscles were only able to extract a fraction of the normal amount of oxygen from blood vessels as they pedaled. The result is a markedly lowered exercise capacity.

Researchers theorize that chronic inflammation may also be to blame for disruption to the circulatory system. Chronic inflammation can damage nerve fibers that help control circulation. The damaged fibers, seen in the images below, are associated with a malfunction of automatic functions like breathing, digestion, and heart rate. All of which are common symptoms of long Covid.

These findings demonstrate that anxiety or low fitness level is not to blame for some symptoms of long Covid, but rather it is systemic physical problems.

Researchers in South Africa found another circulatory issue: microscopic blood clots. When you get tiny blood clots during a Covid infection, they will typically break down naturally. But for patients with long Covid, they might stick around. These clots can block the oxygen-carrying capillaries.

Whatever the cause, low oxygen levels may be the culprit behind severe fatigue, one of the most common symptoms of long Covid. Many long Covid patients even meet the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome, which can be triggered by a viral infection. Keep in mind that chronic fatigue is very different from regular tiredness, chronic fatigue syndrome is also associated with symptoms like confusion, poor memory, and muscle weakness.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known to be associated with circulatory problems and a lack of circulating oxygen. Too little oxygen puts an enormous strain on the body’s metabolism and can make simple activities feel like running a marathon.

The lungs:

Another common symptom of long Covid is shortness of breath. However, when common lung tests are taken, like CT scans, functional tests, and X-rays, they often come back normal.

However, one group of British researchers used specialized M.R.I. scans and found preliminary evidence of lung damage in long Covid patients. The scans indicated that the long Covid patients were unable to take in oxygen as efficiently as healthy people did, despite their lung function seeming normal.

This study was small, so more patients will need to be tested to confirm these findings. But if these results hold up in a larger study, one explanation for the shortness of breath could include micro clots in lung tissue or thickening of the blood-air barrier that regulates oxygen uptake in the lungs.

The immune system:

For patients with long Covid, their immune system seems to be in a state of disruption. It could also be possible that the chronic immune dysfunction following a Covid infection set off a chain response in tissues throughout the body. However, most researchers theorize that the cause of such disruption is lingering coronavirus cells that have embedded in tissues throughout the body- like the intestines, lymph nodes, and elsewhere.

As you can see in the image below, coronavirus RNA is still visible in different tissues, from the thyroid to the testes.

What researchers don’t know is if these viral reservoirs embedded in tissues cause inflammation in surrounding regions. This would explain symptoms like brain fog, gastrointestinal problems, and exhaustion.

Researchers have also found evidence that a Covid-19 infection may trigger a damaging and lasting autoimmune response. High levels of antibodies have been found many months after the initial infection. With no more coronavirus to attach, these antibodies turn on your own tissues and attack them.

A third possibility is that the initial Covid infection triggers chronic inflammation, potentially by reactivating dormant viruses that normally exist in your body, specifically, the Epstein-Barr virus. The Epstein-Barr virus is one of the most common human viruses. The majority of people are infected with the virus throughout their lives, whether they know it or now.

Due to the intricacies of the immune system, it’s possible that all of these explanations may co-exist together. Moreover, as people have different long Covid symptoms, there may be a different immune problem behind it. Figuring out which problems are central to each patient’s illness is critical for guiding treatment.

What can I do if I have long Covid?

The best thing you can do in the face of mitochondrial damage is rest and supplement with proper nutrients to stimulate mitochondrial regeneration. But unfortunately, in our busy world, it can be difficult to do so. Improper rest and nutrient supplementation will only lead to symptoms worsening- as the remaining mitochondria and ACE2 are not equipped to provide energy for daily function.

The Johnson Center offers a multi-pronged approach to treating chronic COVID. However, before treatment, it is vital to discern mitochondrial health and the presence of ACE2. An organic acid test or amino acid test will be able to tell if your mitochondria have been damaged from a COVID-19 infection. Levels of ACE2 protein do not necessarily need to be tested due to the commonplace damage caused by COVID-19. However, signs of ACE2 damage can also be seen in an organic acid test or amino acid test.

After testing, the Johnson Center undergoes the following treatment steps:

  • Increase ACE2 function

  • Decrease persisting inflammation

  • Improve mitochondrial function

  • Stimulate neuroplasticity

  • Enhance depleted neurotransmitters.

Chronic COVID is not something you have to suffer through for the rest of your life. The solution lies in increasing the number of mitochondria, enhancing mitochondrial function, and restoring the ACE2 protein. At the Johnson Center, we will do our best to increase energy, metabolism, and vitality to help you live the life you’ve always wanted.

To learn more about the Johnson's Center and Chronic COVID-19, click here to contact us! If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at or call 276-235-3205.

To learn more about who’s at risk for chronic COVID, click here.

To learn more about the symptoms of long COVID, click here.

To learn more about the neurological symptoms of chronic COVID, click here.

To learn more about an overview of chronic COVID, click here.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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