DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Could Statins Help Beat Long-Term Covid? It’s just one of many treatments being tested
There are things that you don’t really appreciate until they’re gone, like your sense of smell and the ability to walk upstairs without gasping for breath.
And that’s what millions are dealing with as a result of prolonged Covid.
Thanks to the vaccines, there are signs that we are finally overcoming the virus. But we face a different challenge in long-term Covid, with symptoms such as loss of sense of smell, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and brain fog, lasting for months, possibly years in some people.
I know quite a few people who have or have had Covid for a long time, including one of my sons, Daniel, who could not smell anything for almost six months; and a friend, Sarah, who is in her 50s and a year after getting Covid, still can barely walk upstairs without taking a breather.
Another friend, Louise, who is in her late fifties, lost her sense of smell and found that foods she normally likes tasted absolutely disgusting.
As many as two million people in the UK could be affected, according to a recent study by Imperial College London.
Surprisingly, this also revealed that while men from ethnic minority groups are most at risk of dying from Covid if they get it, women, especially middle-aged white women like Sarah and Louise, are most likely to get Covid for a long time.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge examine whether giving statins or a blood-thinning drug to patients on hospital discharge helps long-term outcomes
What causes long-term Covid is still a mystery, although we know that the virus can attack almost any organ, from your lungs to your heart, kidneys and brain.
A recent study found that people with long-term Covid reported more than 200 different symptoms, covering ten of the body’s major organs.
With the loss of smell, the most likely explanation is that the virus is attacking nerve cells in your nose.
The prolonged fatigue and shortness of breath is also likely the result of an attack on nerve cells, especially nerve cells that are part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates bowel function, heart rate and breathing, among other things.
Evidence for this comes from a surprising source: fitness trackers.
Many, like me, use these to monitor our heart rate, physical activity, and sleep.
The companies that sell these devices also store this data, and now some savvy researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California have realized that this kind of data, anonymized, can be used to compare what happens to people in the long run. Have had Covid with those who have had other respiratory illnesses such as the flu.
The researchers recruited 37,000 people who shared the data from their fitness trackers and provided their symptoms and Covid test results via an app.
Using the data from 875 people, the researchers found that after several months, those who had Covid were sick for longer, with a prolonged and marked increase in their heart rate (which remained high for more than two months on average) and increased fatigue and shortness of breath.
If you are one of the many people affected by long-term Covid, what can you do about it?
There are many studies testing different treatments – for example, at the University of Glasgow, they are recruiting overweight or obese people and long Covid for an 850 calorie a day, rapid weight loss study.
In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins are potent anti-inflammatory drugs, while blood-thinning drugs should prevent clots, a common complication of long-term Covid that can lead to strokes and heart damage
Previous research has shown that carrying a lot of excess fat increases the risk of death if you get Covid, and makes long-term complications more likely.
Losing weight has been shown to reduce post-Covid fatigue, shortness of breath and inflammation.
Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Cambridge are looking at whether giving statins or a blood-thinning drug to patients upon discharge from hospital helps long-term outcomes.
In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins are potent anti-inflammatory agents, while blood-thinning drugs are supposed to prevent clots, a common complication of long-term Covid that can lead to strokes and heart damage.
If you suffer from fatigue, the advice is to stay as active as possible. The secret is to keep yourself up to speed, with lots of short rests, and slowly add more gentle exercise, such as a short walk, to your life.
And if, like my friend Louise, you’ve lost your sense of smell, you could try smell training—twice a day, sniff things that produce a distinctive, familiar smell, such as oranges, mint, garlic, or coffee.
Studies suggest that if you do this for several weeks, there’s a good chance your nose will kick in again.
A cup of coffee a day can help keep dementia at bay
Coffee is rich in healthy antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds
These days I have a pretty regular morning ritual: after I stagger out of bed at 7am and do resistance exercises (press-ups, squats and the dreaded plank) I drink a cup of black tea and go for a walk with our dog, then a cold one. shower, breakfast and the first of several cups of coffee.
So I was stunned when I read about a study, published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, that linked drinking a lot of coffee to a higher risk of dementia.
But when I looked at the details of the study, I was relieved to see that the link was only true if you drank more than six cups a day.
In fact, it was found that light drinkers (one to two cups a day) not only had larger brains and 53 percent less risk of dementia than heavy coffee drinkers, but also larger and healthier brains than those who didn’t drink the drink at all, or who drank only decaf.
This may be because coffee is not only a stimulant, but it is also rich in healthy antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds.
This could also explain the findings of a review of 200 studies, published in the BMJ in 2017, that found that moderate coffee drinking was associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer, and a lower rate of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
You may also want to avoid gulping down your coffee first.
Early in the morning, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, begin to rise, setting you up for the day ahead.
They peak about 30 minutes after you wake up and then start to fall.
If you supplement with caffeine while cortisol levels are high, it simply replaces the boost you would normally get, rather than adding to it.
It takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine to reach your brain – so if you wait at least 40 minutes for your first coffee, you should start to feel the effects about an hour after waking up, just as the cortisol starts to decline.
Putting off that first delicious sip also gives you something to look forward to!
I love Australia, not least because it is home to some of my closest friends. It is also home to some of the most venomous creatures, including the Fraser Island funnel web spider.
But while deadly, this creature can save lives — its venom contains a protein, Hi1a, which Australian researchers have shown has the potential to protect against damage caused by stroke or heart attack.
Both rob cells of oxygen, which in turn kills many other cells nearby.
This protein blocks this process and in lab studies even reduced brain damage when given up to eight hours after the stroke.
Clinical trials are needed, but the researchers believe it could become a life-saving part of a paramedic’s kit.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my terrible posture that makes me look years older.
Since then I’ve taken up yoga – and invested in a posture brace (I bought the most popular version from the internet).
It seems to work. Even when I’m not wearing it, I look better and a friend I haven’t seen in several months said, ‘Wow, you look amazing! Did you exercise?’
All very encouraging.