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Post COVID Syndrome and Gut Issues

One afternoon during the last week of February, I hugged a friend who had just returned from an overseas trip as we headed out to grab lunch and catch up. This was before quarantine, before masks and social distancing. After a few minutes, it dawned on me to ask if she'd seen any "Coronavirus activity" while across the Pacific. She exclaimed, "Oh, yeah! EVERYONE in the airport was wearing a mask." I froze. I wondered if I had just been exposed.

Fast forward a week or so, and my formerly picture-perfect poop came out as mush, like sad pudding. Within the next few days, that progressed to watery diarrhea and fatigue. Over the next 6 weeks, the diarrhea continued (some days the diarrhea was replaced by pencil-thin poops), and the fatigue became unbearable, as if I were at the bottom of the ocean, trying to move under all that weight and pressure. It felt like the fatigue of ME/CFS, very different from a "normal" bout of fatigue or weakness. I ran intermittent fevers that never reached over 100.6F. I had night sweats. Some days I was sure I was past it and felt nearly back to normal (except for the bowels), and could go outside to slowly tool around in my garden for a few minutes, only to have the fatigue and feeling of just being so incredibly unwell return the next day. Twice during those weeks I was very close to going to the hospital. It felt like I might be dying. Twice, randomly, I felt I couldn't catch my breath. My pulse oximeter read 89 on one of those occasions. I never had more than a very mild cough, and that for only half a day. I also experienced an elevated heart rate a couple of times, which occurred while resting. Never in my 50 years had I felt such a bizarre illness. Toward the beginning of the saga, I went to my GP who said, "Well, you're fighting something off; we just don't know what," but I knew. I was certain it was COVID; nothing else feels the same. I've had colds, the flu, etc. Nothing else feels like this. My COVID test came back negative. I heard later on the news that there were many false negatives. I was very certain that if I had had a COVID stool test, it would've been positive.

At some point during the initial 6 weeks of hell, my gallbladder began to ache. That's when I reached out and made an appointment with an NMD. When she palpated my gallbladder and had me breathe in, the pain was intense. A later ultrasound showed no stones or sludge and ducts were clear.

Blood work done the first week of May was good (apart from a touch of dehydration); thyroid, CBC, liver and kidney enzymes, all good. Insulin, ferritin, homocysteine, all good. No signs of inflammation. Platelets showed some clumping, but count was normal.

Journal entry, Wednesday, May 20, 2020:
The last 24 hours has not been fun for my gallbladder. I’ve not felt well, had very smelly gas, bloating, floating poops this evening.  
Two days ago I felt pretty well. Damn the roller coaster!

Journal entry, Tuesday, May 26, 2020:
GB (gallbladder) very colicky, even without eating. I feel overall unwell. I just want to lie in bed. I’m having a lot of heart palpitations, too.

Journal entry, Friday, July 10, 2020:
Diarrhea all day. Very smelly gas. Feeling weird and off. I have lost 16 lbs since February, not trying. Feeling like I can start to work out a little harder. 
Journal entry, Monday, August 3, 2020:
102.7 lbs this morning... I’m not entirely sure I’m losing weight from effort (I have been eating carefully and exercising regularly) or from the Rona-damaged gut. Time will tell, I suppose. I feel great! My poops are still a weeeee bit skinny, but definitely getting there. My energy is good, my mind is clear. 

Journal entry, Wednesday, August 26, 2020:
Rona flare, or new infection?
I’m feeling like it’s one or the other. The marshmallow root I took yesterday didn’t stop the diarrhea. Normally it stops it in one dose. I’ll take it again later today. 

At least I’m not having anxiety about it now. I was for a few days and it was awful. I’m so not a fan of anxiety. I think the Phosphorus 30c did the trick (with a shot or two of GABA for a boost, and Yoga Nidra!)

Journal entry, Thursday, September 24, 2020:
Watery diarrhea all day, weakness

The last week of September my NMD kept me out of the ER with IV's in her office. That's how bad it's been since the 17th of September. Normally, in the pre-COVID-19 world, when my gut has been off, I could fix it pretty easily and quickly (I've had lots of practice). None of my usual protocols have touched what's been going on in my gut since March. Below I'm going to describe what I believe is happening or could be happening in my gut.

We know that the current coronavirus, SARS-CoV2, enters our cells via the ACE-2 receptor. We know it has an affinity for thrashing epithelial cells. We know the gut and gallbladder are lined with epithelial cells and ACE-2 receptors.

I postulate that in late February, I was exposed to SARS-CoV2 and for some reason, it bypassed my lungs and went for my weak spot, my digestive tract (I'm a FUT2 non-secretor which makes me more prone to gut infections). I question the possibility of either more than one incident of infection, or the possibility of latent infection - the virus going dormant only to reappear later at an opportune time (in the same way some other viruses do, for example, the herpes virus, HSV).

We know from previous gut tests that my gallbladder [GB] wasn't performing optimally so perhaps that was also a weak spot that became infected.

We know from a RUQ (right upper quadrant) ultrasound that there was nothing physically wrong with my gallbladder, but yellow diarrhea and greasy, floating stool suggests lack of bile (symptoms are also relieved by taking sufficient ox bile supplement), making this a functional problem. After 2+ months of herbal/natural treatment, there was no pain at palpation by my doctors (I had seen a GI at that point as well), and the dull ache was gone for about a month (then returned and continues as a sporadic, dull ache) after herbal remedies and acupuncture.

If the virus damaged the epithelial cells of my digestive tract, including those in the duodenum, the answer to the GB/bile insufficiency symptoms could point to lack of CCK production because of damaged cells (speculation from a fellow practitioner). With no CCK, the hormone that signals the release of bile from the gallbladder and pancreatic enzymes from the pancreas (my gut test also showed low pancreatic enzyme activity based on the stool), the gallbladder may just be sitting there grumbling, not knowing when to release bile (hence the sometimes yellow, sometimes brown, sometimes greasy and floating, and occasionally, but rarely - fat, normal poops). A second set of bloodwork to test for markers of pancreatic cancer, IBD and some other gut issues were all negative for disease (end of September, 6+ months into this saga) and my NMD diagnosed me with a virus in the gut and prescribed herbal anti-virals. (I've been saying it's Rona all along [and the GI I saw thinks I had COVID-19 in March], so it's good that we're finally on the same train, or at least headed in the same direction). Or maybe I'm wrong and it never was COVID, but I've met far too many people online with the exact same on-going symptoms for me to believe that it's not. The timing fits; the symptoms fit.

Viruses in the gut can deplete beneficial bacteria, and my non-secretor status makes me even more prone to loss of beneficials which can alter the gut environment in unfavorable ways, including increasing pH (pathogens prefer a higher pH; beneficial a lower pH). I began to show clear signs of candida overgrowth within the past week (very end of Sept/early Oct) and am now working on acidifying my gut (with diet) to balance that overgrowth and make the environment friendly for my beneficial bacteria to come back in better numbers. I'm currently taking MegaMycoBalance, MegaSpore and other probiotics, and an herbal anti-viral. Only two days in, I'm already feeling stronger. I will continue to update on this page, so bookmark if you'd like to check back. Contact me if you would like to order what I'm taking, or to schedule an appointment to work with me in my health coaching program.

To the COVID long-haulers, hang in there. I see you, I hear you, and I believe you. I know experiencing the lasting symptoms of COVID-19 is awful and often frightening, but answers will come. It's hard to believe I was running 5K's (and a 10K three weeks before this hit) and now can't run across the street. I have faith that I will someday be able to run again, or at least go grocery shopping without fear of pooping my pants! If you're experiencing anxiety, depression or post-trauma, please reach out to your health care practitioner, or consider seeking naturopathic care or trying meditation (such as Yoga Nidra - yogic sleep; contact me for the name and number of a practitioner who can work with you via video).



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