Combating COVID-19 symptoms with nutrition in an African context

Jun 27,2022

Combating COVID-19 symptoms

 
Most individuals who contract COVID-19 recover completely within a few weeks. For others, COVID-19 symptoms can continue for months and is referred to as post-COVID-19, long COVID, or long-haul COVID.1,2

It has been found that anyone can experience these long-lasting symptoms from weeks to months after contracting COVID-19, including young and healthy individuals.1 Individuals who are older or have several serious medical conditions however, are more likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms for an extended period.1

Common COVID-19 symptoms that could persist over time include1,3:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pins & needles
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tinnitus or earaches
  • Joint, chest, stomach, or muscle pain
  • Fevers
  • Loss or changes in smell or taste
  • Headaches
  • High temperatures
  • Memory, concentration, or sleep issues
  • Heart palpitations
  • Worsened symptoms after physical or mental

activities

When COVID-19 symptoms persist for months, it could lead to lung, kidney, heart, and brain damage, increasing the risk of developing long-term health issues. This includes strokes, temporary paralysis through Guillain-Barre syndrome, inflammatory syndrome, long-term breathing problems, heart complications, and chronic kidney impairment.1  Research is actively being conducted as a great deal of information regarding COVID-19 and how it impacts the health of some people over time is still unknown.1 Thus far, nutrition has been identified as a treatment when managing COVID-19 symptoms to prevent these long-term complications.3 The human body requires a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, protein, energy, fiber, and adequate water to recover, as well as to lower the risk of chronic illnesses and diseases.3,4

The Mediterranean diet has been considered  appropriate to help an individual recover, as it includes nutrients that help maintain the immune system, enables increases in energy levels, and facilitates healthy muscle rebuild.3 Additionally, this diet offers anti-inflammatory influences.3 It is accessible and feasible to patients in an African context as the continent is abundant in plant based food.6,7 Healthcare practitioners may use the easily undersandable infographic when educating their patients on how nutrition manages their COVID-19 symptoms7 :

 

Healthcare practitioners may use the easily undersandable infographic

 
Below is guidance on how to motivate the patients to follow the recommendations in the infographic above7:

Fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, & herbs & spices

Patients are advised to consume core foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and healthy fats such as olive oil on a daily basis.3 Starchy carbohydrates provide the human body with a good source of energy.3 Wholegrain foods are especially good as they slowly release energy, ideal for patients who have a low glycemic index. Vegetables and fruit provide essential vitamins and minerals to the human body, whether they are fresh, frozen, tinned, or dried.3

For patients who are facing issues with their sense of smell or taste are advised to incorporate fruits that have a sharp and bitter tastes such as citrus or to add may help add strong flavours.

Evidence has been found that consuming a diverse range of fiber rich, plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, and wholegrains, is beneficial for gut microbiomes. Probiotics are also recommended, if accessible through spices.3 By supporting gut health in this section of foods, COVID-19 symptoms such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain are addressed.

Fish and seafood

Fish and seafood should, advisably, be consumed often - at least twice a week.3 This source of protein is low in fat. Omega-3 rich sources such as salmon and sardines are most advised. Plant-based sources that include omega-3 are certain nuts, seeds, oils, and soya.3

Dairy, poultry and eggs

These foods should be consumed moderately on a daily basis or weekly at the very least.3 This good source of protein offers some vitamins, such as calcium, which is important for healthy bones.3

Meat, wine, & sweets

These foods should be consumed infrequently.3 It is advised that patients consume this section is smaller amounts and should be reserved for special occasions.7

Beverages

Patients are advised to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water for adequate hydration. Other liquids such as milk and sugar-free drinks contribute towards hydration. Fruit  juice or smoothies should be limited to 150 ml a day.3

Physical activity

In conjunction with the foods included in the Mediterranean diet, it is advisable for patients to enjoy meals with others and keep physically active.3,4 This is in line with Ubuntu, an African philosophy that embraces the importance of community and sharing.5

It is suggested that patients additionally increase their vitamin intake. It is believed that high doses of niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin C, vitamin D, quercetin, and zinc help patients in improving their COVID-19 symptoms. Since there is no scientific evidence of this, patients are recommended not to ingest large doses of an individual vitamin supplements and should rather ingest a one-a-day A-Z multivitamin and mineral supplement.3

By educating patients on the importance of a well-balanced diet, healthcare practitioners can help patients in their communities prevent further organ damage from persisting COVID-19 symptoms with a diet that is easily accessible.

1. Mayo Clinic. 2021. COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351 Date of access: 13 Jun 2022.

2. Soriano, J.B., Murthy, S., Marshall, J.C., Relan, P., Diaz, J.V. and Group, W.C.C.D.W., 2021. A clinical case definition of post-COVID-19 condition by a Delphi consensus. The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

3. BDA: The Association of UK Dietitians. Long Covid and Diet: Food Fact Sheet https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/long-covid-and-diet.html#:~:text=Eat%20lots%20of%20different%20colours,to%20test%20if%20it's%20beneficial Date of access: 13 Jun 2022.

4. World Health Organisation. N.A. Nutrition advice for adults during the COVID-1–9 outbreak. http://www.emro.who.int/nutrition/news/nutrition-advice-for-adults-during-the-covid-19-outbreak.html Date of access: 13 Jun 2022.

5. Project Feast. N.A. Cooking Ubuntu: Celebrating Our Food, Our Stories, Our People. https://projectfeast.org/cooking-ubuntu-project/ Date of access: 13 Jun 2022.

6. Sahyoun, N.R. and Sankavaram, K., 2016. Historical origins of the Mediterranean diet, regional dietary profiles, and the development of the dietary guidelines. In Mediterranean Diet (pp. 43-56). Humana Press, Cham. Date of access: 20 Jun 2022.

7. Bach-Faig, A., Berry, E.M., Lairon, D., Reguant, J., Trichopoulou, A., Dernini, S., Medina, F.X., Battino, M., Belahsen, R., Miranda, G. and Serra-Majem, L., 2011. Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates. Public health nutrition, 14(12A), pp.2274-2284.