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Desperate Long COVID Patients Turn to Unproven Alternative Therapies

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Sorting Through Supplements

Yufang Lin, MD, an integrative specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, says many patients with long COVID enter her office with bags of supplements.

“There’s no data on them, and in large quantities, they may even be harmful,” she says.

Instead, she works closely with the Cleveland Clinic’s long COVID center to do a thorough workup of each patient, which often includes screening for certain nutritional deficiencies.

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“Anecdotally, we do see many patients with long COVID who are deficient in these vitamins and minerals,” says Lin. “If someone is low, we will suggest the appropriate supplement. Otherwise, we work with them to institute some dietary changes.”

­This usually involves a plant-based, anti-inflammatory eating pattern such as the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fatty fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados.

Other supplements some doctors recommend for patients with long COVID are meant to treat inflammation, Bell says, although there’s not good evidence they work. One is the antioxidant coenzyme Q10.

But a small preprint study published in The Lancet this past August of 121 patients with long COVID who took 500 milligrams a day of coenzyme Q10 for 6 weeks saw no differences in recovery than those who took a placebo. Because the study is still a preprint, it has not been peer-reviewed.

Another is probiotics. A small 2021 study published in the journal Infectious Diseases Diagnosis & Treatment found that a blend of five lactobacillus probiotics, along with a prebiotic called inulin, taken for 30 days, helped with long-term COVID symptoms such as coughing and fatigue. But larger studies need to be done to support their use.

One that may have more promise is omega-3 fatty acids. Like many other supplements, these may help with long COVID by easing inflammation, says Steven Flanagan, MD, a rehabilitation medicine specialist at NYU Langone in New York who works with long COVID patients. Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York are studying whether a supplement can help patients who have lost their sense of taste or smell after an infection, but results aren’t yet available.

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