I caught Covid in December 2021, having just had a knee replaced. I was on my feet for Christmas but now know I did too much too quickly, which hindered my recovery. However, as we rolled into March, I realised I was getting worse not better, putting on unexplained weight, feeling very depressed and was exhausted. I knew I was also dealing with other issues, such as Adrenal fatigue caused by extreme stress, and probably Long Covid as well. Long Covid and Adrenal fatigue share some symptoms such as exhaustion, elements of depression, sleep issues. So the issue was how to get well when I hardly had any energy to talk to anyone about the issues.

Dr Emeran Mayer wrote an interesting book called The Mind-Gut Connection. In it he explains the complexity of how the brain, and gut, are linked; the gut sometimes being called the second brain. The brain communicates with the gut via the sympathetic nervous system (the fight and flight mechanism) and the parasympathetic system (concerns rest and digestion). So when, for example, you are anxious you trigger the sympathetic nervous system and experience that ‘washing machine feeling’ in the gut so that anxiety is felt in the gut. The gut controls absorption of nutrients, speed of digestion, the level of inflammation in the digestive system and your immune response. Investigations are starting to look at the potential link of Covid to the gut and the balance of bacteria in the gut.

A JRC study looked at the interaction between Covid and the gut microbiome (bacteria). In addition to controlling digestion, the microbiome links to our immune response and whether harmful bacterial endotoxins escape to other organs, such as the lungs. The study found that ‘Many studies assume links between SARS-CoV-2 infection and an imbalance in the gut microbiome, also known as gut dysbiosis’. It is yet to be determined if Covid is the cause or result of Covid, but ensuring you have a healthy gut is a key constituent potentially to returning to health.

I went for numerous tests to understand the full impact of stress and Covid on me. Apart from Adrenal fatigue, diagnosed via the DUTCH test, I also had SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). Understanding of long Covid is limited at the time of writing this. My saviour was a doctor who specialised in functional medicine who I found to guide me through the journey back to gut health, and along with others was looking at the Covid-gut link.

The journey back to health has been multi faceted. The first phase was to keep the gut healthy, and eat a healthy diet. Advice that comes with many diets is to eat a more plant-based diet, limit red meat, avoid refined sugars and carbohydrates.

  • I was put on the low FODMAP diet, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. This includes avoiding carbohydrates that the small intestine digests poorly but upon which “bad” gut bacteria can thrive and includes carbohydrates such as wheat, garlic and onions, some fruit and, in my case, lactose too.
  • Alongside changing my diet, I needed supplements to help restore the balance in my gut towards good bacteria. This included probiotics to help balance the gut and promote good bacteria and digestive enzymes to help the absorption.
  • Part of the FODMAP diet is not drinking much and being careful with caffeine. I realised I had drank a small amount but far to regularly and decided to just stop drinking for a month. I found drinking was associated with stress and instead either did some sort of activity which could be a simple as household chores, to enjoying my favourite comedians and films.

The gut also communicates with other organs including the brain. When the balance of the gut microbiome changes it can cause other issues with hormones, fatigue, and depression.

  • I had a hormone imbalance which meant altering the hormone supplements that I took.
  • Plus, various vitamins were significantly below normal, such as Vitamin D.

The second element of recovery was much more about how I managed me.

  • I researched how to improve my sleep. I found when reflecting I had always had sleep issues and had no real pattern to my sleep. Accepting what I needed and not fighting when I needed to sleep or for how long actually improved my sleep. I now sleep 6-7 hours per night which is fine for me.
  • Anxiety, stress and PTSD had all interfered with sleep. If I got anxious at night or during the day I re-established practices long held but had fallen apart when I became very ill. I had identified what a good learning practice was which underpins any kind of personal development. I went back to writing a learning journal and combined that with meditation, mindfulness and breathing practices.

I can remember once I started to walk again getting anxiety attacks. I would breath in for 4, hold for 4 and out for 4 and then extend the breath out to calm down again.

I started the new “heath programme” (diet, supplements, light exercise, etc) in the June and began to see results within the month’ my health has carried on improving. By mid-September I was well enough to start to build up exercise; and by the end of 2021 I was able to walk 7+ miles again, had lost the fatigue and had lost weight. Due to my knee replacement, I am no longer able to jog so my primary aerobic exercise is to “power walk” to increase my heartrate.

The key factor in getting to grips with any well-being issue is being prepared to change your habits. So, you have to really want to improve and this has to be part of a very clear vision for your future. In my case, I wanted to be able to walk my dogs, be an active grandparent and be able to get back to work to do what I love, which is to help people develop and improve their own and others’ lives.

Habit changing is a journey in its own right. I fell off building my new habits numerous times but built a narrative for myself that I shared with others, enabling me to quickly got back on track. Writing my learning journal was fundamental to the habit change and helped me see unhealthy and healthy patterns as I developed. Key is measuring how you are progressing and some measures can be a surprise. One side benefit of improving my gut health and starting to exercise was watching my heart rate reduce by 15 beats per minute. My blood pressure is now almost normal, for first time in a few years! Both of these things are highly informative measures of success and are also key to not generating more serious health issues in the future.

I hope this inspires you to start or continue the journey yourself, If you are suffering from long Covid or have suffered a lot of stress. There is evidence building that gut health is a key component of improving well-being. In terms of next steps, may be talk to a doctor or functional medicine practitioner who can help you work out if you are suffering from gut issues or adrenal fatigue. Given the complexity of returning to well-being, if you have been ill, happy to share more of my experience if that would help.

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