Probiotics Aid Recovery From Long COVID

Taking probiotics and prebiotics may help to reduce fatigue and improve concentration in patients with long COVID.

Post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, or long COVID, affects over 65 million individuals worldwide. Although the condition may worsen the quality of life more than some cancers, treatment options remain scarce three years into the pandemic.

A new study by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, suggests that altering the gut microbiome with probiotics — the good bacteria — may help to speed up recovery from the condition.

The study enrolled 463 patients who had experienced at least one symptom of long COVID for four weeks or more after confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.

They were randomly assigned either to placebo or SIM01, a cocktail containing probiotics — three bacterial strains, Bifidobacterium adolescentis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum, and three prebiotic compounds.

Those taking SIM01 were significantly more likely to report reduced fatigue, memory loss, difficulty in concentration, gastrointestinal upset, and general unwellness compared to the placebo group six months after the treatment.

For instance, 77% of the participants taking a probiotic/prebiotic mix saw improvement in general unwellness, compared with 59% in the placebo group.

Among those on the treatment, 63% reported reduced fatigue, and 62% said their concentration improved, compared to 43% and 39% of the participants taking placebo, respectively.

The researchers note that treatment with SIM01 improved the composition of gut microbiota by increasing the good bacteria and suppressing the bad bacteria associated with long COVID.

Previous studies have shown that long COVID patients had significantly altered gut microbiota beyond one year after acute infection. The bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain may partly explain some neuropsychiatric symptoms of long COVID.

Besides the use of probiotics and prebiotics, infections with Omicron variants, vaccination against COVID-19, and having mild acute disease were associated with symptom alleviation.

Long COVID may last for years

According to 20212 research, long COVID-19 may have 203 different symptoms. However, in this study, the condition was defined by having at least one of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbance
  • Hair loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Inability to exercise
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • General unwellness

The condition may last for months or even years after the infection. Long COVID is more common in people who have had severe COVID-19 illness, but anyone infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus can experience it. The risk of developing the condition is higher for those who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Although the findings are promising, more research into how probiotics help recovery from COVID is needed.


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