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Unraveling the Mysteries of Long-Covid: Using Eastern Medicine to Address a Complex Disease

By Autumn Bear

It’s estimated as many as three out of every ten people who have contracted Covid-19 develop or have battled Long-Covid. That’s an extraordinary section of the population struggling with a disease either misunderstood, underdiagnosed, or altogether mistreated by well-meaning medical professionals still unclear exactly what it is, where it originated, and how to get rid of it. In over two decades of practicing Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, food therapy, and a whole-holistic approach to virus and disease treatment, I have developed an understanding of Long-Covid and what techniques in my training I can use to encourage recovery.

I took on my first Long-Covid patient a few years ago. Now, I have dozens and have begun telehealth visits to help those who can’t make the trip to my Park City, Utah office. By the time many suffering with Long-Covid get to me, they’ve already been spun through the medical maze of primary care doctors, specialists, tests, prescription drugs, more tests, inconclusive results, and deteriorating overall health. I have one patient who kept track of her multi-year health decline on a spreadsheet! Most Long-Covid patients become so deeply frustrated with the system they assume life as they knew it is over, and they will remain in this sickened state forever. Treating them must be an all-encompassing physical and emotional reset, and while it doesn’t happen immediately, Chinese medicine is showing progress almost right away.

While Western medicine is making strides, almost all of it involves drug intervention that is mostly experimental for Long-Covid while focusing on symptoms versus root cause. Research is showing Long-Covid can hide deep inside the gut and weaken the immune system enough for other latent viruses to reactivate, thwarting the healing biodynamics of an otherwise healthy person. That inability to purge the virus, sometimes for months or years, leaves the body depleted and withering from the inside out. With Long-Covid, tired is full-body exhaustion, brain fog is the inability to recount a word or phrase, and headaches are pulsing skull pain so intense you can’t get out of bed. Sometimes patients develop an arrythmia, extreme shortness of breath during simple activities, or autoimmune disorders they’d never had before like celiac disease or diabetes. The exploration of treatment for my Long-Covid patients began with what I already knew about another sinister condition: dysautonomia.

Living in altitude here in Utah, we see our fair share of traumatic brain injuries coming in off the mountains. Both the US Ski and Snowboard teams train here, along with the US Cycling team, so our patients are outdoor enthusiasts who often suffer multiple concussions, sometimes back-to-back, and present with symptoms of dysautonomia -- or a hiccup in the autonomic system. This can include practically everything related to the automatic functions of our bodies, like heart rate, digestion, kidney function, and temperature control. In the worst cases, dysautonomia can disrupt vision, sleep, appetite, and cognition. It is a beast, and Long-Covid looks almost like an identical twin. Now, the trick here is treating Long-Covid similarly—and yet differently from trauma, but with that patently focused Chinese tradition on the whole person and not just the disease. When referring physicians began to ask if acupuncture could benefit dysautonomia, and then, Long-Covid, I knew my specialized healing processes could be a game-changer. And so far, they’re proving to be just that.

Eastern medicine examines how all our systems connect and function together. It’s a multi-faceted approach that opens pathways for blood flow, circulation, tissue repair, and support of that overall wellness we feel when our autonomic system is firing. Acupuncture, on a cellular level, can flush the body with new oxygen to repair damage in our organs and brains, an enormously beneficial component for healing dysautonomia and Long-Covid patients. Typically, within 5-10 treatments, marked improvement is happening and patients who feared recovery was out of reach, are getting better!

Now, viruses and trauma are different, and in that, I often see recovery from viral overload happen more rapidly. In Long-Covid, we’re seeing multi-system failures occur like we do in dysautonomia, but replenishing the body must include a gentle understanding of what the patient has experienced: The matrix of the system, the “normal” pathology that has doctors scrambling to identify the problem (when it appears that none exists), and the day-to-day sickness stealing lives away. A different type of trauma to the brain, but alas, one that has staying power, and my treatments include the unwinding of fear and hopelessness. Rebuilding takes work, and our understanding of Long-Covid is still early, but I am optimistic and eager. If we believe everything roots from the gut, like research is showing, we treat from the inside out, heal the hot spots where Long Covid hides, and give the body a chance to breathe again. For anyone stuck in illness or lost in the web of traditional medicine, don’t be afraid to seek another route. There are resources available, and healing is possible.

About Autumn Bear

Autumn Bear, M.S., L.AC, DIPL AC is a formally trained master acupuncturist and expert in classical Chinese medicine as transmitted directly by esteemed Taoist master and 88th generation practitioner, Jeffrey C. Yeun of the Jade Purity and Dragon Gate lineage. She is licensed to practice acupuncture in Utah and New York, and is a board-certified diplomate of acupuncture as conferred by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Bear holds a Master of Science degree in acupuncture from the Swedish Institute of Health Sciences in New York City, and studied for a Master of Public Health degree, with a specialty in International Medicine and Maternal and Child Health at the University of Arizona, with further focus on epidemiology, nutrition, environmental health, physiology, and psychology. Bear is also a visiting professor at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (New York) including programs focused on integrating acupuncture into mainstream medicine at the University Paris xi Faculte de Medecine Paris-sud in Paris, France, and the Wu Ming Dao Healing Center, in Moscow, Russia.

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