The pandemic may have officially ended, but the battle against COVID-19 continues. As we gather more knowledge about the virus, it becomes clearer that overcoming its immediate effects was only the beginning. A significant point of discussion in recent medical circles revolves around the spike protein of the virus and the side effects it can produce.
We’re all curious to know more about the spike protein’s nature, its long-term effects, and natural strategies to alleviate any negative effects – and this blog covers everything that we know so far about it.
What Are Spike Proteins?
The spike protein is a defining feature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. When we talk about it, the images often show the virus’s surface dotted with spike-like structures – the spike proteins.
They facilitate the virus’s entry into human cells, binding to a human cell receptor known as ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2), which is abundant on the surface of cells in our lungs, heart, and other organs. Once the spike protein binds to this receptor, the virus enters and infects the cell, leading to viral replication and spreading.
The spike protein also mutates. Changes in the spike protein of some SARS-CoV-2 variants could affect how the virus spreads or reacts to previous infections or vaccinations. It’s one reason why monitoring variants and the nature of these mutations is vital for ongoing public health efforts.
Spike Protein and Vaccines
Vaccinations have been one of the most significant breakthroughs in the fight against COVID-19. Many vaccine types work by introducing a harmless version or segment of the coronavirus spike protein into the body, allowing the immune system to recognize it, respond to it, and “remember” it. It means that if the person is exposed to the virus in the future, the immune system can recognize and combat it more efficiently.
Spike Protein and Long-COVID
Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), now commonly known as Long COVID, includes a range of symptoms that continue for weeks or even months after a person recovers from the acute phase of a COVID-19 infection.
People with severe cases of infection are more likely to develop Long COVID, although anyone with the virus can develop it. In addition, unvaccinated individuals who get infected acquire Long COVID more often than those who have been vaccinated. The risk of developing long-haul COVID increases each time a person is infected or re-infected with SARS-CoV-2.
While the exact cause of Long COVID remains uncertain, researchers have several ideas regarding the long-term effects of SARS-Cov-2 spike protein:
1. Persistent Virus Fragments
Some researchers believe that fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including parts of the spike protein, might remain in the body and continue to cause an immune response, leading to prolonged symptoms.
2. Autoimmune Response
An autoimmune response may occur after the immune system mistakenly targets tissues after exposure to the spike protein. It could arise if there are structures in the body similar enough to the spike protein, prompting the immune system to get “confused.”
3. Vascular Damage
The spike protein interacts with ACE2 receptors, which are prevalent in the blood vessels. Some research suggests that this interaction might cause direct damage to the vascular system, which could contribute to Long COVID symptoms.
4. Organ Damage
Severe COVID-19 infections can directly damage organs such as the lungs, heart, and brain. The spike protein’s interaction with these organs (via ACE2 receptors) might play a role in the damage, leading to persistent symptoms even after the virus is cleared from the body.
Long COVID Symptoms
Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019, numerous individuals have noted lasting symptoms post-infection, which often include:
- Dry cough
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Joint or muscle pain
- Frequent headaches
- Pin and needle sensation
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Change or persistent loss of taste or smell
- Digestive issues like diarrhea or stomach pain
- Lightheadedness or dizziness when standing up
- Memory and concentration problems or brain fog
Natural Ways to Prevent and Relieve Long COVID
One of the best ways to avoid Long COVID is to protect yourself and others from infection. For those eligible, stay up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccinations. If you have symptoms, get tested for COVID-19. In case you test positive, seek treatment as soon as possible.
Other prevention measures include improving ventilation at home and avoiding close contact with people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 illnesses. Here are additional ways to combat Long COVID naturally:
1. Practice Good Hygiene
Good hygiene practices prevent the spread of diseases and create an environment conducive to healing. Whether it’s the potential risk of spreading the virus or preventing secondary infections from compromised immunity or skin reactions, maintaining proper hygiene is essential. Here are a few rules you must follow:
- Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap. If not available, use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.
- Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and discard tissues properly.
- Refrain from touching the nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cleanse skin reactions with mild soap and lukewarm water to prevent secondary infections.
- Regularly clean high-touch surfaces, like countertops and door handles.
- Avoid sharing items like towels and eating utensils. Clean them thoroughly after use.
- Wash and dry clothes and bedding completely, especially if in contact with someone showing symptoms.
- Dispose of tissues, masks, or other waste in sealed bags, and wash your hands afterward.
2. Keep Hydrated
Keeping the body well-hydrated supports cellular function, detoxification, and overall well-being. Drink ample water throughout the day. Consider drinking herbal teas known for their anti-inflammatory properties, such as ginger or chamomile. Coconut water can also provide electrolytes that aid in hydration.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
Proper nutrition strengthens the immune system and speeds up recovery. Prioritize whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals to detox from COVID. Consume antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like blueberries, spinach, cabbage, and broccoli. Omega-3-rich foods, such as flaxseeds and walnuts, can also help manage inflammation. In addition, probiotic foods such as yogurt or fermented foods support gut health and immunity.
4. Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is the body’s primary time for repair and recovery. Ensuring proper rest helps manage symptoms and improve overall health. Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep nightly. Create a calm sleeping environment free from distractions. Consider natural sleep aids like melatonin if you experience sleep problems.
5. Reduce Stress
Stress can exacerbate symptoms and delay recovery. Relax using deep breathing exercises, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. Walking in nature, reading, or listening to music also promotes relaxation. Regular exercise also releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
6. Take Herbs and Supplements
Certain herbs and supplements can boost immunity and mitigate symptoms. Consider vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium, known for their immune-enhancing properties. You can also take turmeric and ginger, both with potent anti-inflammatory properties, which you can get in supplement form or as an ingredient in cooking. In addition, supplements or foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and pain.
7. Apply Natural Topicals
For localized symptoms like pain or rashes, topical applications can offer relief. You can use CBD oil or dilute essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus in carrier oils and apply them for relaxation or pain relief. Cold or warm compresses also ease muscle aches or headaches.
COVID-19 Tests in Bermuda
As COVID-19 enters its fourth year, the Omicron variant and its sub-variants continue to cause infections around the globe. Fortunately, COVID-19 vaccines prevent severe diseases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
If you’re feeling symptoms, we offer COVID-19 testing service at Premier Health & Wellness Center. By getting tested, you will determine your status and take immediate steps toward recovery, helping enhance the overall safety of our community. The combination of regular testing and preventive measures will provide a comprehensive approach to preventing COVID-19 and Long COVID.
Visit us at 38 King Street, Hamilton HM12, Bermuda, or The Bank of Butterfield Building, 1 King’s Square St George’s Bermuda GE05. You may also call us at 441-292-5111 for more info!