Six diet and lifestyle strategies for post-Covid-19 recovery – Indian doctor’s blueprint to get rid of lingering symptoms

Covid-19, symptoms, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer survivor, skin condition psoriasis, arthritis, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, prebiotics, probiotics, circadian rhythm, Meditation, breathing techniques, the vagus nerve

Fellow Covid-19 survivors will immediately connect with the opening line in Dr Vishakha Shivdasani’s book, Covid and Post Covid Recovery. “Surviving is not the same as recovery, doctor. I have survived Covid-19, but I am not the same person I was before Covid,” the patient said, after a month’s recovery. “I have not fully healed.”

As I grapple with the aftermath of Covid-19, I can relate. A month out of hospital, I don’t have the stamina of my pre-Covid days. My energy levels are low. I get exhausted easily. Taking breaks between chores, sometimes a nap, helps me through the day. Other Covid survivors say the same: they experience continuing shortness of breath, muscle weakness, flashbacks, mental fogginess and other symptoms.

“I have seen the entire gamut of cases – from patients who are completely asymptomatic to those who have succumbed to the virus,” says Shivdasani, a Mumbai-based doctor known for helping patients reverse lifestyle-related diseases – diabetes, heart disease and obesity – by combining nutrition and lifestyle changes with medicine.

Her new book, published by Harper Collins, details a six-point plan to combat Covid-19 and build immunity. It includes dietary changes, exercise, meditation and adopting new breathing techniques.

Covid-19, symptoms, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer survivor, skin condition psoriasis, arthritis, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, prebiotics, probiotics, circadian rhythm, Meditation, breathing techniques, the vagus nerve

Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based doctor and award-winning nutritionist. Photo: Dr Vishakha Shivdasani

Following this plan enabled Shivdasani’s patient, a breast cancer survivor in her 60s with multiple underlying conditions, to navigate through recovery after a Covid-19 infection. “She followed the plan even in hospital and today is doing well.”

Another patient, aged 40, with a history of the skin condition psoriasis had to deal with its recurrence two months after she had Covid-19. After six weeks on the plan, she recovered and her psoriasis is now in remission.

“There is no textbook or guidelines for [Covid-19] recovery like we have for malaria, typhoid or influenza,” Shivdasani says.

“People in arthritis remission are complaining of joint pains three months post-Covid. Fortunately, statistics show us that the number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 far exceeds those who are left with complications or who succumb to it.”

Shivdasani penned her new book at Harper Collins’ request after the publisher spotted a patient’s post on her Instagram page: “Thank you doc for the post-Covid plan. I feel like a different human being. Everyone should follow Dr Vee’s plan.”

Her decades of experience in treating patients through disease-reversal programmes for diabetes and obesity had taught her that chronic inflammation is the common denominator in patients with comorbidities.

“Chronic inflammation intensifies the problem in Covid patients,” she says. “The immune system which is fighting existing ailments now also has to deal with the virus. By reversing comorbidities, patients will have a better outcome.”

The answer lies in modifications in diet and lifestyle, she says, adding: “We can bring down inflammation within a few days by eating correctly.”

She has commonsense advice for readers who are concerned about catching one of the new coronavirus mutations.

“Use the pandemic to enhance immunity and build good health,” she says. “We cannot control the virus but we can work on our health with the tools we have.”

Covid-19, symptoms, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer survivor, skin condition psoriasis, arthritis, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, prebiotics, probiotics, circadian rhythm, Meditation, breathing techniques, the vagus nerve

Eat good fats such as avocado oil (above) and mustard oil. Photo: Shutterstock

Shivdasani’s six-point plan

1 Choose food wisely Begin the day with proteins, not carbohydrates. Don’t fear fats. A high-fat diet can prevent overeating. Avoid bad fats like seed oils; include good fats (extra virgin olive oil, mustard oil, avocado oil, coconut oil). Exclude sugar – the most inflammatory food and an immunosuppressant – and processed foods.

2 Safeguard gut health Ensure a healthy gut by feeding the good bacteria that fight pathogens including the Covid-19 virus. Having prebiotics (such as garlic, berries, onions and apples) and probiotics (yogurt, pickles, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi) will help good bacteria thrive. Fill your plate with a spectrum of different coloured vegetables and fruits.

Covid-19, symptoms, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer survivor, skin condition psoriasis, arthritis, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, prebiotics, probiotics, circadian rhythm, Meditation, breathing techniques, the vagus nerve

Fill your plate with a spectrum of different colour vegetables and fruits. Photo: Shutterstock

3 Sleep well Follow your circadian rhythm, going to bed at the same time every evening and waking up at the same time every morning. Get six to seven hours of good quality sleep to keep up your immunity.

4 Get moving Exercise reduces inflammation and improves immunity. Go outdoors to get a dose of vitamin D from sunlight.

Covid-19, symptoms, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer survivor, skin condition psoriasis, arthritis, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, prebiotics, probiotics, circadian rhythm, Meditation, breathing techniques, the vagus nerve

Meditation and breathing techniques can help lower heart rate, blood pressure and inflammation. Photo: Shutterstock

5 Let go of worry Stress releases inflammatory cytokines that force the immune system to work overtime. Meditation and breathing techniques can help to lower heart rate, blood pressure and inflammation, and trigger the release of feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

6 Boost healing with supplements Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and can strengthen the immune system. Its deficiency has been linked to decreased lung function. Vitamin C may help lower CRP, C-reactive protein, a major marker of inflammation in Covid-19.

Magnesium, “nature’s tranquilliser”, may help you sleep, reducing inflammation and anxiety, and slowing a racing heartbeat. Zinc is vital for the production of T cells, the white blood cells that are essential to the immune system.

Seek your doctor’s guidance on whether you should take these supplements, Shivdasani advises.

Eat, drink and hum your way to recovery

Sprouted lentils are a good source of protein that also contain zinc – which boosts gut health.

Having a drink made of turmeric, black pepper, basil and ginger boiled in water is a good way to kick-start the day and beat inflammation.

Stimulating the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in the body – may lower blood pressure, stabilise heart rate and reduce inflammation. Belly breathing, humming, gargling, singing, having a cold shower or just splashing cold water on your face are some simple ways to do this.

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