Could a Special Diet Alleviate Long COVID?

Virus Particles Tired Woman Long COVID

Keck Medicine of USC is launching a clinical trial to explore whether a low-carbohydrate diet, aimed at reducing inflammation, can alleviate long COVID symptoms. The study is premised on the idea that a prolonged inflammatory response may be at the heart of long COVID. By studying 50 patients, half of whom will be given a special dietary intervention, researchers hope to gauge the efficacy of diet in managing the condition. If successful, the study might pave the way for broader trials and new treatments for long COVID.

Keck Medicine of USC initiated a clinical trial to explore whether a dietary approach aimed at decreasing inflammation could alleviate the condition currently without a cure.

Approximately 7% of Americans have had long COVID, a range of ongoing health problems experienced after infection and recovery from COVID-19. Symptoms can include fatigue, brain fog, headaches, chest pain, heart palpitations, and more.

Currently, there is no proven treatment for the syndrome and the mechanisms that cause it are not fully understood.

Adupa Rao

Adupa Rao, MD, is an investigator of the long COVID clinical trial and medical director of the Keck Medicine Covid Recovery Clinic. Credit: Ricardo Carrasco III

New Clinical Trial on Diet

Now, a new clinical trial from Keck Medicine of USC is investigating if a diet designed to lower inflammation may play a role in easing this often debilitating condition.  

The premise of the trial revolves around recent research indicating that long COVID may be caused by a hyper-inflammatory response that becomes activated during COVID-19 as the body fights off the virus but, in some people, does not recede even after the infection has passed. High inflammation levels in the body can lead to organ damage and other health problems.  

“We are examining if food choice can quiet the body’s inflammatory response and in doing so, effectively minimize or curtail long COVID symptoms,” said Adupa Rao, MD, an investigator of the clinical trial and medical director of the Keck Medicine Covid Recovery Clinic.  

Study Details and Methodology

The study will examine the anti-inflammatory effect of a low-carbohydrate diet to lower blood glucose (sugar) levels in combination with a medical food that raises blood ketone levels. Ketones, including beta-hydroxybutyrate, the active ketone in this food, are chemicals the body produces to provide energy when the body is low on carbohydrates and sugars. A low-carb diet and ketones have both been associated with reduced inflammation in the body. 

Nuria Pastor Soler

Nuria Pastor-Soler, MD, PhD, is the principal investigator of the long COVID clinical trial and an associate professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Credit: Ricardo Carrasco III

Researchers plan to enroll 50 long COVID patients being treated by Keck Medicine’s Covid Recovery Clinic. Half the individuals will receive a 30-day dietary intervention and half will not. At the end of the month, researchers will determine how patients tolerated the regimen as well as compare inflammatory markers and long COVID symptoms between the two groups of patients. 

Potential Expansion and Significance

If the nutritional intervention is tolerated well by patients and improves their health issues, researchers plan to expand the clinical trial to a larger population.  

“Research like ours is vital to expand our understanding of long COVID and ultimately help identify effective treatments to improve patients’ quality of life,” said principal investigator of the clinical trial, Nuria Pastor-Soler, MD, PhD, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “The results of this trial will hopefully move us closer to potential solutions.” 

Ken Hallows, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, is also a researcher in this study. The clinical trial is funded by the Amy P. Goldman Foundation. 

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