How COVID-19 Can Do Damage To Your Gut Health

Gut health, or gut microbiome, is the bacteria that live in the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Having a healthy gut means having various good bacteria — also called flora — in your digestive system. That can help prevent obesity, improve depression symptoms, and better the immune system, just to name a few, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

New studies have been done on how gut health can impact COVID-19 systems or how COVID-19 could be affecting gut health. There seems to be a link between older people and those with underlying medical conditions and severe COVID-19, according to a January 2021 review of studies published in mBio. So, if your gut isn't healthy, it could mean a poor immune system response in fighting COVID-19, leading to severe symptoms and hospitalization.

First thought to be a respiratory illness, experts now understand that this coronavirus affects the entire body from head to toe. That means that COVID-19 sometimes infects the gut's lining. This explains why some patients experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting with COVID-19, according to an August 2020 study.

What is cytokine storm syndrome?

While your immune system is meant to help fight infections, sometimes it causes "cytokine storm syndrome," a phenomenon where the immune system overreacts to COVID-19. Cytokine storm syndrome can damage gut health and make symptoms of COVID-19 worse. Doctors have seen this happen with other health conditions like the flu, sepsis, and pneumonia. Symptoms of this immune system overreaction with COVID-19 patients are shortness of breath, fever, and severe difficulty breathing, which must be treated with ventilation (via Health).

More research and studies are needed to determine when someone has cytokine storm syndrome with COVID-19 and how it can be treated. If researchers can figure that out, doctors could run a test to see if a patient is experiencing cytokine storm syndrome and then treat it. 

But it's clear that it works both ways — getting a severe case of COVID-19 can negatively impact your gut health, and having poor gut health can make you more susceptible to experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms. One step you can take to help prevent this from happening is by improving your gut health. 

How to improve your gut health

In a November 2020 study published in Gut, researchers looked at how gut health, at the time of COVID-19 infection, can affect how severe the symptoms become. So, how can you keep your gut health healthy?

Eat a range of good whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts. Limit or avoid processed foods, fried foods, and foods with added sugar or sweetener (via Healthline and AARP). 

Add fermented foods to your diet — kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, tempeh, and fermented or pickled vegetables, which have probiotics. A 2013 study found that probiotics can help restore good gut health. Yogurt also contains probiotics, but stick with plain, natural yogurt, not sweetened or flavored. 

Don't forget about prebiotics. Prebiotics work with probiotics to create a good balance of bacteria in your gut. They can be found in green vegetables, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, tomatoes, legumes, oats, onions, garlic, berries, wheat, barley, and linseed (via a 2017 study in Nutrients).

Hopefully, you don't get COVID-19, but you might be able to reduce severe symptoms with a healthy gut. Eat a variety of healthy foods to improve and maintain good gut health.