New data out on the novel coronoavirus indicates that many people may experience gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 infection. In fact, that number may be upwards of 50%.
But how does a respiratory tract infection affect the gut? Well, clues to that come from another newly discovered symptom: The loss of taste and smell.
That seemingly innocuous symptom indicates something a little more sinister than people realize: COVID-19 can infect the central nervous system. And with that comes a host of other problems the virus can cause outside of the respiratory system.
Viral infections and the gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19
Infections are at the root of chronic functional gastrointestinal disorders in some people. For example, infections of the gut are at the root of post-infectious IBS and SIBO.
Recent evidence in mice also points the finger at viruses. A paper published in 2018 found that viruses that target the central nervous system also cause intestinal motility disorders. In addition to infecting the central nervous system, they infected the enteric nervous system in the gut too.
Infecting mice with the West Nile Virus caused the immune system to attack infected cells in the enteric nervous system. This acutely impaired motility because the enteric nervous system senses food in the gut, inducing motility.
Within a month the damaged neurons were replaced. As a result, motility improved, but they were more susceptible to impaired motility when challenged again.
Certainly a plausible mechanism. However, who knows if the gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 are that initial hit, or for some, the second hit.
In other words, for some people, the initial hit that makes them more susceptible to intestinal dysmotility in the future is COVID-19. While, for others, COVID-19 may cause a flare of symptoms because of a previous infection that made them susceptible.
Build strong viral immunity and resilience in the gut
Neither one of those scenarios is great for the individual involved. Though, it provides clarity as to why it happens. It indicates that people with established gut motility problems may present with those gastrointestinal symptoms if infected with COVID-19.
Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about this virus to determine if it’s something that we build up long term immunity to or if it changes enough every year to behave more like the flu. Either way, strong viral immunity and a resilient gut is a must.
I covered the important factors for optimizing viral immunity in 2 blogs:
I also covered resilience in these blogs:
Follow these principles to keep your gut on track and prevent the reactivation of latent viral infections that cause these problems.
It appears that the gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 are a product of it’s ability to infect neurons. Infection of neurons by COVID-19 causes the immune system to attack infected neurons in the enteric nervous system, impairing motility.
This mechanism seems plausible. Though, this may predispose people infected with COVID-19 with motility problems down the road. This indicates that maintaining strong viral immunity is a must for the infected, and those with gut problems who haven’t been affected.