Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, with tens of millions of individuals around the globe affected by long-term problems of the virus, there’s nonetheless no confirmed approach to deal with or stop Lengthy COVID—moreover not getting contaminated within the first place.
Just lately, nonetheless, there’s been cause for cautious optimism. Researchers have discovered promising (although preliminary) indicators that sure medication could scale back the chance of creating Lengthy COVID, and presumably even ease signs amongst people who find themselves already sick.
The newest hopeful information pertains to metformin, an accessible and reasonably priced drug that’s been U.S. Meals and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved to deal with Kind 2 diabetes for the reason that Nineteen Nineties. Metformin, which belongs to a category of medication known as biguanides, is taken as a liquid or capsule and works by controlling the quantity of sugar within the blood. It additionally decreases irritation within the physique.
In a examine that was posted on-line in March however has not but been peer-reviewed, researchers tracked a gaggle of 564 obese or overweight U.S. adults who began a two-week course of metformin once they had acute COVID-19. Individuals who took metformin had a 42% decrease likelihood of being identified with Lengthy COVID over the next 10 months, in comparison with those that took a placebo once they first received sick with COVID-19. (The examine additionally tracked the consequences of medication ivermectin and fluvoxamine, however neither confirmed a profit towards Lengthy COVID.)
Metformin seemed to be much more efficient when used early. Amongst individuals who took it inside 4 days of creating signs, the chance of Lengthy COVID dropped by greater than 60%. In whole, about 6% of people that took metformin went on to be identified with Lengthy COVID, in comparison with greater than 10% of the individuals who took a placebo.
Different research have proven that metformin can cease the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating, which can assist stop each extreme illness and long-term problems, explains examine co-author Dr. Carolyn Bramante, an assistant professor on the College of Minnesota Medical College. Metformin appears to work towards the virus by blocking a protein in human cells that the virus makes use of to repeat itself, and by disrupting the inflammatory response brought on by the virus, she says.
Bramante says she was pleasantly stunned by how properly metformin appeared to forestall Lengthy COVID, particularly when taken instantly, though extra analysis is required to verify the findings. “It’s most likely in each pharmacy on this planet,” Bramante says. Somebody may doubtless “get metformin inside a day of understanding they’ve COVID.”
Sooner or later, Bramante says, researchers must also examine whether or not metformin can deal with current Lengthy COVID signs. Some consultants imagine Lengthy COVID is brought on by remnants of the virus lingering within the physique. If that’s true, Bramante says, metformin’s antiviral properties would possibly assist clear it from the physique.
Different current research have additionally steered that Paxlovid, an antiviral drug used to forestall extreme COVID-19 amongst high-risk sufferers, could assist stop Lengthy COVID in an analogous manner. One examine, which was posted on-line in late 2022 however had not been peer-reviewed, discovered that individuals who took Paxlovid inside 5 days of testing constructive for COVID-19 had a 26% decrease threat of creating Lengthy COVID, in comparison with an untreated management group. (Ensitrelvir, one other antiviral drug that’s licensed in Japan however not the U.S., might also scale back the chance of creating Lengthy COVID when taken shortly after testing constructive, its producer introduced in February.)
Some researchers are additionally learning whether or not Paxlovid can deal with Lengthy COVID signs—an necessary query, since there’s nonetheless no confirmed treatment for Lengthy COVID.
Learn Extra: Individuals Are Far Much less More likely to Get Lengthy COVID After Omicron, Examine Finds
Lengthy COVID is tough to deal with, at the least partially as a result of the illness takes many types. One individual might need debilitating fatigue and mind fog whereas one other may have gastrointestinal points or nervous-system dysfunction. As a substitute of looking for a single drug that may deal with all of Lengthy COVID’s 200-plus potential signs, some analysis groups are zeroing in on particular signs, or teams of them, in hopes of discovering focused therapies.
Some instruments used to deal with folks with myalgic encephalomyelitis/continual fatigue syndrome, a post-viral situation that shares key signs with Lengthy COVID (together with excessive fatigue and crashes after exertion), might also be efficient for folks with post-COVID problems, based on an article revealed in Nature Evaluations Microbiology in January. These instruments embody an energy-rationing technique often known as pacing, the anti-inflammatory drug low-dose naltrexone, and beta blockers to gradual coronary heart charge and decrease blood stress. Antihistamines have additionally been proven in small research to scale back some Lengthy COVID signs, together with fatigue, mind fog, and an lack of ability to train, as have blood-thinning medication.
Dr. Eric Topol, founding father of the Scripps Analysis Translational Institute and co-author of the current overview, says he’s additionally inspired by preliminary knowledge on stimulation of the vagus nerve, which helps management unconscious actions like respiration and coronary heart charge, to ease sure signs.
A number of analysis groups are additionally learning transcranial direct present stimulation (tDCS) as a possible remedy. Researchers have already studied whether or not tDCS gadgets—which administer low-intensity electrical currents to the scalp to stimulate the mind—can enhance cognition, psychological well being, and continual ache. Customers should purchase a wide range of tDCS gadgets to make use of at residence, although many haven’t been cleared by the FDA.
In a single small examine that was posted on-line in September 2022 however had not been peer-reviewed, researchers discovered that, after eight tDCS periods, folks with Lengthy COVID reported reductions in bodily fatigue and despair, although psychological fatigue and total high quality of life scores didn’t enhance.
Scientific neurologist and examine co-author Dr. Jordi Matias-Guiu says he’s planning an extended follow-up examine, with sufferers receiving remedies for 3 weeks, to see if that results in higher outcomes. “This ought to be confirmed in different scientific trials, however the findings are encouraging,” he says. “It is a method that could possibly be administered at residence, and this can be a non-invasive method with minimal [side effects].”
The listing of potential remedies is rising, however the subject wants bigger, extra coordinated analysis tasks, Topol says; for the time being, most findings are coming from small research that have to be peer-reviewed, expanded, and duplicated. RECOVER, the U.S. Nationwide Institutes of Well being’s $1 billion Lengthy COVID analysis undertaking, has begun designing trials of potential remedies, however they haven’t become therapies but.
The shortage of confirmed remedies is disappointing, Topol says, however he considers the current findings about metformin’s potential to forestall Lengthy COVID “excellent information.”
Topol agrees that extra research on metformin are wanted—however he says he believes that the early findings are promising sufficient, and the drug is protected and low cost sufficient, that he would personally take it now if he received sick with COVID-19. “I don’t wish to get Lengthy COVID,” Topol says.
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