Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, with tens of millions of individuals all over the world affected by long-term issues of the virus, there’s nonetheless no confirmed strategy to deal with or stop Lengthy COVID—in addition to not getting contaminated within the first place.
Not too long ago, nevertheless, there’s been cause for cautious optimism. Researchers have discovered promising (although preliminary) indicators that sure medicine might scale back the chance of growing Lengthy COVID, and probably 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 Sort 2 diabetes for the reason that Nineteen Nineties. Metformin, which belongs to a category of medication referred to as biguanides, is taken as a liquid or tablet and works by controlling the quantity of sugar within the blood. It additionally decreases irritation within the physique.
In a research that was posted on-line in March however has not but been peer-reviewed, researchers tracked a bunch 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 bought sick with COVID-19. (The research additionally tracked the results of medication ivermectin and fluvoxamine, however neither confirmed a profit towards Lengthy COVID.)
Metformin gave the impression to be much more efficient when used early. Amongst individuals who took it inside 4 days of growing signs, the chance of Lengthy COVID dropped by greater than 60%. In complete, 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 issues, explains principal investigator 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 stop Lengthy COVID, particularly when taken immediately, though extra analysis is required to substantiate the findings. “It’s in all probability in each pharmacy on the earth,” Bramante says. Somebody may seemingly “get metformin inside a day of figuring out they’ve COVID.”
Sooner or later, Bramante says, researchers also needs to research whether or not metformin can deal with current Lengthy COVID signs. Some consultants consider 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 urged that Paxlovid, an antiviral drug used to stop extreme COVID-19 amongst high-risk sufferers, might assist stop Lengthy COVID in the same manner. One research, 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 growing 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 growing 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: Folks Are Far Much less Prone to Get Lengthy COVID After Omicron, Examine Finds
Lengthy COVID is troublesome to deal with, at the very least partially as a result of the illness takes many types. One particular person may need debilitating fatigue and mind fog whereas one other may have gastrointestinal points or nervous-system dysfunction. As an alternative 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 individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/power 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 individuals with post-COVID issues, in keeping with an article revealed in Nature Evaluations Microbiology in January. These instruments embrace an energy-rationing technique often called pacing, the anti-inflammatory drug low-dose naltrexone, and beta blockers to gradual coronary heart fee 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 incapacity to train, as have blood-thinning medicine.
Dr. Eric Topol, founding father of the Scripps Analysis Translational Institute and co-author of the current evaluate, says he’s additionally inspired by preliminary knowledge on stimulation of the vagus nerve, which helps management unconscious actions like respiration and coronary heart fee, 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 power ache. Shoppers should purchase quite a lot of tDCS gadgets to make use of at house, although many haven’t been cleared by the FDA.
In a single small research that was posted on-line in September 2022 however had not been peer-reviewed, researchers discovered that, after eight tDCS periods, individuals with Lengthy COVID reported reductions in bodily fatigue and melancholy, although psychological fatigue and general high quality of life scores didn’t enhance.
Scientific neurologist and research co-author Dr. Jordi Matias-Guiu says he’s planning an extended follow-up research, with sufferers receiving remedies for 3 weeks, to see if that results in higher outcomes. “This needs to be confirmed in different medical trials, however the findings are encouraging,” he says. “It is a method that may very well be administered at house, and it is a non-invasive method with minimal [side effects].”
The listing of potential remedies is rising, however the discipline wants bigger, extra coordinated analysis initiatives, Topol says; in the meanwhile, 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 mission, has begun designing trials of potential remedies, however they haven’t became therapies but.
The shortage of confirmed remedies is disappointing, Topol says, however he considers the current findings about metformin’s potential to stop Lengthy COVID “superb 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 bought sick with COVID-19. “I don’t need to get Lengthy COVID,” Topol says.
Extra Should-Reads From TIME