It’s been five weeks since we began our quarantine here in France. And the French president announced last week that we will continue the confinement for at least another three weeks.
In the past few months since this pandemic began in China we are slowly but surely learning more about the virus plus how to protect ourselves. Different treatment strategies are currently being implemented and tested around the globe and scientists are working tirelessly to find both a vaccine and an effective treatment.
While we wait for these remedies to be created there is a lot we can do to help protect ourselves and to boost healing if we do become infected. We can use the strategies we have available to us from both integrative and functional medicine.
Throughout nature, we see that healthy organisms are naturally resistant to infections.
This is also true for humans. The more steps we can take to optimize our health and create robust immune systems, the better able we will be to naturally fight off the infection if we are exposed.
The name of the virus, COVID-19, stands for “corona virus disease – 2019”; which is when it was first discovered. It seems to be more infectious than influenza but less virulent than the measels. It starts with a cough and fever and may resolve there for those of us who have a strong immune response. If it progresses, it moves into the lungs, creating a dangerous situation of fluid build-up and immune overdrive that generally ends up requiring ventilation in order for gas exchange to continue.
There are several points along this pathway where we can utilize nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle strategies to help us block progression of the disease. What’s important to point out though is, as of yet, there are no integrative measures that have been validated in human trials against COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use evidence of strategies that have been studied in different viruses of this nature to help protect ourselves.
There are many steps you can take to both limit exposure and bolster your immune system.
Staying home as much as possible and physically distancing (6 ft or 2 m) when you do have to go out is the best way to prevent exposure to the virus.
Washing your hands as soon as you come home with soap and water is equally important. This is the first way we can block viral entry into our body. The “achilles heel” of this virus is it’s fat-based envelope or shell. Soap dissolves this fat membrane, much in the same way you see soap dissolve kitchen grease. So washing your hands really well after any potential exposure can literally dissolve the virus off the surface of your hands. If soap and water are not available, then using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is the next best option.
If you have cancer you are at a higher risk of developing more serious complications from infection with COVID-19. If you are currently receiving chemotherapy, there will be times in your treatment cycle when your immune system is suppressed and you will be at a high risk for infection. It is suggested that you don’t leave your house except to go to your medical appointments and if possible order all of your groceries and other supplies online. This would be preferable to sending anyone else in your home out to get groceries.
If your blood counts have dropped because of cancer treatment, you can read more about how to better manage this here: Supporting Blood Counts During Treatment.
5 Steps To Boost Immunity
The next and equally important step is to do what you can to support a robust immune system. This is best accomplished in a holistic way.
Step 1. Food
Your food choices are a critical piece to your immunity. Choosing foods which nourish the immune system, lower inflammation, and support the microbiome will ALL be helpful at increasing your ability to fight off infection. Here’s what this looks like:
- Colorful Fruits & Veggies (ideally 8-10 servings each day)
- Clean Proteins
- Healthy Fats
- High-Fiber Carbohydrates
- Fermented (Probiotic-Rich) Foods
- Bone Broth
- Green Tea
- Garlic & Onions
- Turmeric & Ginger
- Berries & Citrus
- Antiviral Herbs like Rosemary & Thyme
Basically, it looks like an anti-cancer diet, right? You can read more about my 10 favorite immune boosting foods here: Nourishing Your Immune System.
Step 2. Sleep
Next up is sleep. Due to its restorative and regulatory abilities, sleep has a major influence on immune function and inflammatory signals. Getting good quality and adequate quantity sleep is of the utmost importance right now. There has actually been some evidence from the COVID-19 data that people who are sleep-deprived are more likely to have complications from infection.
The goal is to get at least 8 hours most nights and to be in bed before 11pm. In many healing traditions it is thought that the hours of sleep you get before midnight are even more restorative than the hours you get after midnight. So make your sleep a non-negotiable right now.
If you have trouble sleeping you may want to read more about strategies that could help to improve your sleep here: 4 Steps To Better Sleep.
It also might be worth trying melatonin. In addition to helping with sleep, melatonin has important anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties. It also has a history of helping to decrease damage to the lungs. You can start at 3-5 mg/day to help with sleep and can increase up to 20 mg/day to help lower inflammation.
Step 3. Exercise
Moderate, regular physical activity helps the immune system function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation, decreasing stress hormones, increasing oxygenation, and eliminating waste from cells. All of these benefits are important against cancer but they are equally important at protecting us from infections.
Make it a goal to move every day, ideally 30 minutes but anything is better than nothing. With the quarantine restrictions in place right now you may have to be creative as to how you’re going to meet this goal. Thankfully there are a lot of online options for exercise classes right now. At the very least, put on some fun music, and dance around your house!
Step 4. Emotional Wellness
We are all dealing with a higher level of stress and anxiety right now. But we can’t underestimate the impact our stress hormones have on impairing our immune system. Adding in strategies to help us offload stress while enhancing our feel-good pathways will also help to boost the immune system.
Like we mentioned above, exercise will help to decrease stress hormones and improve emotional wellness. Laughter is another wonderful strategy. Breathing exercises, like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 Breath, will help. Meditation, journaling, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, & spending time in nature can also benefit immune response.
Maintaining social connection and positive relationships is also incredibly important. Social isolation and loneliness have been shown to depress immune function.
Each day, make it a habit to check in with yourself on the following questions. This list was found here.
- What am I grateful for today?
- Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
- What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
- How am I getting outside today?
- How am I moving my body today?
- What beauty am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
Step 5. Supplements
There are also some supplements that can help to boost immune function while also helping to block viral entry if you are exposed. As always, just be mindful that supplements will enhance health when all the other above strategies are in place. They will not be strong enough to take the place of a good diet or getting enough sleep. If you wanted to add in some supplemental support, these are the ones I would turn to first for prevention.
- Vitamin D3: 5000 IU – unless you’ve been told to take more because of a deficiency
- Vitamin C: 1000 mg
- Quercitin: 1000 mg, 2 x/day
- Astragalus: you can take as a supplement OR you can include this in your broth or food
TCM: Another Way To Protect Yourself
I recently watched a video from my herbal medicine mentor, Kami McBride, who explained that the research their gathering in China is showing that COVID-19 is a “cold/damp” virus. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), much like in Ayurveda, they use constitutional medicine to help treat illness. Increasing “heat & dryness” in your body will help make it less hospitable for this virus to take hold.
Here are some signs that you may have too much dampness in your body: congestion, mucous, allergies, heavy/stuck emotions or energy, pale tongue with white coating, &/or sticky stools.
Avoiding dairy, especially ice cream, sugar & refined carbohydrates, cold foods or beverages, and fried or greasy foods can help decrease dampness in the body.
Adding more cooked & warm foods, plus heating spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom, drinking more bone broth, and eating dinner earlier will also help dry out dampness.
Finally, during the Spring weather, which can quickly alternate from warm to cold to wet, make it a point to stay warm, stay dry, avoid the wind, keep moving your body, sweat if you can, and get in the sun whenever possible.
If you become infected with COVID-19 there are several points along its path where we can help support healing and try to prevent progression.
The first point is to help decrease viral replication. At the very first sign of a cough & fever, continue with all the strategies above, plus add in the following:
- Elderberry: 500 mg/day
- Zinc: 30-60 mg/day, in divided doses
- Mushrooms: take a whole mushroom extract like Host Defense MyCommunity blend, avoid isolated poly-sacchardies like PSK, PSP, Lentinan, or isolated Beta-Glucan as these can potentially over-stimulate the immune response
- Curcumin: 500-1000 mg, 2 x/d
- Green Tea: increase to 4 cups/day
- Vitamin C: increase to 1000 mg 2 x/day; there are some studies currently happening in China looking at IV Vitamin C to help improve recovery
You may also want to add in breathing support with the following:
- Essential Oil Facial Steam with thyme, eucalyptus, & lemongrass essential oils
- Add this Orange Peel Tea recommended by Kami for coughs & congestion
If it progresses down into your lungs, continue with the above strategies but remove the following supplements, which can inadvertently over-stimulate the immune response.
- Vitamin D
The reason COVID-19 can be deadly if it progresses is because of its ability to over-stimulate a part of the innate immune response, which is called the “inflammasome”. This creates a situation where there is an uncontrolled release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, also known as a “cytokine storm”. When this happens there is damage to the respiratory epithelium which could be irreversible.
On the other side of infection, it’s equally important to take steps to support recovery. As symptoms begin to improve it can be helpful to add in deep breathing exercises plus the supplements Boswellia & Cordyceps. Continue with all the other supplements & lifestyle strategies listed above until you feel back to normal.
The more we understand this virus, how it works, and how our immune system plays a role, the more power we have to control the outcome.
First, do what you can to prevent exposure, and to bolster your health so that you hopefully won’t have to go through this journey.
If you do become infected, please be empowered to take steps to support your healing and recovery. This does not mean you shouldn’t go to your doctor or go to the hospital if it’s needed. Integrative and functional medicine can be a very helpful adjunct but it’s not going to take the place of appropriate medical attention.
Once the confinement ends and we are able to re-integrate into society and our lives again please continue to be mindful of your exposure risks and the strength of your immune system. This won’t be the end of our viral risks and we need to stay vigilant in our efforts to stay healthy.
As always, a great place to start is with your diet. You can begin by taking out the foods that will lower your immune response while bringing in more of the foods that will boost it. To learn more, download your free guide here: The 4 Most Toxic Foods To Avoid.