Last Updated 30.03.2020
Are there any news articles at the moment that AREN'T talking about the new coronavirus (now known as COVID-19)? It seems like everywhere you look, there is panic and mayhem about this infection that has breached the borders of so many countries.
And whilst everyone else has been stocking up on toilet paper, I've been reviewing the options that are available for immune support, and making sure I have a good supply of top-notch products available in the clinic. I love working with immunity, and out of all the different conditions I see on a day-to-day basis, immune health is one of the things I find responds best to the right approach. And I strongly believe that times like this can actually be a good reminder to make sure we are onto supporting our bodies' own defenses as much as possible.
Keeping Things In Perspective - Hype-Free Facts About COVID-19:
- Coronaviruses are not new, and it is highly likely that you have already experienced at least one coronavirus in your lifetime, as this is the same family of viruses that is often responsible for the common cold. Quite a few other members of the coronavirus family are considered to be harmless, and not all affect humans. This new strain however is highly contagious and spreads more easily, which is what most of the panic is about.
- You might be wondering why you see the two terms 'COVID-19' and 'SARS-CoV-2' used somewhat interchangeably in the media. The virus itself is called SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19 is the infection that develops from contracting the virus.
- This particular infection is spreading rapidly simply because it is a completely new viral strain that the human body has never had to deal with before. Viruses are continually evolving, and often jump between humans and other species (humans, pigs, birds etc) and then jump back carrying new genetic material, which makes it challenging for our immune system to deal with. They are also experts at recombining their own viral material, which helps them outsmart the immune system for a time. I think of this as being a little like a Rubik's Cube - you can move all the different colours for completely different combinations.
- Some types of Coronaviruses have been shown to remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for up to 9 days, which may explain in part why the virus has spread so quickly. This particular strain has been shown to live on copper surfaces for up to 4 hours, cardboard for 24 hours and plastic or stainless steel for as long as 2-3 days. However, airborne spread is not thought to be a major issue with this particular strain. In addition, transmission of the virus through droplets (ie if an infected person sneezes near you) results in a greater viral load (more of the virus entering your system) than touching an infected surface.
- Symptoms of COVID-19 include dry cough, fever and tiredness - however, most people will just get a runny nose and sore throat, and many people don't actually even show symptoms. In other words, for most people this will feel like a mild cold. In a small proportion of individuals however there can be breathing difficulties and complications, which is where the infection may take a dangerous turn. The other dangerous aspect of this virus is that if you don't notice any symptoms, you can potentially be infecting others without realizing. It is currently estimated that one person can infect another 1.5-3.5 people. By comparison, the flu transmissibility rate is around 1.3 people.
- The death rate from COVID-19 is around 3%, with most of these occurring in people over the age of 60 - and three-quarters of these having had other health conditions they were already battling. This is in stark contrast to the SARS and MERS outbreaks (with both of these being of the same family of viruses) where the death rates were 10% and 30% respectively.
- Only 2.4% of infections so far have been in people under the age of 18. However, we don't know whether this is because younger people are more immune to the infection, or whether they just don't show symptoms.
- At this stage it doesn't seem that pregnant women, or their babies, are at increased risk. So far, babies born to women with a confirmed COVID-19 infection did not test positive to the infection.
As has been suggested by the media, the best way to avoid catching ANY kind of infections is always to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, and avoid touching your face. Also make sure that you cover your mouth when you cough, and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. If you'd like more specific advice, visit the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Advice for the Public page or Queensland Health.
Keep in mind too - your immune system is incredibly smart. As humans, we would not have survived without our immune system being constantly on the lookout for threats to your safety, and it is always working behind the scenes to help keep you as healthy as possible. It never sleeps, it never stops. This is something that we tend to forget when panic sets in, but remember you have your own army inside you, doing its best to protect you this very minute.
What Else Can You Do?
If you are concerned about your resilience to infections (of any kind), rest assured there are plenty of safe and effective options available. A naturopathic approach to these kinds of issues focuses on prevention and immune system resilience - and a little of this goes a long way. Here are few of the key strategies I use in the clinic with my patients, and for my family, to avoid/minimize infections in general:
Did you know that many of the herbs I have available in the clinic have antiviral properties? I firmly believe this is one of the overlooked strengths of natural medicine, which really is a shame!
Whilst we don't know if certain herbs are directly useful against COVID-19, they do have evidence demonstrating effectiveness against certain other viruses, and I couldn't run my clinic without them. However, it pays to keep in mind that different herbs are best used in different scenarios - traditionally as herbalists we use different plants depending on the type of infection, and the stage of the infection that your body is dealing with. Some of my personal favourites are elderberry, medicinal mushrooms as well as herbs such as Astragalus, Andrographis, Echinacea, St John's Wort and Thuja.
Nutrients For Immune Support
There's a lot that can be accomplished with some key nutrients, such as zinc and vitamin C. So far, there have been quite a few countries incorporating intravenous vitamin C in their coronavirus treatment protocols. Dietary and supplemental vitamin C of course is one of my go-to's in the clinic, and the products I use have been designed to be highly absorbable and gentle on the system.
Zinc gives our immune system 'weapons' - a healthy level of zinc in the bloodstream helps combat infections. The majority of us don't get enough through our diet (and supplements often include quantities far below what has shown to provide benefit), which potentially leaves us more prone to catching infections that happen to be around.
Another nutrient to consider is Vitamin D , as this nutrient has been shown to be particularly beneficial for people who are prone to respiratory infections & asthma. And you can get it for free, as your skin makes vitamin D from the sun - 10-15 minutes outside with some of your skin exposed (arms, legs etc) before 10am or after 3pm are the best times to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the risk of sun damage. And whilst many people already take vitamin D, it is a good idea to have your levels tested to see where they are at before taking vitamin D - more is not always better, and too much can be dangerous. I have vitamin D testing available through a functional pathology laboratory, and samples are collected at QML, which makes testing simple.
Laying The Foundation
Of course, when talking about the health of the immune system, we cannot ignore the impact of gut health. 70% of your immune system is located in the gut, and what happens here influences how your immune system interacts with infections.
One of the simplest and most popular supplements I use in the clinic is a key probiotic that contains several strains of bacteria that may benefit immune system health. I also love this product because the strains are great for soothing an unhappy gut as well, and my patient report good results in this area.
Understandably, this is an incredibly stressful and unsettling time. Now more than ever it is crucial to make sure you are looking after yourself as much as you can.
Try to get enough sleep. I know this may seem difficult at the moment, but rest helps to ensure your immune system is healthy and balanced. Sleep is regenerative to the immune system, and helps you to make antibodies and important immune cell called 'natural killer cells'. Melatonin, one of the brain chemicals involved in sleep, has been shown to reduce immune-driven inflammation, which is extremely important for this particular infection.
Keep calm where you can. Stress doesn't do your immune system any good, and while we can't completely get away from the immediate stresses and the potential fallout from this pandemic, we can take proactive steps to manage our stress as best we can. Take a walk, enjoy a cup of tea in the sunshine (you'll also get some beneficial vitamin D!), get into your garden or just switch off the news and listen to some music instead. And try to just stay in the moment as much as you can.
Eat well. While you might be tempted to reach for a bit of comfort food at this time, try to ensure that the majority of your food intake is fresh and unprocessed, where possible. Processed, nutrient-devoid foods such as sugar, alcohol and refined white flour products aren't going to do your mental health or your immune system any favours at the moment. Try to base your meals around protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, and slow-burning carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables, wholegrains or legumes. These types of foods will also help you build a beneficial gut microbiome, which as I mention above is crucial for a healthy immune response.
Your 1:1 Support
There are a variety of ways I can help you support your immune system naturally. Seeing a practitioner has many benefits over self-prescribing products of unknown effectiveness, including:
- Ensuring supplements are safe alongside your medications
- Ensuring safety of herbs and supplements during pregnancy or breastfeeding
- Matching the right herbs to your needs if you suffer from an autoimmune condition, as you don't want to exacerbate your condition by overstimulating your immune system
-Travel preparation & supplement recommendations to give you the best chance of a healthy, hassle-free trip
- Supporting optimal immunity with the goal of minimizing sick days and a quicker recovery if you do become ill
- Ensuring you aren't wasting money on unnecessary supplements - often we are able to keep supplements to a minimum by supporting a few key areas
- Guiding you to the best quality, most potent products. Practitioner-only products are tested for potency and use dosages that match those used in clinical research. It can be extremely difficult to obtain these kinds of dosages when using over-the-counter/online products. Practitioner products are also designed to be hypoallergenic with superior absorption. By seeing a practitioner you can be assured you are getting the most bang for your buck.