I live in Washington state, as I type this there are 164 confirmed cases of Cornona Virus in the US according to the CDC, with 70 confirmed in my state alone. Microsoft in Seattle has sent their employees home till the end of March and a conference I had planned on attending in Seattle was already cancelled for early May. Even the University of Washington is closed until further notice! First of all my heart goes out to those affected by the virus, my goal with this blog is to hopefully prevent more people from succumbing to the seriousness of this viral illness. It’s important that we take steps necessary to improve our immune system. The CDC website has great resources to help you understand the virus but also ways to prevent the spread and what to do if you are sick. I’m not going to cover that in this article. I want to go beyond anti-bacterial wipes and masks and talk about the power we have over our bodies with the choices we make daily.
Disclaimer* I’m not a medical doctor and don’t claim to cure, prevent or treat illness. See a medical doctor if you are exhibiting signs of infection or flu like symptoms. See a health care provider if you are experiencing extreme levels of stress or can’t sleep or you would like to implement my recommendations below, or do this at your own risk.
#1 The most important thing you can do today is reduce your stress levels! Cortisol is the stress hormone and it interferes with our T-Cells (specialized immune cells). Cortisol decreases the ability for the T-Cell to reproduce and receive signals from the body. It also decreases IgA antibodies (immune cells that recognize invaders). This particular antibody lives in the gut and respiratory lining. Because the flu tends to affect our respiratory track this is of particular importance. However, the Corona Virus is nothing our bodies have ever seen before, we don’t have the antibodies to fight it off. But we do have T-Cells to fight this virus and we need to make sure we aren’t hampering their ability to perform at their optimum because we are under stress. Here are a few ways I combat stress on a daily basis: 1) Meditation and/or Prayer, sometimes I do both. 2) Deep breathing, belly breathing is the most helpful to turn on the resting and digesting side of the nervous system and turn off our sympathetic nervous system. 3) Yoga or similar exercise aimed at breathing and movement. 4) Seek out help from a licensed health care provider who can help you deal with your stress.
#2 Take Zinc. Zinc is a natural trace mineral, it wasn’t even known until 40 years ago how important zinc was for us. It can be found naturally in many foods but is in its highest concentration in oysters and red meat. It is responsible for the catalytic activity of approximately 100 enzymes in the body. Zinc and stress are intimately connected. When we are stressed we decrease our serum zinc levels and decreased zinc has been demonstrated to allow for the increase of plasma cortisol levels and increased levels of the pro inflammatory mediator Interleukin-6 IL-6 and IL-1, and nitric oxide levels. Deficiency of zinc also adversely affects the growth and function of B and T cells. We have no storage levels of zinc so we must take it daily. Zinc supplementation has been shown to decrease oxidative stress (making it a natural anti-oxidant) and it’s been shown to stabilize serum cortisol levels over time. Several studies have shown that zinc may be effective at shortening the common cold by 1 day. Also it may be affective at stopping the spread of virus’s in the mucus membranes, like the throat and nasal passage ways. A word of caution on nasal sprays with zinc, it’s no longer recommended to use these over the counter methods as it’s been directly linked to permanent loss of smell. I have been reading that lozenges and sprays for the throat are the better option.
#3 Take your vitamins A, C, D & E. The A, C and E are all antioxidants and will help with oxidative stress to the body. Vitamin D is especially important because it’s reported that low levels of vit. D are highly associated with respiratory problems.
#4 Take Colostrum. The first milk of the mother contains all the antibodies a child needs to survive infection in the first weeks of life. Following this the child’s immune system starts to build naturally as they are exposed to the world. Bovine colostrum is unique to other immune ingredients discussed thus far. It contains lactoferrin, lysozyme, and lactoperoxidase. Research shows that, as it does with calves, colostrum supplementation can support the immune system in humans.
#5 Eat a Healthy Diet. Eat foods rich in antioxidants, polyphenols and whole foods that help build healthy cells. Proteins and Fats are responsible for building cells, just make sure you are getting good sources of each of these and not poor substitutes. Multiple servings of vegetables per day will also ensure you get plenty of good nutrients to maintain a healthy gut.
#6 Mushrooms. Reishi, Poria, Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. They are potent immunomodulators that alter the activity of immune cells through the dynamic regulation of cytokines (Cytokines are a category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity and inflammation). Many studies show these mushrooms support the function of the immune system and benefit overall health.
#7 Other Herbs and Supplements. There are many on the market that say they help boost the immune system. Echinacea and Elderberry to name a few. No scientific studies have shown evidence that they actually work. Also, buyer beware on sites like Amazon. You may not be getting the actual supplement you are after. Amazon and Ebay are well known for counterfeit supplements. Make sure to buy direct from manufactures of brands you trust. If these herbs come along with things like zinc and vitamin C they are most likely harmless and therefore I see no reason to avoid them.
#8 Workout- A regular routine of exercise has been shown to mobilize the T Cells in the immune system. Be careful not to overdo it, rigorous workouts can actually have the opposite effect and cause increase in cortisol levels. See #1 for why that is bad!
#9 Sleep- Decreased sleep = decreased T Cells in the body. 7-9 hours a night is ideal. If you can’t sleep try taking 2-3mg of Melatonin. Sleep hygiene is important, if you can’t sleep even with the melatonin try getting a consistent healthy bed time routine going.
#10 Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption when risk of infection is high. According to recent review and articles related to alcohol consumption and immunity excessive alcohol consumption is directly related to pneumonia. Alcohol also affects the gut microbiome and activity and can facilitate the leakage of gut bacteria into circulation. This leakage then leads to overactive immune responses in the liver and a decreased immune response in the lungs. With Corona Virus affecting our respiratory system we can’t risk taking the chance with excess alcohol
#11 Increased health of the Gut Microbiome. The balance of bacteria in our gut influences the balance of our immune system. Lack of diverse gut microbiota and activity will mean the difference between a healthy and active immune response and a suppressed one. The future of medicine I believe will be in gut health and microbiota research. We are getting closer to understanding which part of the gut microbiome is different in different disease state and figuring out how to improve it with diet, medicine or bacterial transplants. Stress also alters the gut microbiome in a bad way, another reason to get stress under control.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S. (2020, March 6). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html
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Echinacea: Is it effective for the common cold? (2020, February 19). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/echinacea/faq-20058218
Prasad, A. S. (2008). Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. Molecular Medicine, 14(5–6), 353–357. https://doi.org/10.2119/2008-00033.prasad
Sarkar, D., Jung, M. K., & Wang, H. J. (2015). Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Research; Current Reviews, 37(2), 153–155.
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