Much of the information presented here was obtained from a blog by Dr. Mark Hyman on March 17. The world has changed a lot from that time, but I believe much of the information presented at that time by Dr. Hyman is even more relevant. Most of us are looking for ways to reduce our risk of getting sick if we contract the virus. I have not seen a better list of recommendations in the literature and thought I would modify and send to all of you. I believe this cuts through the hype of some self-serving supplement companies and others who seek to profit from the fear induced by this virus.
COVID-19 is caused by a new virus that emerged from Wuhan, China. This is a brand virus in a human population with no native immunity, which means we are all susceptible. It is now (as of March 27) in all countries of the world and has resulted in an estimated 529,000 cases with more than 7,000 deaths worldwide. Some reports estimate that 30-70% of the population will eventually catch this virus.
As you all know from the news, it is spreading rapidly. On March 1st in the USA, there were 76 cases. Today (March 27th) there are 83,500 cases in the USA alone. In Canada, we have over 4,000 cases, with 600 new in the last 24 hours and 39 deaths. North America is still on the exponential part of the curve for new cases. This is despite what many of us feel are draconian restrictions on home and work life. Models by the Imperial College of London show that mitigation is the only strategy we have left. Mitigation means social isolation and distancing. Strict adherence to these guidelines could reduce infections and death by 50%. The cost of under-reacting is far greater than the cost of overreacting. I can’t emphasize the importance of this point enough. If you do not follow the rapidly changing guidelines, you are placing your family, loved ones and friends at risk. We ALL need to be responsible at this time.
It will get worse before it gets better and we will be dealing with it for the next 12-18 months in some form or other. It may die down over the summer but could roar back in the fall as did the Spanish Flu of 1918. Scientific research is moving forward at blinding speed, but a vaccine would seem to be a minimum of 12 months away. I trust that with 8 weeks of strict social isolation in Canada, we can flatten the curve and start to reduce isolation measures. The speed that this can happen depends on the degree we heed the recommendations given to us.
Covid-19 is easily transmissible and new studies appear to show it can survive on surfaces for up to 4 days on glass surfaces (think cellphones…. Why would you share it anyways?) and 3 days on plastic surfaces. People are infectious and can transmit the virus from 2 days to 14 days after exposure. We remain uncertain of the degree to which people infected by the virus, but without symptoms, can spread the virus. In China, 10% of those who became infected got the infection from a person who had no symptoms. The virus is easily killed with antibacterial cleaning agents including alcohol, bleach, and hydrogen peroxide.
The most at risk are those with a chronic diseases such as diabetes, those over 70 years old, health care workers, and those on immunosuppressive medicine (commonly used for autoimmune disease, cancer, and transplant rejections). Up to 80% of people infected have mild or no symptoms and up to 96% to 99% recover from the infection.
The typical symptoms are fever, cough, and fatigue but not a runny nose.
The disease affects the lungs leading to respiratory failure in severe cases and death may be caused by a cytokine storm or massive burst of inflammation (see below for how this may be addressed). It does this by inhibiting the production of surfactant by the lungs (which keeps airways open). This lung process is what leads to respiratory failure and the need for ventilation support and possible ICU admission.
Death rates are highest in those with chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, cancer and lung diseases. Smokers and the elderly are at especially high risk. 15% over 80 years old who contract the infection will die. Even young healthy people can be affected (except, it seems, children, although they can be carriers). It is spreading rapidly in our neighbours to the South. On March 1st in the USA, there were 76 cases. Today (March 26th) there are 485,000 cases, representing a significant increase. I believe the Federal decision to close our border to the USA will turn out to be a very good one.
Social isolation and distancing is the primary way to reduce the speed of spread in our population. This is the only way we can ensure our health care facilities are not over run, as they are in Spain, Italy and soon the USA. Many of you wonder what else you can do to reduce your risk of becoming very ill if, despite isolation measures, you do contract the infection.
How to Support Your Immune System: Remember, Let Food Be Your Medicine!
- Eat a whole foods, nutrient-dense diet. Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. Death from infections in the developing world is often not due to the infection itself but the body’s inability to fight it because of nutrient deficiencies. Since more than 80% of Canadians are deficient in one or more nutrients at the minimum dose to prevent deficiency diseases like scurvy and rickets, we all need to focus on improving the quality of our diet.
- Cut out sugar and refined starches. Since diabetics are more likely to die from COVID-19 and one in two Americans is pre-diabetic or diabetic this is a great opportunity to cut sugar and starch, which suppress the immune system. Now has never been a better time for a sugar and junk food detox. Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Limiting starch and sugar will help your immune system function better and your overall health improves. To help you detox from sugar and starch and reset your body to a healthy state Dr. Mark Hyman has created the 10 Day Reset which is available for free download at www.getfarmacy.com/free
- Ensure adequate protein intake. While most Canadians eat adequate amounts of protein, some do not consume adequate protein, such as the elderly and vegan populations. Protein is critical for immune function and protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections. Eat approximately 1 gram/kg or about half your body weight in grams of protein a day, or about two four-ounce servings of organic, clean animal protein. Plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds) are adequate if consumed in enough quantity.
- Add garlic, onions, ginger, and lots of spices (oregano, turmeric, rosemary) to your meals! Add these to your soups and vegetable dishes, as well as bean dips and sauces. Garlic and onions offer wide spectrum antimicrobial properties.
- Eat multiple servings of colourful fruits and vegetables high in vitamins C, A, and phytonutrients that support the immune system. Choose more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes, and squashes. Aim for 2 servings of fruits and 8 or more servings of vegetables! A serving is half a cup.
- Eat fermented foods to support your microbiome and immunity. Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, unsweetened yogurt, kefir. They also keep well.
- Alkalize your body. Sugar and processed foods tend to make your body slightly more acidic and more receptive to the COVID-19 virus. Eating whole plant foods and lots of them, 5 to 8 cups a day, is a good way to alkalinize your body. Try making big vegetable and bone broth soups which can help improve your pH.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially warmer fluids. Consuming adequate fluids supports all your bodies’ functions including the immune system. Make soups and broths (from scratch with fresh vegetables is always best) and have them throughout the week. Drink herbal teas like ginger and turmeric tea. Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages, as the sugar content is harmful for the immune system.
- Get sufficient sleep! We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible! Get in a better rhythm and head to bed earlier. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. It can be helpful to incorporate some relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day to help with stress and allowing the mind to rest is also very helpful!
- Get regular exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. Avoid overexertion such as training for endurance events when you are feeling run down. This will lower your immune defenses. If you are able to exercise outside in less populated areas, great. If not find workouts and yoga classes online. Try the 7-minute workout app.
- Practice meditation and yoga. The data are clear. Increased levels of stress increase susceptibility to viral infections. In one study volunteers had cold viruses injected into their nasal passages. Only the ones who scored high on the stress questionnaire succumbed. Now is the time to learn meditation, double down on your practice, do yoga, take hot baths, do deep breathing, practice home massage with your loved ones.
- Start a garden. If you live in an area with a lawn or some access to land, grow some of your own food. During WWII, victory gardens produced 40 percent of the food in America.
How to Supplement for Immune Function
There is an increasing number of health claims and the promotion of supplements has also increased in the coronavirus frenzy. There is a lot we don’t know and a lot we do. It’s important not to go overboard and be sensible. Let’s start with an overview of the vitamins, minerals, and herbs you need and why they are important.
- Multivitamin/Mineral: This is the foundation for any health support regimen. It’s a good way to cover the basic vitamins and minerals your body needs for day-to-day functions. If you aren’t on a good multivitamin you should get and stay on one. Look for a high-quality, broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral.
- Vitamin D3: Adequate vitamin D status is critical for optimal immune function and this cannot be achieved without supplementation during the winter months. Studies have shown that people with vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to get a cold or flu, while supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. True Balance has found many of you need 4,000 IU or more of vitamin D3 a day in the winter. Start with 2,000 IU for adults, 1,000 IU for children.
- Buffered Vitamin C: The role of vitamin C in supporting the immune system has long been known. Take 500-1,000mg throughout the day with meals and snacks. I have taken 1 gram twice a day on a long term basis for immune support. You can get Vitamin C easily on-line and all brands have good bioavailability.
- Zinc Citrate: You can take an additional supplement or consume more foods high in this powerful immune-supporting nutrient. Seafood, especially oysters, red meat, and pumpkin seeds are the best food sources. Take 30 mg per day.
- Fish Oil (Arctic Cod Liver Oil): This old-time remedy for good health and robust immunity still stands true! In addition to the good fats, this cod liver oil contains additional vitamins A and D for added immune protection.
- Natural anti-viral herbs: Many herbs have broad-spectrum antimicrobial effects or immune-enhancing effects. Formulas contain different immune boosters such as astragalus, green tea extract, andrographis, and monolaurin.
- Mushroom Extracts such as reishi, maitake, shiitake, turkey tail, and cordyceps: These provide immune-supporting properties. Cooking with medicinal mushrooms like shiitake is also helpful.
It is not necessary to take all of these. Just starting with a daily multivitamin, 2000 units vitamin D3, vitamin C, zinc and fish oil is a great start. I believe social isolation habits are most important at this time. The time to start this was yesterday…. Today is the next best option.
If we all stay calm, avoid the pandemic of fear, follow our common sense, and take care of ourselves and our families, we can weather this and dramatically reduce sickness and death. But, we have to come together (at least 6 feet apart!) as humans, and as a society to combat this pandemic. Please remember to treat those in your personal and professional lives with kindness and respect. These are Canadian values and have not been as necessary as they are today for a very long time. Our True Balance family wish health for you and yours over the coming weeks.
Dr. R. J. Brown