We’re living through an unprecedented time – the modern connected world has been scaled back, largely disconnected, and in some instances, shut down. With the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to escalate, and with external stresses from our disrupted routines remaining in place, it’s as important as ever to consider your health.
Much has changed in the last six weeks. Last month’s article outlined some strategies for helping to keep your immune system strong and healthy. This month I’ll expand on methods of exposure reduction, getting sufficient sleep, and will highlight some dietary supplements that may be helpful as nutritional support for immune health. With no antiviral medication for COVID-19 available yet, the best approach (as for any viral infection) is to reduce the chance of exposure and take steps to increase immunity to help prevent getting sick.
Keep Your Distance and Keep Clean
We’ve heard some of these tips repeatedly over the last few weeks and that’s because they work.
Keep a six-foot physical distance between you and other people whenever possible – it makes a difference. Stay home if you’re able to, and avoid meeting other people.
Reduce your exposure to viruses and bacteria by frequently washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds. It is difficult, but do try to avoid touching your face.
Use a solution that can kill viruses on your hands and the surfaces in your environment. You can make your own effective pathogen-killing spray sanitizers at home. One of the simplest and most popular uses 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide, which is diluted 1:11 to make a standard 3% solution. You can use this solution on a paper towel or bamboo cloth to clean keyboards and devices and other surfaces where spraying directly could cause damage.
Ensure you get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Insufficient sleep depresses the immune system and increases the risk of succumbing to any infection. If you’re not getting enough sleep, speak to a health professional knowledgeable in natural medicine, and do your best to avoid prescription sleeping pills when possible; they can be addictive. Prescription sleeping pills increase “all-cause mortality” and are linked to a variety of serious health problems, including a greater risk of infection, depression, and premature death from higher rates of many cancers.
Immune Boosting Dietary Supplements
There are many natural herbs, mushrooms, vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, prebiotics, and probiotics with immune-boosting properties. Some of my favourite supplements include monolaurin, plant sterols (rice bran solubles is the richest natural source), garlic, ginger, boswellia, and curcumin – a powerful antioxidant derived from turmeric spice. Andrographis, astragalus, Japanese honeysuckle, forsythia, skullcap, oregano oil, quercetin, ginseng, olive leaf, and elderberry all can help immune function.
Important vitamins and minerals include zinc, magnesium, selenium, folate, and vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, C, D, and E. In addition, medicinal mushrooms including chaga, reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, Lion’s mane, Agaricus blazei, Coriolus versicolor, and maitake have immune-modulating and anti-viral effects. Chaga, vitamin C, and usnea (which helps clear the lungs of mucus) have been used in China to treat COVID-19.
Douglas Laboratories Immunity, Platinum Naturals Oregano 8, Purica Prevent, and Purica Prevail are powerful formulas that use combinations of many of the ingredients listed. MyShrooms Immunity and Purica Immune 7 are impressive medicinal mushroom supplements that may help strengthen the immune system.
Monolaurin: Derived from coconut oil, monolaurin has antiviral activity against lipid-coated viruses including herpes, shingles, and the common cold. It binds to the lipid-protein envelope of viruses, inhibiting their ability to cause infection and replicate. Some studies indicate that monolaurin may be effective in killing some viruses by disintegrating the lipid coating.
Quercetin: A pigment found in many fruits and vegetables, quercetin is a flavanol with a wide range of health benefits including reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, lowering inflammation, relieving allergy symptoms, and reducing the risk of some cancers. Quercetin’s antiviral properties have been the focus of research by doctors Michel Chretien and Majambu Mbikay at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute. They have proposed using quercetin for treatment of COVID-19 and clinical trials are expected to begin in China in the next few weeks. While the results of the studies won’t be known for several months, Chretien and Mbikay are optimistic that quercetin may be able to play a role in treatment or prevention. “A cell has a lock, and the virus has a key,” Chretien said, “but quercetin puts glue in the lock.”
Vitamin C: In a recent report from China, high doses of intravenous vitamin C stabilized one elderly patient when she was at death’s door. New York State’s largest hospital has found that patients who received IV vitamin C did better than those who didn’t, and is now including it in their treatment protocol for COVID-19. Reaching the high blood levels that can be obtained with IV injection through supplementation is impossible, but there are specific forms of oral vitamin C that can achieve higher blood levels than ordinary ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C). Transport C-Plus is up to 300% more bioavailable than pure vitamin C, and New Roots Vitamin C8 (a blend of eight different vitamin C ascorbates) features better absorption while staying in the bloodstream four times longer than ascorbic acid.
Garlic: Garlic has powerful antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-viral properties. Allicin, the health-promoting bioactive compound in garlic is produced when garlic is crushed and allowed to sit for 10 minutes. This allows the enzyme allinase to combine with alliin (pronounced ali-een), creating allicin. Consuming garlic whole, or immediately after crushing prevents this conversion, and cooking for more than a few minutes destroys the allicin, so it’s best to consume garlic raw after crushing and waiting at least 10 minutes. I recommend eating at least two crushed cloves each day, or choose a supplement high in stabilized allicin like Allimax.
A garlic-rich diet also appears to protect against various cancers and has been shown to protect the heart, as allicin stimulates hydrogen sulfide gas which dilates blood vessels similar to nitric oxide. A 2013 study found that those who ate raw garlic at least twice a week had a 44 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer over a seven-year study period.
Nitric Oxide (NO): Nitric oxide is a gas produced by the epithelial cells which line our blood vessels. The body’s first line of defense against viruses is the action of the cilia in the epithelial cells of the lungs. This function declines with age, and appears to be negatively affected by lower levels of nitric oxide. Those with a compromised ability to make nitric oxide (hypertensives, diabetics, asthmatics) also have an impaired ability to synthesize it. This is also why some doctors are recommending that those with COVID-19 avoid the use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen, as it may reduce their ability to produce nitric oxide.
Well known for its vasodilating properties (lowering blood pressure and increasing circulation), nitric oxide has powerful antiviral activity, is involved in bronchodilation, and helps regulate immune and inflammatory processes. NO may inhibit the early stages of viral replication, potentially helping to prevent viral spread and promote recovery.
To boost nitric oxide, I recommend a diet rich in nitrate-rich foods like beets and kale. Immune function may be supported by consuming more fruits, berries, vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats, hibiscus tea, and super green food powders. Green food supplements that use organic grass juice powders (not grasses) are best, particularly formulas like Boku Superfood that contain a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, herbs, probiotics, and enzymes.
The amino acid L-Arginine is often recommended to boost NO levels, but it’s poorly absorbed, can cause gastrointestinal problems, and is not efficiently converted to NO (especially in those over 40). Neo40 or Pure Encapsulations Nitric Oxide Support use L-Citrulline which converts more efficiently to L-arginine in the body, resulting in higher NO levels.
T Cells and Neutrophils
T cells are critical to our immune system, adjusting the body’s response to specific pathogens. As we age, our T cells start to misfire. Neutrophils are the most common type of white blood cells that detect invading pathogens, and they can start to lose their ability to fight inflammation. Fortunately, we can reset and rejuvenate neutrophils through exercise. In a 2016 study, older adults doing 10,000 steps per day had neutrophils on par with young adults. Neutrophils aren’t antiviral, so they won’t prevent COVID-19, but they can protect against pneumonia, a serious danger, as it’s often secondary infections that cause death.
Vitamin E: According to research at Tufts University, vitamin E works to rejuvenate T cells, which are critical to the adaptive immune response, and only 200 IU per day can make a significant difference in lowering the rate of upper respiratory infections. Most multivitamin formulas will contain at least 200 IU.
Magnesium, Potassium, and Vitamin D: People low in vitamin D (common in the winter months) can have a compromised immune defense against viral infection, including COVID-19.
Magnesium is a critical co-factor in the conversion of vitamin D to the bioactive form. Research indicates over 60% of Canadians are deficient in this important mineral. Magnesium Synergy is a delicious powdered formula that has two bioavailable forms of magnesium, with added potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium. Research from Wenzhou Medical University found that almost all COVID-19 patients exhibited hypokalemia, and that potassium supplementation was one of the factors that assisted in recovery. Styrian pumpkin seeds and oil are one of nature’s richest sources of potassium, zinc, and magnesium.
Good Bacteria: A healthy gut microbiome is highly associated with a strong immune system, as 70% of our immune system is based in the gut. It’s important to consume foods high in healthy probiotic bacteria including kefir and fermented foods. Choose probiotic supplements produced by a natural process like those from Living Alchemy or Olie to boost the levels of good gut bacteria. Prebiotics including inulin and resistant potato starch are also vital to a healthy microbiome. Avoid sugar, excess alcohol, refined, processed and fried foods, as they can adversely affect the gut microbiome.
Often overlooked is the importance of maintaining good oral health, as pathogenic bacteria in the mouth depress immune function. I recommend oral probiotics like streptococcus salivarius, proper brushing, flossing, and using an oral irrigator daily.
Whether isolated at home or working as part of an essential service, there are choices we can make and steps we can take to help keep our immune systems strong, and do our best to hopefully stay healthy through these trying times.
Nathan Zassman is the owner and president of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.