Now that COVID-19 is part of our reality — when I first wrote this in early March, there were less than 10,000 total US cases. Now, we’re at 2.1 MILLION infected, with over 110,000 deaths (as of June 17). This is concerning, even frightening — especially as states open “up” too early, and without enough protections, – but there are things you can do to protect yourself. Experts say that it’s inevitable that 60 to 70% of us will experience this virus. The one thing within your power is to bolster your immune system and prepare for it. NOW. Not when you get sick. My advice is to be in the best shape possible. Most people who have died are elderly AND have what healthcare calls “co-morbid” conditions: meaning they have a chronic illness AND they have come down with COVID-19. We may later learn that patients who did worse had the lowest Vitamin C or D levels. But right now, we JUST DON’T KNOW.
Here are ways to boost immunity. Keep in mind this is an ever evolving list but I am updating it with the newest data from people tracking it. It is amazing to see how the entire medical community is sharing data and working non-stop to sort out what can help.
NOTE: This advice below is not meant to substitute for the public health recommendations around hygiene and social distancing. These must take first place in prevention. There is no safer way to prevent spreading the infection than to wash your hands frequently and keep the virus far away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you believe you may have the virus, call your doctor and follow the recommendations from your local health department.
original: 3.2.2020 — Updated 3.17.2020 and again 3.21.20, 4.2.2020, 5.19.2020, 6.17.2020
My suggestions to boost immunity.
These are listed now in order of importance, and even I am not on all of these, but these are suggestions by three researchers I follow in addition to the Institute for Functional Medicine’s position paper on immune boosting. AGAIN: These do NOT replace hand washing, wearing masks/gloves in public places and not touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
I’m starting with ZINC and ELDERBERRY: Since elderberry blocks the entry of the virus into the cell while zinc blocks its replication, zinc is just behind elderberry in importance as a preventative.
- Elderberry (700 mg to 1Gm/day) is an ages old remedy and has been shown to be quite effective in (see study here) blocking virus proteins that attach to the “host cell” (that’s us guys). Normally, you can find elderberry immune syrup fairly easily, but it is hard to find now. Do the best you can. Best taken twice/day. They make lozenges and gummies and even some with zinc. Grab what you can, and use whatever your kids will tolerate. Lozenges are probably best. During the pandemic, it is suggested to take it twice/day, but look at the dosage on your bottle and use the guideline above.
- Zinc supplements or lozenges prevent the virus from replicating in your cells. We know this from SARS, another corona virus. It is therefore reasonable to assume Zinc will be beneficial, in fact possibly crucial for fighting the respiratory impact of the virus. If you travel anywhere, pop a zinc lozenge in and let it dissolve, don’t crunch it. They don’t taste wonderful, but they are not hideous. If you cannot find lozenges, take oral zinc. 5-15 mg of zinc spaced out 4 x day if you can. They also make ionic zinc, which you can put in a spray bottle and spray into the back of your throat in a pinch two or three sprays/day. (they usually have 900-1200 mg/ounce of zinc, but a spray would be much much less, but the taste is… not my favorite!) If you feel like you’re getting sick, increase the zinc to one lozenge or spray every two hours. If you develop a fever, let your doctor know and monitor it. (See below on treating a fever)
- Povidone Iodine this is new, and you should have some on hand. It is also called Betadine in over the counter pharmacies. You won’t need to use it unless you have a potential exposure OR you get sick. But grab some to have available. (see below “if you get sick”.) Here is one article that demonstrates it’s amazing ability to kill the virus.
- Vitamin D is actually not a Vitamin, it’s a hormone. See my post here, but make sure your Vitamin D level is sufficient. I recommend getting outside without sunscreen for 20-30 minutes/day so your body can make it’s own supply. You can take 2,000 – 5,000 u/day with K2. In addition, ADE and K are fat soluble, so they are absorbed much better with a meal with fat in it. Take D in the morning. If you know your Vitamin D level is below 50, I would discuss boosting supplementation for a month with your physician. It is a crucial part of the puzzle. Taking 5,000 u/day if you are low is important. If you are very low (under 30), I would take 10,000 u for two weeks. Even easier, now that it is warmer? Get outside for 30 minutes without sunscreen can boost your levels and is good for you. Your body can make up to 10,000 u/half hour of sun with exposed skin! This also combats depression.
- Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. In fact, a lack of vitamin C can even make you more prone to getting sick. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, kiwi, all bell peppers, green or red chili peppers, spinach, kale, guava, currants and broccoli. Daily intake of vitamin C is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce or store it. Get your Vitamin C by diet listed above, and there are many supplements that have C that even kids will take. Drinks, gummies, etc. It is reasonable to take 1- 3GM per day, which is a higher than normal dose. New York physicians are using some of the reports coming out of China that high dose intraveous C is helping. This is being studied by the NIH. Getting your “baseline” levels of this important vitamin will help you be better able to ward off serious symptoms, ESPECIALLY if you are someone who has an autoimmune condition. C is crucial to detoxification. If you are taking C and get loose stools, you can back off a bit, but do not stop it.
- Echinachea is an herb that is often included in supplements, lozenges, or teas meant to support the immune system. Echinacea does help boost the immune system, and it appears to help us combat viruses primarily by boosting our production of a chemical known as nitric oxide. Nitric oxide production lowers with age, and is 85% less by the time you are 60! That may be why older people have more issues. Nitric Oxide appears to help reduce the harm done to the lungs by the SARS virus, so we can hope it does the same with COVID.
- Melatonin: take a slightly higher dose during this pandemic. Melatonin is protective of lungs, reduces inflammation and promotes restful sleep, one of the most important immune boosters. I have been taking 6mg, which is double my normal dose. Take at bedtime only.
- Copper balance your zinc 10:1 with copper. Corona virus dies within 5 to 30 minutes on surfaces, like brass, that have high concentrations of copper. Obviously, you cannot line your mouth with brass, LOL, but you can eat foods that have copper: shiitake mushrooms, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, spirulina, leafy greens like swiss chard, cocoa powder (the darker the chocolate the better), and lobster! Many times Zinc supplements have copper, so if yours does, you are set.
- Allicin, a component found in raw garlic, has anti-viral properties, and preliminary results are promising. Still, crushing one garlic clove and eating it would give you some allicin (must be uncooked, –and let site for 15 min open to air, then eat raw — as cooking it might destroy most of it). You can buy supplements with stabilized allicin. Allicin also shares some chemical properties with zinc that make it possible that it would work side by side with zinc to inhibit some of the key tools used by the new coronavirus to reproduce, which is key to lessening your infection severity and length of illness. This is meant to be taken only during high threat or if you are sick. I consider the spring/summer of 2020 high threat as every state has cases, and no numbers are plateauing yet, if anything they are increasing.
- Quercitin: has been shown to have antiviral effects against both RNA (flu and coronavirus) and DNA viruses (e.g., herpesvirus). It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and also helps with post-viral healing. (Also a great help with allergies, I speak from experience!)
- Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken, salmon and tuna. Vitamin B6 also is found in green vegetables and in chickpeas, which is the main ingredient in hummus. A good multivitamin should help. >> You can also get B6 and B-complex vitamins in most vitamin and grocery stores.
- Curcumin: may interfere with viral replication and is an anti-inflammatory. (1 to 1,000 mg/day)
- Green Tea: modulates inflammatory response. Drink 4 cups/day.
- Vitamins: taking a good multivitamin is probably a great idea. I recommend PhytoMulti by Metagenics, but most brands will include a combo of B’s, A, C, D, etc. Most tablets do NOT have enough D3 or C, which is why I recommend it separately.
- N Acetyl Cysteine: NAC is a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione is called our “master anti-oxidant”. Increasting NAC may boost your ability to handle an infection by helping your body build it’s glutathione stores.
- Stinging Nettle is an ages old plant compound used for hay fever and other maladies. A well known herb for prostate wellness, the root of the herb Urtica dioica contains a lectin with known antiviral qualities that has in fact been shown to be effective against similar strains of Coronavirus.
- Get enough sleep – sleep is when you repair and boost your immune cells – if you short your sleep you lower your immune “strength”.
- Avoid stress if possible. Stressing, even about this virus, watching maps of how many are infected actually make you MORE susceptible to infection! If you are someone who is a worrier, turn off the news!
- Stay warm. It appears the virus likes colder temps better. In fact, going in a sauna, especially an infra-red sauna that can raise your temperature like a fever and help you fight the virus “thriving”. (If you do, drink plenty of fluids to offset loss from sweating).
If you think you are ill, this is my best advice:
- Based on your symptoms, and especially if you have a fever, call your doctor and discuss what to do and if they want to see you or test you.
- Increase your ZINC to every 1-2 hours by using the lozenges. Have one in your mouth and let it dissolve slowly. If you don’t have access to lozenges, get some zinc supplements.
- Use the povidone iodine (PVP) DILUTED to swab inside your nose, spray some in your mouth and swish and spit it out. Be sure to use a solution that has been diluted with 19 parts distilled water and 1 part PVP.
- Continue taking elderberry, Vitamin C, melatonin, etc. as they ALL will help your body fight almost any virus. Add echinachea if you haven’t been on it. Take 3-4 doses the first several days. (total 500-900 mg).
- Rest, eat healthy.
- If you get short of breath, CALL YOUR DOCTOR. If it comes on suddenly, and you cannot breath, call 911.
Dealing with a Fever:
Patients in Europe who have been given Ibuprofen, or similar NSAID compounds, have been seemingly recovering less well. This data is still evolving, but is not terribly surprising, as these drugs’ main mechanism of action is the suppression on the innate immune response, or in other words “inflammation”. There is some new evidence that Naprosyn (Aleve) may be helpful if you get sick, but this is prelimary and isn’t the same as Motrin.
So, to return to fever, if you think this through, do you want a key element of your immune response dampened when you are trying to recover from a serious viral infection, even if it may alleviate some of your symptomatic discomfort? No. So instead they advise to use Tylenol, but is this wise? Probably not, see why:
Western medicine has fallen into a “take a pill” knee jerk reaction when it comes to fever, and this flies in the face of the understanding of physiology, common sense, and certainly naturopathic medicine principles. The minute a person spikes a fever we should not be advising them to immediately reach for a bottle of Tylenol (acetaminophen)! Yes, it is an analgesic (pain reliever) and anti-pyretic (fever reducer), and may make you feel a bit less symptomatic. However, your body is spiking a fever for a reason! Your immune system is working hard to produce that elevated body temperature with a plan in mind, which is to make it too hot for the pathogen infecting you to want to stay around, or for it to survive in you. Why would you want to immediately sabotage your own immune response like that?
We all understand that an uncontrolled and excessive fever can be deadly, but that does not mean we should immediately attempt to suppress any level of fever. We need to “control” a fever, not eliminate it. The magic number here is ~103-104 degrees, as anything above that is life-threatening. Keeping a fever in control by the use of a tepid bath with sponging or immersion in water lower than the temperature of the body (85–90 degrees Fahrenheit). This works just fine in most situations. Resort to fever lowering medications and seek medical attention when there is difficulty in keeping the beneficial fever in a safe range. If you have concerns, or are not able to control fever, cough or have shortness of breath, call your doctor immediately.
Stay safe, stay smart and we will make it through this “shelter at home” period.
Chris Masterjohn, PhD. Chris is working full time on evaluating research, compiling data and summarizing pre-press articles. Although very technical, it is very thorough and free of ads or bias. He emails several updates/week. Realize this is a moving target, hence my updating this article so much! Link here