By Josh Redd, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, Chiropractic Physician
According to the China Center for Disease Control, if you are under 50 years old and contract Covid-19 (coronavirus), the survival rate is almost 100%. If you are under 30, the likelihood of you contracting the virus is low.
Recent data shows that people who are 50 and older and who struggle with a preexisting condition are at a greater risk. Here are the top pre-existing conditions that increase risks: 1) Cardiovascular disease 2) Diabetes 3) Chronic respiratory diseases 4) Hypertension 5) Cancer 6) Kidney disease. Most of these are inflammatory conditions. Fortunately, if you are 50 and older and you have one of the above, there are simple strategies to give your immune system a fighting chance.
- Avoid inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar if you have an inflammatory disease
- Vitamin D supplementation
- Glutathione supplementation
- Wash your hands
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing
- Cook meats and eggs thoroughly
- Avoid close contact with anyone who shows symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing
Some worry that China hasn’t reported accurate coronavirus numbers. This is a valid concern, but many more people are likely to have contracted the virus who were never tested due to only having mild symptoms. In China, deaths have impacted primarily the elderly and the critically ill. There have currently been no reported deaths among children under 9-years old. Men have had a higher fatality rate, but about half of the male population in China smokes versus only about 2 percent of women.
Symptoms of the coronavirus are much like other viral symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, and gut symptoms.
Navigating the onslaught of information on the subject can be difficult. Here are my thoughts on how to better prepare your body against possible viral exposure:
As you may already know, masks are largely sold out. But a mask is not your best defense anyway. According to many infectious disease specialists and the Centers for Disease Control, standard surgical masks don’t offer much protection. The best mask would be an n95 respirator mask, but you may find using one makes it difficult for you to breathe. And if you wear glasses, the mask may cause lenses to fog.
The two best things you can do to protect yourself are: wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears. In fact, if you wear a mask, its main benefit would be to prevent you from touching your face. Washing your hands frequently is cited as the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. Consider carrying disinfectant wipes or a spray bottle filled with non-toxic disinfectants such as white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or solutions made with essential oils such as thyme or tea tree, and paper towels to wipe down surfaces.
I know a woman who flies frequently for work. As soon as she gets to her seat, she disinfects the arms, buttons, and any of the reading material she might touch in the seat pocket. She also wipes down the bathroom door handles and anything she will touch in the bathroom.
Some people swear by coating the inside of their nostrils with Vaseline while in flight.
Although this doesn’t combat germs, it can help protect the delicate mucus membranes from the extreme dryness inside an airplane, which in turn may help better defend you against viruses and other germs.
Shoring up your immune system and general health
Here is where we get to the heart of protecting yourself from all viruses, including the coronavirus. In addition to washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face, your best strategy is to make sure your body’s natural defense systems are working well.
Antiviral herbs — maybe not the best option for autoimmune folks
In terms of supplements, one of the first things people go for are antiviral herbs such as echinacea, astragalus, licorice root, or maitake mushroom. These are some of the most researched nutrients that boost the immune system’s immediate response to a foreign invader such as a virus. This system is called the T helper 1 (TH-1) system. We use a product that combines all of these and more, called X-Viromin™ by Apex Energetics.
But if you have an autoimmune condition, this product may cause an autoimmune flareup and make you feel worse. Why? People with autoimmunity can often be separated into two types of immune imbalances: TH-1 dominant or TH-2 dominant. (TH-2 is the delayed immune response that creates antibodies.) This topic goes beyond the scope of this article, but if you have an autoimmune condition and find antiviral herbs make you feel worse, this could be why
Supplements that support your immune system without risking autoimmune flares
There are still options to support your overall immune health without a great risk of triggering an autoimmune flare. I suggest the following to help optimize health:
Essential fatty acids (EFAs): Americans are typically deficient in the vital omega 3 EFAs. Omega 3s are found in cold-water fish and raw nuts. I suggest taking fish oil daily. Most people do not take enough; you should take about 3500 mg of fish oil for every 2,000 calories you consume. Most capsules contain 1,000 mg of EFAs and most Americans consume between 2000 and 3000 of calories a day. This means that some individuals need 5 to 6 fish oil capsules daily.
Vitamin D: Many Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and some people with autoimmunity have a genetic variation that makes it difficult for them to absorb vitamin D. I recommend 10,000 IU daily, although dosage can vary depending on how well you absorb it. (Your physician can order a test to determine how well your body absorbs vitamin D.) Ideally, you will also take fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K as well.
Glutathione: Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant and is vital for defense. I recommend taking glutathione daily for general support because most people are dealing with chronic inflammatory conditions, which can deplete the immune system. As we age, our glutathione levels fall, so if you are over 50, you should also be taking it daily.
Glutathione is like a bodyguard, taking the bullet so cells don’t have to. This better protects cells from damage, including from the many toxins we live among. This added protection frees up your immune system to deal with things like viruses instead.
After testing various glutathione products on thousands of patients, the product we’ve had the most success with is Trizomal Glutathione. One thing to note is that the more inflammation you have or the older you are, the more glutathione your body requires. I often recommend 10–15 ml spread out over two to three times a day.
Adrenal adaptogens: Adrenal adaptogens are well-researched herbs and minerals that help buffer the effects of stress on your body, toxins in your environment, and inflammation. Living in the modern world is chronically stressful, which can deplete your stresshandling system, and thus your immunity. Adrenal adaptogens include panax ginseng, ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola, and eleuthero.
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs): SCFAs are compounds produced by healthy gut bacteria that play a role in many vital processes in the body, including immune function. However, many people are deficient in SCFAs because they do not eat enough plant fiber, which is needed to produce SCFAs. In addition to increasing your consumption of veggies and low-glycemic fruit, consider taking SCFAs as a supplement.
While the above are foundational building blocks, nutrients such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin C are also well known for helping combat viruses.
Whole foods: The best antiviral diet is dense in nutrients and low in inflammatory foods. This means a whole foods diet abundant in colorful vegetables, leafy greens, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. It also means avoiding sugars, processed foods, and junk foods.
Lots of produce: Eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day from produce, mainly veggies, so you don’t overdo the fruit sugar. Also eat a wide variety of vegetables and continuously change it up. This will significantly boost your gut bacteria diversity, which is critical to immune health.
Minimal sugars and starches: Diets high in carbohydrates and sugars are enormously stressful on the body and weaken immune function, so avoid or greatly minimize all sweets and starchy foods such as breads, pasta, white rice, and pastries. That means you’ll also want to avoid or minimize alcohol consumption as well.
Many people don’t realize how important their everyday lives are to their immune health. For instance, if you’re in a chronically stressful relationship or situation, this is going to weaken your immunity and make you more vulnerable to viruses. Look for areas of chronic stress that you might be able to mitigate.
Here are some lifestyle strategies that have been shown to help boost immune function:
Sleep! If you are worried about the coronavirus, prioritize getting enough sleep. Watch those late-night shows on Hulu some other time and go to bed earlier.
Move your body daily. If you already exercise regularly, great. If you don’t and you want to shore up your immune system, go for daily walks or swims, use the cardio equipment at the gym, or even spend some time dancing each day. Physical activity releases various hormones and chemicals that support immune function and get the lymphatic system moving. Although any physical activity helps, high-intensity interval training is especially great for immune function. This involves pushing yourself until you feel you can’t breathe anymore, recovering, and then doing it again. Even a few minutes a day has powerful effects.
Just a word of caution: While exercise is vital, over exercising increases inflammation and weakens the immune system, so don’t overdo it.
Put your nervous system into a parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. We live in a world that constantly promotes a “fight or flight” state of the central nervous system. This is called being in sympathetic dominance. Ideally, we would more often be in a “rest and digest” state, also called the parasympathetic state.
Being in constant sympathetic dominance sabotages the brain so that it’s harder to activate the more calming parasympathetic state where healing and relaxation can happen. This has a dramatic impact on our immune system.
There are several ways to activate the parasympathetic response. The easiest is to activate the vagus nerve, the large nerve that runs between the brain and the organs. You can do this by gargling vigorously multiple times a day for a few minutes at a time, or by pressing a tongue depressor on the back of the throat to make yourself gag.
Another easy strategy is cold therapy, whether it’s a cold shower or immersion in cold water. Yes, you heard that right. Cold therapy has been shown to boost white blood cells so that you are better protected from viruses and disease. Start with a 60-second cold shower at the end of your hot shower and increase the time as you become accustomed to it.
The last simple strategy is to practice deep breathing exercises. Most of us are shallow breathers, due to our fast-paced and stressful lives. Regular deep-breathing exercises increase oxygen to the body and activate immune enhancing qualities. For more information on cold therapy and deep breathing, check out the Wim Hoff Method.
Do not change, discontinue, or take new medications or nutraceuticals without first seeking advice from your prescribing physician.
We will make updates throughout the next few months as we receive more data. Stay tuned.
About Dr. Redd
Josh Redd, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, is a chiropractic physician and author of the Amazon bestselling book The Truth About Low Thyroid. Dr. Redd owns seven functional medicine clinics in the western United States and sees patients from across the country and around the world who are suffering from challenging immune based disorders. Dr. Redd also teaches thousands of healthcare practitioners about immunology and autoimmunity across the country.