Your COVID-19 Battle Plan: Common Sense + 9 Immune-Boosting Supplements.
What’s different about our perspective? Start by remembering the wise final words of the 19th Century scientist Louis Pasteur: The pathogen is nothing, the terrain is everything. Pasteur spent a lifetime studying germ theory (the word germ just means any infectious agent that causes illness), along with inventing the pasteurization process. His words are a powerful reminder that we absolutely can take steps to create the right “terrain” — in our surroundings and within our own bodies — to protect ourselves from any pathogen, including Covid19.
Want to join me in taking a “terrain is everything” approach to avoiding COVID-19? Here are some practices I recommend. Keep the outside of you clean Germs breach your immune system chiefly by you ingesting an infectious dose through you nose, mouth or eyes. You can get this by being coughed on by an infected individual, or through hand-to-face contact after you touch a surface that contains the germs. So to minimize the risk of infection, avoid both those situations, and get in the habit of frequent hand washing. You don’t need antibacterial soap or anything high tech or overly harsh. Plain old soap and water works — and works well — because the lipids (fats) in soap effectively “dissolve” the glue that holds the COVID-19 virus together, breaking the virus apart and washing it away.
Go about your hand washing by thinking like a surgeon: Get under your nails, wash up to your elbows, and keep scrubbing for longer than you normally would. The CDC recommends 20 seconds of hand washing using warm or cold water. To help you time yourself, here’s a tip: Sing the Happy Birthday song twice)
Wash your hands more frequently than you normally would. And don’t worry about using very hot water. The temperature of the water has no impact on the effectiveness of hand washing. It’s the soap that will kill the virus; the water is there to simply help you lather up and wash it away. You may find that using cooler water actually protects your skin from getting too dry or cracking.
(Cracked skin breaches your first line of immune defense!)
Carry a bottle of 70% alcohol hand sanitizer with you for those times when soap and water are unavailable. Also recognize all the other dirty things you come in contact with — avoid them or clean them. COVID-19 can last 8 days on surfaces like your cell phone, door knobs, public toilets, escalator rails, cash and coins, and light switches. If your hands are not clean and you touch your keyboard or reading light, they’re now risky too. For those things that can’t be dunked in soapy water, wipe them down with an alcohol-based cleaner (70% alcohol).
Special note about your phone: Only use it for calls if you absolutely must when you are out and about (and touching so many germs things); save the Instagramming for when you are home and can have a clean phone and clean hands. Because we all come in contact with so many surfaces during a typical day, you want to avoid touching your face, eyes and nose unless you have just thoroughly washed your hands. You may not realize how often you touch your face until you try not to! You can turn this into a mindfulness practice by noticing that you want to touch your face and then focus on your breathing until the urge passes.
Keep the inside of you “clean” too Eating or drinking too much sugar can dampen your immune function, putting your white blood cells into a sort of “coma” as researchers describe it. You want your immune system to be ready for action, so if you need motivation to finally kick sugary foods to the curb, this is it. You can give your immune system even more support by taking a probiotic. As studies have shown, gut bacteria play an important role in the development of white blood cells that help the body's immune system fight off pathogens; the more good bacteria you have, the stronger your immune system. Stay hydrated too as that keeps all your systems in better working order.
You also want to eat more fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C and E. Go for a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Another favorite food is garlic, which contains natural compounds that help fight viruses and bacteria. Some mushroom varieties -- such as shiitake -- also help strengthen immune function. Add immune-boosting supplements Sometimes our diets just can’t give us the amount of nutrients we need, or nutrients may not be readily available from common foods, so supplements are a great option.
For immune support, some supplements that I find to be very effective are vitamin C (taken to bowel tolerance), vitamin D, fish oil for the omega-3s, anti-inflammatory curcumin, vitamin K2, vitamin A, elderberry, zinc, and the trace mineral selenium. (Eating 2-3 Brazil nuts daily can supply most of the selenium you need.) It’s always best to work with a naturopathic physician to understand how much supplementation you require, especially for vitamin A. This approach gives general immune support; be wary of claims that specific supplements fight off COVID-19 -- the science on that isn’t settled yet. Avoid crowds and needless contact Viruses mutate quickly when there are lots of cases. If we can limit cases of coronavirus, we’ll see fewer mutations, and the virus will be easier to contain. We can do our job by avoiding crowds, especially in enclosed spaces. Do your shopping at off-peak times because greater distance from other persons reduces the risk of infection. If you cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow or a tissue. Avoid shaking hands or using cash. Stay home when you are sick. So called “social distancing” may be the best tactic we have to slow the spread of COVID-19. You may feel comforted by wearing a surgical mask in public, but they just don’t work that well to protect you from inhaling the virus. The particles are too small and can get through (or around!) the filter. Respirator masks do work, but consumers generally can’t buy these, especially now. Only wear a mask when you are sick. Turn off the TV and give the terrain of your mind some self care Being in a chronic state of stress is proven to suppress immune function, so give yourself extra self care and don’t worry too much. Yes, you do need up-to-date information about COVID-19, but keeping the TV on 24/7 or being glued to the internet all day is only going to keep you stressed. Give yourself a few “virus update” times during the day where you watch or read the news to get the latest, then go on with your day. Take time to meditate and do some deep breathing to relax. Prioritize getting enough sleep. If coronavirus worries are keeping you up at night or your days are plagued with anxious thoughts, your adrenal glands are probably in overdrive and may need added support. Is the pandemic really just a needless panic? Even doctors may disagree about this. My view is that this virus is much more dangerous than the usual flu. That’s for five main reasons: The gestation period for the infection is unusually long. In infected people, it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear versus just a few days for the flu. About 80% of cases are mild and easily confused with a cold. This plus the long gestation period mean that infected people can expose hundreds of people to the germs without being aware at all. The virus lingers in the air and on surfaces longer than the flu. This means that infected people who cough or sneeze are spreading the germs further than we are accustomed to. Although the data is still emerging, it appears that the mortality rate among vulnerable groups -- the elderly and those who are immune-impaired -- is much higher than for the flu. We may also find that the rate of serious complications, like organ damage, is higher. The coronavirus family is highly mutagenic. This means it could easily mutate into a more dangerous form. The fewer cases there are, the less likely that is to happen soon.
Here's something else I hope you take to heart: If you do decide to self-isolate, try to see the cup as half full, not half empty. Think of it as a self-imposed self care retreat. Clean out that closet, finish that scrapbook, write that novel, watch yoga videos on Youtube and do everything you need to take good care of yourself. Give yourself permission to embrace this time of slowness, stillness and rest. As the days go by and more and more cases of coronavirus inevitably spread across the globe, I want us all to take better care of ourselves and each other. Staying home and avoiding infection will help do that and give other benefits too, not just now but over the long term. And I can’t help but see this pandemic as a much-needed wake up call that our health simply must come first. If there is a “terrain” that is worth tending, we are it. Take care and be well. We’ll get through this together.