Covid-19: Suggestions for a healthy immune system

We are rapidly learning, around the world, what is helpful, and not for Covid-19. There is no reason to believe that the usual protocols that are helpful for viruses will not help now. Lifestyle changes and protocols that we know help with viruses are also working for Covid-19. It is helpful to think about Covid 19 in 3 ways:

  • Common sense, public health measures
  • Personal immunity, prevention opportunities
  • Self-care once you are dealing with viral symptoms

1. Almost everyone should expect to get the virus at some point, if not more than once.

If you are young and healthy you may not get sick, may have only minor respiratory symptoms, or possibly have a very uncomfortable illness with fever, sore throat, body pain, cough, some shortness of breath, and recover quite well. Corona viruses are generally common cold viruses and although SARS-COV2 is a novel, unique virus, upwards of 80-90% of people will have manageable symptoms. But that means 10-20% of people may have a more severe illness. That’s a lot! Unfortunately, too many of the younger people in this country have chronic diseases, co-morbidities and poor health habits that make them more vulnerable to disease. We also know that Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting minorities and impoverished communities that don't have access to quality healthcare, have often experienced a higher environmental toxin burden, and for whom healthy lifestyle choices are a privilege rarely afforded.

We are living the truth that there are still compelling, essential and ethical reasons to delay the speed of transmission of this virus through our communities. Primarily, we need to continue to support medical facility capacity to deal with those who are very ill, to make sure we have hospital care available for people that urgently need it. Our medical system does not have a lot of built in reserve. ICUs in certain parts of the country continue to remain at or near capacity, and we know that death rates for this virus are higher when hospital care is not readily available. Additionally, buying time by slowing viral spread will continue to allow us to be better able to treat this virus, by gaining experience with what works and doesn’t work over time.

We’ve all heard that we should be washing our hands and not touching our faces. Washing hands, with basic soap and water, removes a majority of the viruses we’ve picked up. So yes, wash your hands thoroughly, especially when you get home, and when you’re meeting others. If you are older, have a chronic illness, asthma/lung problems or immune issues definitely avoid exposure as much as possible. If you know you’ve been exposed, or have Covid symptoms, stay home for 14 days irregardless of what your rapid test says. We all need to care about each other and avoid exposing others. I love the concept of "Social intimacy with physical distance" during Covid waves. With today's crises we can be even better and more creative at receiving and giving in our communities.

If you do need to go out during a Covid wave, I absolutely still believe in wearing a mask. Add a drop or dab of tea tree oil to the inside of your mask. Find a mask that is as snugly fitting as possible and n95 rated. You may have heard that viruses are so small as to pass through cloth masks, but this ignores the fact that Covid-19 is still primarily spread through droplets, so most masks are still remarkable effective at keeping these droplets contained.

2. The simple key to avoid becoming very sick is to build personal immunity and continue to work on your general health.

Both "natural" immunity from prior Covid-19 infection and vaccine induced immunity are effective for preventing future severe disease from Covid -19. Neither seems especially effective at preventing transmission long term. Although the immune correlates of protection are not fully understood, evidence indicates that antibody development following infection likely confers some degree of immunity from subsequent infection for at least 6 months. And while the CDC says there is no known "expiration date" on boosters, a growing body of data shows that antibody protection from boosters may wane around 3-4 months. Still, with each successive Covid infection or exposure I feel there is reason to be hopeful for a lessening of symptoms. Our bodies and immune systems are designed to fight off or minimize the effects of viruses with repeat exposure.

Now is your time to make a special effort to do the things that build immunity and fight inflammation. Get enough sleep, clean your teeth (yes, dental issues are important!), get natural sunlight daily, exercise everyday, make a special effort to avoid and manage stress, and EAT WELL. Eat real, whole foods, and always avoid processed foods, sugar and inflammatory fats. Eat more fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, choosing organic when you can afford it. Stay well hydrated with clean, purified water. Use nasal saline rinses regularly and/or humidifier at home to keep your mucus membranes moist and healthy.

The greatest risk factors for severe illness and complications from Covid-19 are chronic diseases such as: cardiometabolic disorders (cardiovascular disease, diabletes, high blood pressure etc.), chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, autoimmune diseases, immunocompromised (HIV, cancer, prolonged use of corticosteroids etc.), people with severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher), and people with chronic liver and kidney disease. So the most important thing you can do to avoid severe illness from Covid-19 is to address your chronic health conditions NOW.

Some of the common supplements that have been shown to support our resistance to illness and fight viruses are Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin A, Garlic, Bone Broth, Omega 3s, Probiotics and Quercetin. Less well known are Licorice Root, Red Marine Algae (Griffithsin), Lomatium Dissectum, but each have research evidence to support their use. Mushroom beased supplements (such as Stamets 7 by Host Defense) can boost cellular defense.

Vitamin C: 500-1000mg. milligrams (or more) daily, in divided doses.
Vitamin D3: 2,000-5,000 International Units daily.
Magnesium: 400 mg daily (in citrate, malate, chelate, or chloride form)
Zinc: 20 mg daily

Quercetin: 500 mg daily
Selenium: 100 mcg (micrograms) daily (1-2 Brazil Nuts a day give us this)

We are using Melatonin in our family, to get good sleep of course, and though the evidence is still not clear, it may slow excessive inflammation.

Certainly talk to your wellness of Functional Medicine doctor about what she recommends for prevention, and use what you know you need for your own circumstances. If you ever have an adverse reaction to a supplement, stop using it.

3. If you are developing mild respiratory symptoms or if you test positive for Covid-19 up your self care regimen ASAP! Contact your doctor to increase your supplement regimen in a symptom targeted manner. Definitely stay home with any hint of respiratory illness! Rest, rest, rest. Drink lots of fluids, especially water, and warm liquids like hot ginger tea, or green tea with lemon and honey.

One of the first symptoms is dry or sore throat. Start gargling regularly with saline or dilute Hydrogen Peroxide (one part hydrogen peroxide to 2 parts water) and don't swallow. Use nasal saline rinses frequently throughout the day to keep passages clear. Adding xylitol to your nasal saline rinses may be beneficial.

In the world of supplements Vitamin C is our best and most available anti-inflammatory tool. Under the guidance of your physician you can you can up your doses to as much as 2 to 3 grams every few hours for a short term period without causing harm. You’ll know you’re getting enough when your stools are loose. Use a variety of Vitamin C preparations: Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Liposomal Vitamin C concurrently.

While you are sick you can also increase Vitamins A and D. Do not take higher doses of Vitamin A or D (or any fat soluble supplement) for prolonged periods to avoid toxicity. For therapeutic doses of these and other preventative supplements in the midst of a viral illness, speak to your doctor.

Taking fairly high doses of Turmeric/Curcumin, Boswellia/Frankincense, bioflavonoids (fruits and vegetables, and quercetin) and elderberry can all be supportive.

You may choose to diffuse essential oils like Tea Tree, Thieves, Eucalyptus, Lemon Balm, Frankincense to help with symptoms. (Be careful with Thieves around small animals and small humans. A little goes a long way.)

If you are having shortness of breath, air hunger, increased asthma or cardiovascular symptoms or low pulse oxygen go to the hospital. If these symptoms are arising but still seem "mild" contact your doctor immediately. When symptoms transition to becoming severe it is important to act quickly. Using the full arsenal of modern allopathic medicine can help prevent current and future complications and support your body as it fights the infection.

If you have any questions, ask your doctor. We are here for you!

Be safe, be well...

Karla L. Birkholz, MD