COVID-19 and Integrative Medicine

Catherine Oseni, Pharma. D., ABAAHP, FAAMFM
Director of Integrative Medicine

As your integrative and functional medicine expert, one of the frequently asked questions over the past few weeks has been my top preventative recommendation via nutrition to boost the immune system against the Coronavirus.

We are being bombarded with information about it on a daily basis. This new virus is called SARS-CoV-2. The illness it causes is named COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a common group of viruses that can cause an infection in the nose, sinuses, or throat. Some coronaviruses are mild and simply produce symptoms often seen in the common cold, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and fever. Other types are far more severe and can lead to pneumonia and early death.

The new coronavirus is transmitted from human to human and symptoms can appear within a couple of days or up to 14 days from the time of exposure. The symptoms of this coronavirus include the typical cold-like symptoms, and can also include shortness of breath, cough, and fever. A more recent discovery is that the lack of taste or smell may also be a symptom of the Coronavirus. Most people experience mild symptoms and recover, but others who may have underlying health issues develop lethal complications.

With the increase of global panic over the spread of the coronavirus, many are left with uncertainty as to what they can do. One crucial measure to take is to improve your immune system. I would like to share practical tips to strengthen your immune system today.

When we consider everything in the body when it comes to staying healthy, at the top of the list is homeostasis or internal balance. “Boosting” just means balancing the immune system. Obviously, there is no single fast-acting magic bullet or solution. It generally takes a combination of preventive measures to ensure your immune system is at its peak performance most of the time.

To start to strengthen the immune system, it is recommended to work on the lifestyle factors first. The main lifestyle factors we need to concentrate on are our gut health, stress management, hydration, physical activity, sleep, hygiene, nutrition, and responsible social distancing. 

A balanced immune system starts in the gut. It has been proven that 70% of our immune system is in our gut. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir do support gut health as well. One of my all-time favorite foods for healing the gut is bone broth, especially homemade bone broth. Bone broth is very important in strengthening gut health.

Lowering your stress level. Worrying about the pandemic raises our stress level, which will decrease or weaken the immune system and in turn make us more vulnerable to infections.

Manage your stress levels – Deep breathing from the abdomen several times in a row, meditation, prayer, or mild exercise, for example, can keep cortisol levels in check and help to maintain a healthy immune system. Laughter, joy, and play are really the antidote to stress. If you’re laughing and you’re feeling joy and you’re playing, that’s a different response.

Stay hydrated – drinking good quality water will help keep your lungs moist and mucus flowing which clears the lungs of the gunk that can collect and create conditions for opportunistic infections to thrive.

Exercise, get moving. Staying active while we stay home. Dance parties with the family in the living room anyone?

Get enough sleep, preferably 7 to 9 hours. Sleep is vital to keeping immune cells ready to fight viral infections. Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system’s innate ability to act as the first line of defense.  

Wash your hands with soap and water vigorously for 20 seconds and avoid shaking hands to minimize the spread of the virus. A friend recently shared a great post that said: “Wash your hands like you have just chopped hot peppers and are about to put in your contacts.”

It is important to note that some foods have an antiviral immune-boosting effect such as garlic, ginger, citrus fruits and red bell peppers which are high in vitamin C. Spices such as turmeric and ginger are also beneficial in immune-boosting benefits. Foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin D foods and zinc include oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, asparagus, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. Selenium-rich foods include Brazil nuts, seeds, grass-fed meats.

  1. Eat raw garlic, which boosts your natural killer immune cells. Daily consumption of raw garlic can help prevent illness and reduce symptoms if you aren’t feeling well. When I develop symptoms, I eat raw garlic four times a day. 
  2. A dose of apple cider vinegar, garlic, and herbs that boost the natural killer cells.
  3. Drink green or black tea – Studies show that certain teas have tremendous antioxidant polyphenols that have been shown to support the immune system by fighting off free radicals.
  4. Get more vitamin C. Daily doses can boost immune cell activity and strength. We can’t make our own vitamin C. When we become ill, our vitamin C needs to increase. Nutritional biochemist Linus Pauling famously recommended additional vitamin C at the onset of the common cold (another coronavirus).  
  5. Get more zinc. Zinc deficiency is very common in those with chronic disease. Adding a zinc lozenge (5 to 10 mg) may be a wise protective measure for anyone worried about COVID-19 risk. Zinc also appears very useful in boosting the immune system against viruses, especially the coronavirus. It has been shown to be effective in blocking coronavirus from replicating in the throat and nasopharynx.
  6. Consume more fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.  The probiotics in these foods help modulate the immune response, lowering the risk of septic shock in response to serious viral infections.  In addition, sauerkraut is a good source of vitamin C. 
  7. A good pharmaceutical grade multivitamin that boosts immunity and staves off infections

In general, everyone should start taking multivitamins and vitamin D whether you are healthy or not. Only about 25% of the U.S. population has a healthy level of vitamin D. Get yours checked and optimize your levels if necessary.

Work with an integrative and functional medicine practitioner to determine other supplements and nutrients from the following list that enhance immunity:

N-acetylcysteine is beneficial for those who have the coronavirus. Its function is to help in protecting the lungs.

An important question I have also been getting is, “how long does COVID-19 last on surfaces? How long does the virus last on surfaces like doorknobs and mail and packages?” 

I just saw a study come out on this. Interestingly enough cardboard was one of the most resistant surfaces. I think it was, the coronavirus survived for about 24 hours on cardboard and also copper. On some surfaces like plastic and glass, it survived three days or more. And in some situations, it may be just a few hours. But I think we can safely say it’s more than a few hours and probably less than five days in most cases with maybe a median being anywhere from six hours to three days. So this does make disinfecting surfaces very important.

Social distancing will help us to “flatten the curve” of the spread of Coronavirus. “Flattening the curve” refers to slowing the spread of the virus, thereby reducing the number of active cases.

When practicing Social Distancing, be mindful of your mental health and make sure you’re doing things to stay engaged with friends and family. FaceTime or Skype with loved ones. Isolation and the impact of isolation is real. And ironically, research has shown that isolation can affect us in a negative way. So we do have to be cognizant of that. 

Celebrating Your Optimal Health,
Catherine Olusolape Oseni


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