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With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, many people are wondering what more they can do to protect themselves. This coronavirus has been found to spread rapidly in warm weather, but as with any virus, winter could pose even more challenges. In addition to wearing a mask, washing your hands and social distancing, there are other important proactive steps that we can take.
How COVID causes illness
Let’s start by discussing what actually happens in the body during a COVID-19 illness. Then we can understand how to support our body’s innate abilities to fight viruses and create immune resilience. If we prepare ourselves with the following steps, we have a much higher chance of fighting the virus.
Step 1. The virus must make it past our first line of defense—the mucous membranes.
Step 2. The virus attaches to a particular type of cell in the lungs, causing blood pressure to drop and heart rate to rise. The drop in blood pressure and blood oxygen levels may occur before any significant symptoms appear and is therefore worth monitoring.
Step 3. The virus replicates itself.
Step 4. The new viruses attach to more lung cells. Cough may appear.
Step 5. The immune system attacks but can be overzealous causing a “cytokine storm.” This immune activation is when fever appears.
Step 6. Fluids leak from damaged cells and accumulate in the alveoli, the tiny sacs in the lungs that allow for gas exchange, thereby delivering oxygen to the blood. Air exchange becomes limited and shortness of breath may occur.
Step 7. Organs begin to fail because they are not getting proper blood supply.
Typically, medical treatment is not offered until Step 6. The patient is told to stay home until severe symptoms begin, at which point they are hospitalized, offered medication and possibly ventilation. Certainly, the process is traumatic for both the patient and their loved ones. It’s possible the preventative and supportive measures outlined here could prevent this stage all together.
Building your Immune Resilience
Immune Resilience is the ability of the immune system to handle whatever comes its way. Building immune resilience in Step 1 is paramount. If we can stop the virus here, it never enters the body, and we don’t become ill. In addition, we don’t serve as asymptomatic silent carriers, possibly infecting others.
First of all, it is crucial to make healthy lifestyle choices.1 This would include eating lots of greens and fresh produce; cutting down on sugar, caffeine and alcohol; and getting plenty of rest. Research shows that nutrition and stress both regulate immune triggers2, therefore your daily choices are not to be taken lightly.
Making time for exercise has always been important but it is even more so now.3 Wearing masks diminishes the available oxygen for the brain and other body tissues. Exercise will increase the flow. If you are in an environment where you have to wear a mask all day, try to take “mask breaks” by going outside for a 5- or 10-minute walk, breathing in lots of fresh air.
The mucous membranes: our first line of defense
The mucous membranes that line the nasal passages, the mouth and the throat, produce Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA). If a virus lands on these areas with sufficient SIgA, it’s unlikely to go any further. Stress reduces production of SIgA.4 One fight with your significant other or ongoing stress, for example, could make you more vulnerable to the virus.
Nutrients that have been shown to increase SIgA are licorice root, vitamin A, glutamine and short chain fatty acids.
Natural killer cells also are part of your first line defense. Vitamin D stimulates production of “Natural Killer cells, along with providing many other benefits.5 Vitamin D levels can be tested in blood. For optimal immunity, vitamin D should be above 60ng/ml, a little higher than the average lab range. Finger prick testing is available here. Olive leaf as a supplement also increases natural killer cells.
How to stop viral replication
Several supplements have been touted as “anti-viral.” In reality, most are enhancing what our own body does to stop viral infection, such as preventing the virus from replicating itself. Quercetin and zinc do just that. Quercetin, at 600mg twice a day, also can help prevent the virus from getting into the cell. There are multiple clinical and in vitro studies demonstrating positive antiviral effects of zinc6, including one study demonstrating anti-virality to SARS-CoV-1.7 Take at least 18 mg of zinc every 4 hours if symptoms have appeared. For prevention, 30 – 50 mg/day is sufficient.
Olive leaf appears to have anti-viral quality by increasing natural killer cells as mentioned above. It also has the ability to stop the viral replication. It is cardio-protective, which is important because the heart seems to be vulnerable in COVID-19 illness.8
What if symptoms progress?
The most common progression of COVID-19 is shortness of breath, cough and fever; though we now know that symptoms can vary. If you're feeling ill and suspect COVID-19, of course, contact your medical provider. At this point, a supplement regimen would be targeted at continuing to reduce the viral load while also reducing collateral damage caused by the cytokine storm.
Cytokines are messenger molecules that stimulate the immune response. An excessive cytokine release called a “cytokine storm” appears to be the cause of major complications during COVID-19 and can lead to death. The focus, both natural and medical is to reduce the storm. Sulforaphane from broccoli and available in supplement form stops the production of cytokines. Take one 50 mg capsule twice a day.9
N-acetyl cysteine is the precursor to glutathione. Glutathione is one of the most potent anti-oxidants made by the body. Much of the damage caused by the cytokine storm is due to oxidative stress. Glutathione and other antioxidants help the body mitigate the damage and stress.10
Research abounds on the benefits of vitamin C and the immune system, but one of the most interesting is its ability to stop septic shock, which is the end stage that takes lives in COVID-19 illness.11
Resveratrol (250 mg twice a day) and turmeric (500mg twice a day) are helpful in calming the inflammation caused by the cytokine storm.12
Combating COVID: Dr. Maria’s recipe
There are three main stages to consider when adding supplements to your health plan. I will list them in order of priority, in my opinion.
Mucous membranes and prevention:
- Vitamin D—5000 IU per day
- Liposomal glutathione—200 mg twice a day, or NAC 600mg twice a day
- Short chain fatty acids—500 mg twice a day (beneficial for brain and gut too)
- Vitamin C—1000 mg at least once a day
- Zinc—30 mg once a day
- Olive leaf—500 mg twice a day
- Vitamin A—200 mg once a day
- Licorice root—400 mg twice a day (unless you have high blood pressure)
- Glutamine—500 mg twice a day
- Quercetin - 500 mg twice a day
Viral support to be implemented at the earliest sign of symptoms:
- Stop any “immune boosting” or “antiviral” supplements not mentioned in this article. They may increase the cytokine storm.
- Olive leaf—1000 mg three times per day
- Sulfurophane—100 mg twice a day
- Zinc—30 mg twice a day
- Liposomal glutathione—300 mg three times per day
- Vitamin C to bowel tolerance (take as much as you can without causing diarrhea)
- Vitamin D—10,000 - 30,000 IU per day
- Quercetin - 500mg three times per
- Vit A - 10,000IU per day
(some of these doses might seem quite high, but it is only for a short period of time to really ramp up immune function)
If symptoms progress:
Consult your medical provider.
Continue supplements as indicated when symptoms began. Be sure your medical provider knows this if any treatment has begun.
Resveratrol—250 mg twice a day
Turmeric—500 mg twice a day
Finally, be nice to yourself and others—it will help your immune system.
Prevention is the best cure. In medicine, we wait, and we worry, until we are quite ill. Such is the case with COVID-19. However, there are many things that one can do to be proactive during this pandemic. These strategies also can help fend off colds and flu. Making healthy lifestyle choices generally means we feel better day to day and live a better life.
Dr. Maria's online dispensary to purchase physician grade supplements.
About the Author
Dr. Maria Maricich is a functional medicine doctor and a doctor of chiropractic. In her 29 years of practice in Ketchum, Dr. Maria’s passion has been to offer the most up-to-date approaches to optimal health and well-being. Functional Medicine and Functional Neurology are new emerging fields of medicine. Their objective is to find dysfunction rather than disease. Treating the dysfunction by natural means allows the body to heal itself whether disease is present, or a person just knows they aren’t their best. It is also one of the best anti-aging measures available. Dr. Maria can be reached at 208.726.6010. www.DrMariaMaricich.com
6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15496046, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17344507, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16982486, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23775705, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19341987, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15189121, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18279051