Coronavirus, now a household name, historically causes about 10-15% of cases of the common cold. We’ve all had one strain or another at some point in our lifetimes. Coronavirus strains have been common nuisances in communities all over the world for the entirety of human history. A large reservoir of these pathogens reside in mammals like bats which are known by biologists and virologists to carry many strains of Coronavirus.
By now most of us know about the global spread of a particularly contagious and virulent strain of Coronavirus that causes a new respiratory illness named Covid-19. Most governments are on high alert, taking extreme measures to mitigate spread and our government officials are telling everyone to wash their hands and avoid close social contact with President Trump spouting false information and dangerous advice going against that of his own officials.
No one wants to get sick but we also shouldn’t panic since that will not make the situation more handleable. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to take precautions but there’s more to that than hand-washing and isolation. Of course, if we wanted a full guarantee that we’d never get sick, we’d isolate ourselves on a deserted island somewhere, and enjoy not getting sick but also no income, food, Netflix or toilet paper. Since that’s not an option for 99 percent of us, following some of these tips may help you fend off germs.
Washing hands and covering your cough, staying home when sick, and getting plenty of rest and fluids are all great ways to off-set viral spread, there’s way more you can do to help yourself not get sick.
Your Kitchen Is A Pharmacy
Everyone’s grandma knows, no matter what country her roots were cultivated in, that the best thing for the cold or flu is chicken soup. Made with slight variations depending on culture and climate but with ingredients like bone broth, fresh garlic and onions, a little ginger and black pepper, boosting the immune system with nutritious foods is a great anti-viral approach that we can all take.
Species of plants in the genus Allium are the well-known culinary herbs garlic, onion and shallots all have sulfur-containing molecules that pack a powerful punch but garlic is the best antiviral Allium. One clove of fresh garlic has about 1% alliin, and this converts to approximately 0.5 mg of allicin. While commercial products vary tremendously concerning the amount contained, my family always holds three large cloves a day as being a reasonable amount to stave off colds and flu.
Doctor’s Note: It is important to note that there are significant drug interactions and risk of bleeding if plant foods like garlic and leafy greens are taken with blood thinners, so always consult your doctor before starting any new supplements or adding foods that you have otherwise been warned to avoid due to medication interactions.
If you have grown your own foods or purchase produce from local farmers whom you can ask about soil depletion and crop rotation, you may be able to get all your nutrient needs from your food. And remember, non-GMO and certified organic foods that are pesticide and herbicide-free are the healthiest foods for everyone.
Beyond chicken or sulfur-containing veggie soups, a nice cup of fresh ginger tea with a little lemon and honey can go a long way. Honey is a time-tested wellness remedy and a known antimicrobial but the bee’s digestion product, a flavonoid-rich resin called propolis. There are a handful of studies looking antiviral properties and mechanisms of actions of propolis from duration of the common cold caused by rhinovirus to herpesvirus like cold sores, shingles and your good old fashion genital herpes. Check out https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed and plug “propolis AND virus” into your search box.
Ok first of all, food sources are hands-down the best and most bioavailable sources of all nutrients. For example, dark leafy greens are rich in Vitamin C, calcium and magnesium and when cooked even slightly always have better absorption/bioavailability of these nutrients than supplements no matter the form. But, the soil on the farms where our foods are grown in must be rich in these nutrients for the plants to take them up. Industrial and commercial farm soils are often depleted of essential nutrients and so in this case, supplementation becomes necessary.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is involved in multiple enzymatic reactions throughout the body. It is a major antioxidant and also plays a major role in connective tissue synthesis and white blood cell multiplication involved in the immune system response and can decrease histamine release from mast cells, therefore, mitigating allergic response.
There is some evidence that vitamin C is also involved in antibody synthesis, and there is substantive evidence that it is engaged in the production of hydrogen peroxide, which is used in direct, destructive antimicrobial immune cell action.
Magnesium is required for the more than 300 enzymatic reactions related to healthy energy metabolism to neurotransmitter synthesis. Reactions that require b6 also need magnesium as a cofactor.
Food sources of magnesium are leafy greens, seeds, legumes, and grains. Choose organic to avoid endocrine-disrupting action of herbicides like glyphosate (RoundUp). The type of magnesium matters because depending on what molecule the magnesium is attached to, it is either anti-viral.
Magnesium oxide and citrate are poorly absorbed so they mostly remain in the intestines and have laxative effects and can exacerbate GI upset and induce loose stools. For immune cell purposes, aspartate may be the best since it is mechanistically related to citrate, orotate, and malate. Some research suggests that as a Krebs cycle intermediate, aspartate may be best at delivering the magnesium molecule to the cells, and arguably this makes aspartate the best form for immune support. But there are plenty of other forms of magnesium that have good bioavailability are those attached to malate, orotate, glycinate, and threonate. For more information on what form is right for you, make an appointment with me!
It should be noted that calcium and magnesium compete for absorption, so if you have a magnesium supplement with calcium in it, you need to make sure that there is a 2:1 magnesium to calcium ratio. Vitamin D increases magnesium bioavailability, but some doctors and researchers argue that it is not a clinically significant increase, BUT the immune system and overall health benefits of Vitamin D are undisputed.
Vitamin D is involved in connective tissue/blood cell proliferation and repair as well as hormone synthesis, cardiovascular health blood sugar regulation, and insulin resistance, and low Vitamin D is associated with systemic inflammatory states.
Mushrooms and fish are great sources of Vitamin D. Supplement forms need to be taken with a healthy fat for optimal absorption, and arguably, it should be taken during daylight hours since that is when we naturally synthesize Vitamin D starting in our skin, then liver and kidneys.
B Vitamins work best when taken together as a b complex so taken with magnesium, and vitamin c is best for all-around physiology. The most well-known use of B vitamins is to boost energy. But when making new immune cells to fight off a virus or a microbe, synthesis of these new immune cells as well as their cell-to-cell communication molecules, cytokines, cells need lots of energy/ATP, and this is where B complex supplementation really shines.
Food sources of B vitamins are fortified whole grains (organic is best), eggs, legumes, fish, poultry and for B12 there are no vegan sources, sorry! Meat and dairy are natural food sources and any supplements are going to come from bacterial and archaea (bacteria’s ancient cousin) sources.
Zinc is a metallic element, and from a biological standpoint it is second most abundant trace mineral in the body. It functions as a cofactor in many physiologic actions including the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins. All three of these types of molecules play a role in the immune response and healing mechanisms throughout the body but of course myriad other systems. It is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymes and a catalyst in several hundred enzymatic reactions. Natural dietary sources include any meat, seafood, dairy products, whole grains, nuts and legumes. In the United States, wheat and cereals are fortified with zinc along with B vitamins.
Hydrotherapy is using the natural thermo-kinetic and thermodynamic effects of water. Warm to hot water causes a vasodilatory effect which increases blood flow and makes the body tissues a little more permeable, which allows for the immune cells to move a little more freely between tissues and scavenge microbes and toxins.
Doctor’s Note: Due to the vasodilatory effects of warm and hot water treatment, use caution if you have high blood pressure and only use warm water or heated water that you already know you can handle and remember that you will continue to experience effects of hot water treatments for up to 30 or 40 minutes after exiting the water, so take care, stay aware of how you’re feeling, and stay well-hydrated before, during, and after any treatments. Be sure to check with your regular healthcare provider to make sure it is safe for you to engage in any hydrotherapy treatments.
After you are nice and warm from the warm/hot water portion, turn the tub tap to as cold as it will get and put your feet into the water. For best results, put one foot at a time under the water for 30 seconds and switch feet back and forth for a total of three times for 30 seconds each. Another way to do this is to wet a pair of socks, ring them out, and put them into the freezer before you get into the shower or tub. Then once you are nice and warm, get out, put on a bathrobe without drying off and get the socks out of the freezer, put them on, and then put a dry pain on over them for insulation and go to sleep either for 20 minutes or overnight.
By doing this cold water part, two things happen.
First, your body’s anti-viral action responds to cold water with vasoconstriction, which makes the tissues tight and forces swelling or edema, back into the vasculature and into the lymphatic channels which provide enhanced immune surveillance and response.
Then the secondary effects of the cold application happen which is when your body says to itself, “My feet are cold, I’d better warm them up!” which engages in thermodynamic action to try to warm them up and increases blood flow and immune enhancement.
Sleep is absolutely essential for immune system function and decreased cortisol levels. We know that getting 8 hours is better than 7 for cardiovascular health. Still, recent studies have shown that due to the cyclic nature of our natural sleep cycle, governed by the pineal gland; our immune systems do better when we get the same number of hours of sleep a night even if it is a suboptimal number of hours! That means that getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep every night is healthier than getting 5 hours per night during the week and then trying to “catch up” on the weekends by getting 8 to 9 hours. This causes immune dysregulation and is associated with poorer health outcomes.
To be clear, the best sleep hygiene is to stop screen time and blue light exposure at least 1 hour prior expected onset of sleep (melatonin is degraded by light on the blue end of the electromagnetic spectrum so you will have more trouble falling asleep when exposed to it) and to sleep for 8 hours (even if you have an exam that you think you should cram for by pulling an all-nighter… you’ll do better by getting a good night’s sleep to improve your critical thinking and information consolidation) every single night no matter what.
You need to achieve REM sleep in order for your brain to detoxify by the nightly cerebrospinal fluid bath that is optimal only with a complete sleep cycle.
The Bottom Line
In the end, you’re going to encounter viruses. It’s really up to you how well you protect yourself, which begins with the right nutrition, the right amount of exercise, and the right amount of sleep. Supplements and herbs can help, but they have to be the right ones. If you want to learn more about nutrition, fighting infections, or want a wellness profile, contact me to schedule an appointment by calling 336-724-4452.
Dr. Blake Ashley Kovner ND, is a graduate of Salem College’s Fleer Program where she earned her B.S. in biology with a minor in chemistry with an emphasis in the crossroads of the two, biochemistry. She went to Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington where she was trained as a Primary Care Provider in Naturopathic Medicine. During her education, Dr. Kovner underwent specialized and extensive Naturopathic training in Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and autoimmune disease management approaches. She also became a licensed massage practitioner at the same time.
Her practice is comprised of roots-based, constitutional medicine that stems from Western Medical Herbalism, German Biologic Medicine and Ayurveda. As a Medical Herbalist, Dr. Kovner employs the art and science of individualized formulation where she makes botanical medicine for her patients, teaches them about the plants and how to grow them.
While she is a specialist in nutraceuticals, Dr. Kovner believes strongly in the Hippocratic principle, “Let thy food be thy medicine.” With this in mind, she teaches her patients about the gut-brain axis, empowering them from the inside out. In a similar light, she excels in drug-free pain management for almost any chronic condition utilizing functional medicine and biofeedback.
She worked in New Orleans at LSU as a research associate on an NIH-funded clinical trial on the safety and neuroprotective effects of a green tea extract on people with Multiple Sclerosis. There, she co-authored two peer-reviewed articles on MS that were published in scientific journals. The first is entitled, “Cognitive Impairment in multiple sclerosis” and the second one, “Polyphenon E, Non-futile at Neuroprotection in Multiple Sclerosis but Unpredictably Hepatotoxic: Phase I Single Group and Phase II Randomized Placebo-Controlled Studies”. She also participated in building an MRI database to see if brain atrophy is directly related to disease progression as measured by EDSS score and was trained as a Wheelchair Hatha Yoga Teacher and a Rasayana Yoga Teacher.
Prior to practicing medicine, Dr. Kovner was a poet on the local SLAM poetry team and is the artist who created the iconic Trade Street figure called, Sax Man and had two gallery openings at AFAS's former UnLeashed Gallery.