Staying Healthy - Beyond Hand Washing and Social Distancing
At the beginning of the New Year I doubt any of us would have thought that the world would be turned upside down, and our lives so fundamentally altered by a virus. But it has happened, and I want to help by doing my best as a Naturopathic doctor to guide you through this overwhelming situation.
SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Infection
SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) carries a specific spike protein which binds to lung and other tissue. Current antivirals don’t affect spike proteins which is why they have not been successful in treating the infection. COVID-19 is the name of the upper respiratory infection caused by the virus.
Covid-19 infection causes inflammation, primarily in the lungs. It can trigger a cytokine storm (virus-activated cytokine storm syndrome) where inflammation runs out of control. The inflammation causes fluids to build up in the lungs and greatly restricts breathing and oxygen transmission throughout the body.
It is believed that SARS-CoV-2 can remain viable on plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days, in the air for 3 hours, on cardboard for 24 hours and on copper for 4 hours. These are lab numbers and don’t take into account different environmental exposures, for instance, unfiltered sunlight can kill viruses and bacteria.
The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
Shortness of breath
Most people infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop only mild flu-like symptoms. CDC is advising that you should call your healthcare provider for medical advice if you think you have could have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop the symptoms listed above.
CDC’s list of emergency warning signs can be accessed at:
How the Virus Spreads
CDC’s guidelines can be accessed at:
CDC’s guidelines can be accessed at:
World Health Organization (WHO) Advice for the public:
Correct handwashing is most important; a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water. Always use clean, running water. (It can be warm or cold.)
Wet your hands first, then turn the water off, and lather your hands with soap.
Rub your hands together with the soap for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to scrub the back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
Turn the water on and rinse your hands. Use a clean towel or air dry.
Always important to wash hands after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, before eating, after touching surfaces that could be contaminated.
See CDC’s guidelines above. Hand sanitzers are significantly less effective than correct handwashing however, they are better than nothing if soap and water isn’t available. And don’t keep touching your face, apparently, we do this many times a day.
According to the CDC, hand sanitizers meeting the alcohol volume requirement can reduce the number of microbes on your hands, it can also destroy a wide range of pathogens including SARS-CoV-2. Hand sanitizer may not work well if your hands are dirty or greasy. This may happen after working with food, doing yard work, gardening, or playing a sport.
Commercial hand sanitizers contain some nasty chemicals so if you want to make your own, and were lucky enough beat the hoards to the rubbing alcohol isle, here is a ‘recipe’:
• 3/4 cup of isopropyl or rubbing alcohol (99 percent)
• 1/4 cup of aloe vera gel (to counteract the harshness of alcohol)
• 10 drops of essential oil, such as lavender oil, or you can use lemon juice instead
• Pour all ingredients into a glass measuring container.
• Mix with a spoon and then beat with a whisk to turn the sanitizer into a gel.
• Pour the ingredients into an empty bottle for easy use, and label it “hand sanitizer.”
Spray or apply the sanitizer to the palm of one hand.
Thoroughly rub your hands together. Make sure you cover the entire surface of your hands and all your fingers.
Continue rubbing for 30 to 60 seconds or until your hands are dry. It can take at least 60 seconds, and sometimes longer, for hand sanitizer to kill most germs.
Homemade hand sanitizer is not recommended for children.
From a naturopathic perspective there are precautions that can be taken to help keep the immune system strong. It is important to note that the following information is general and has not been tested with regard to this particular virus, I am not presenting it as a definitive or guaranteed preventive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
First and foremost we need to focus on prevention. The Immune system is the second line of defense, the first is the health of our mucus membranes, these are our innate barriers to infection.
There are two ways COVID-19 can enter the lungs. The primary route is through the respiratory tract, the other is through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In order for any virus to infect the throat, sinuses, airways or lungs it must first pass through the defensive mucous membranes. In the respiratory tract, there are ‘hair-like’ cells known as cilia. These act like brushes to move contaminants up to the nose or mouth for excretion. On top of these are layers of mucus which protect against microorganisms entering the lungs. Mucus contains secretory IgA, various white blood cell-derived protease inhibitors, that block viruses. There is very little protection in the lungs which is why the first line of defense is so important.
SARS-CoV-2 also enters the body through the GI tract. The GI tract has other protections beyond the mucus lining. Your digestive secretions such as stomach acid (HCl) and pancreatic enzymes are powerful enemies to invading organisms. The gut also contains its own immune system. If the virus evades these defenses it is able to enter the blood stream, and then the lungs.
We know that pancreatic enzyme insufficiency can increase the risk of viral respiratory infections. Protease enzymes digest protein, not only those in food, but also proteins on the cell wall of a virus. Viruses contain proteins which protrude from their cell membranes and these enable entrance to cells. Without these proteins, the virus is rendered inert. Stress reduces our production of digestive enzymes and HCl.
Cut down or avoid sugar if you can. Sugar ingestion can alter blood sugar and decrease immune function. Alcohol and junk food don’t help your immune function either.
Sleep is vitally important to immune health. Because of the predominant blue light emitted by computers, TVs, phones and tablets, using them the evening disrupts production of melatonin and can have an impact on sleep quality. If you must spend time in front of a screen in the evening use the Night Shift option on Apple products and F.Lux on other products to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the screen. If you want to take it deeper, and probably incur the mirth and mockery of family members, wear red lens glasses at night to watch TV. These will cut the blue light from light bulbs and screens. You can purchase HDE Laser Eye Protection Safety Glasses for under $10.00. These are available from Amazon, just Google the name above.
If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, you may want to consider the use of herbs, minerals and amino acids to calm your nervous system and help you achieve a better quality of sleep. Blood sugar and hormone imbalances can also affect sleep quality. This will be discussed in Blog Four.
Stress raises cortisol and this can decrease your immune response. If I have taught you EFT you may find the following tapping session helpful to reduce some stress and worry at this time. https://www.thetappingsolution.com/blog/stress-anxiety-tap-along/ . Blog Two covers stress and anxiety.
Unplug your wireless internet at night and whenever you are not using it. Certain electromagnetic fields may reduce immune response. Also, do not carry your phone on your body. Keep it in airplane mode when you are not using it, and away from your body, and if you must carry it on your body, keep it on airplane mode unless you are using it. Do not sleep with your phone by your bed.
If you are aware of any personal food sensitivities or allergies do all you can to avoid those foods. Frequent exposure stresses your immune system. Common ‘allergen’ foods are dairy, gluten and soy.
Get outside and exercise. Start slowly if you are not used to walking or exercising, increase by a few minutes a day. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about exercising because of any health condition you have.
Open windows and turn off the heat whenever the outside temperature warms. Change the air in the house when you can. Heat dries out indoor air which doesn’t help nasal defenses. Get a humidity gauge and try to keep humidity at about 45-50 percent. (not more than that as high humidity can encourage dust mites). Simple ways to increase humidity is to dry your laundry in the house on a rack, make soup, keep a pot of water on your wood stove.
Ginger, onions, garlic, lemons, apple cider vinegar and cinnamon are NOT a known preventive or cure for SARS-CoV-2 (nothing is proven to be a preventive or cure at this point) but that’s no reason to ignore them. They have properties that support the immune system and decrease inflammation.
Gut health really counts. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, and neurotransmitter production.
Is it or isn’t it true?
There are many myths floating around in cyberspace, and quite frankly it’s hard to know if some things are true or not. Also, the official responses to them may be lacking in clarification. Here are some examples:
“Take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds. If you can do this successfully without coughing and without difficulty, without anxiety or chest tightness, it shows that you do not have fibrosis of the lungs and generally indicates that there is no infection.”
Medical experts say, “you cannot test for fibrosis this way”. However, common sense dictates that if you can’t hold your breath without coughing or chest tightness you should contact your doctor immediately.
“Drinking water every 15 minutes repels coronoavirus”.
Medical experts say, “drinking excessive amounts of water does not repel germs. COVID-19 infection can be contracted via the nose and sinuses, so drinking water has no impact.” Let me clarify this one….as I mentioned earlier, make sure that the air in your house is not too dry…see above under Basic Precautions. I also want to add that keeping the mucus membranes from ‘drying out’ is very important as they are our first line of defense against this virus entering the body through the nose and mouth. If you become dehydrated then it WILL compromise your mucus membrane health. Sufficient water is critical to mucus function. Keeping the air humidified will help to keep the airways moist, but ensuring sufficient hydration is critical to proper barrier function. See the information under Basic Precautions.
Medications and COVID-19 and possible treatment research
A warning from France suggested that taking certain anti-inflammatories could reduce a person’s ability to fight COVID-19 infection. Specifically, the concern involved COX-2 inhibitors like ibuprophen. Medical experts in the US are stating that NO it is NOT a problem. If you regularly use anti-inflammatory medications and are confused or concerned about this you should talk with your doctor. Common side effects of COX-2 inhibitors are sinusitis, headache, flatulence, and insomnia.
British physicians have generally agreed with the US consensus, but have said that acetaminophen is a better choice for infection in general.
Scientists are searching for medications that could be used to fight COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug with mild immune suppressing effects is being investigated, and in some hospitals is being used concomitantly with zinc.
Two other trials are studying the blood pressure drug Losartan as a possible treatment for the disease.
Scientists are researching the possibility of using antibodies from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 infection as treatment and prophylaxis.
There have been reports of intravenous vitamin C being used in hospitals in China to combat the pneumonia caused by COVID-19 infection.
Basic nutrients for the immune system
While vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other nutrients can help enhance immunity, these should not be used to replace correct hand washing, social distancing, quarantining when necessary, or any other recommendations made by the CDC and other health institutions regarding this coronavirus and COVID-19 infection.
Our most powerful defense against this virus is to avoid exposure to it. Please remember that even if your immune system is strong and you currently have no symptoms you can still carry and transmit the virus.
If you are taking any prescribed medication please check with your doctor before using extra vitamins or minerals or herbs. As an example, vitamin C can disrupt the function of some medications.
Vitamin D is being suggested as an important nutrient to help immune health. This is true, but it relates to vitamin D sufficiency, not to taking specific quantities of oral Vitamin D. If you are vitamin D deficient (many people are) then your immune response can be compromised. Taking large doses of vitamin D if you don’t need it may not help, and there is research that suggests that too much vitamin D can have a paradoxical effect. A base dose of vitamin D for an adult who has not had their vitamin D tested probably shouldn’t be more than 2000iu per day long-term, and it is best taken with small amounts of complementary nutrients like vitamins A and K, and with food.
Vitamin C has long been recommended for immune health and an adult could take 500mg of ascorbic acid and liposomal vitamin C in divided doses (with food) up to 2000 mg a day, provided that amount does not cause loose bowels. (if it does then reduce the daily dose until the bowels become normal again). Another caveat is that long-term large doses of vitamin C can lead to lower levels of B12 and copper, so a taking a daily broad-spectrum multivitamin/mineral is important.
There is some speculation that one reason children may be less vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 is because they have higher melatonin levels. This has not been validated. I would not suggest taking melatonin supplements in relation to COVID-19 unless suggested by your health provider, but I would suggest doing all you can to prevent a reduction in your melatonin levels. Take walks in the sunlight during the daytime. Avoid blue and bright-light at night, and keep your gut healthy. See “Basic Precautions” for more information on blue spectrum light. In addition, there are foods that influence melatonin production: Oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, barley. Foods high in tryptophan (melatonin precursor) include, seaweed, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, turkey, chicken, watermelon seeds, almonds, peanuts, yogurt.
Currently we don't know enough about how to treat a COVID-19 infection. What we do know is that staying away from people and places where you could contract the virus, frequent and correct hand washing and keeping your immune defenses, including your first line of defense...the mucous membranes....as strong as possible are your most potent weapons.
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NEXT BLOG: Stress and anxiety: tools and strategies to moderate and manage stress.