This is a blog article on everything I know about COVID-19 and natural methods that are likely to work
I am not an expert in infectious diseases, virology or public health but have listened to and read material only from experts to make sense of the whole thing.
My training is in naturopathic functional medicine primarily for urological conditions.
Below I share my thoughts on natural approaches for viral disease and COVID-19.
Most of the information offered here should be timeless and its accuracy should not change with time. (March 25, 2020)
Please take this article, not as a replacement for advice from your physician, but to complement it.
Here’s what I know.
What is a Virus?
A virus is an infectious microorganism, about one hundred times smaller than a bacteria, and, unlike a bacteria, it needs a host to survive. In other words, for viruses to cause health problems, it needs to get it your cells.
The genes in a virus can be DNA or RNA.
Briefly, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) carries genetic code (similar to a food recipe) in all living organisms, including humans, viruses, and everything else in between.
RNA (ribonucleic acid) serves as a messenger in living organisms carrying the “recipe” from DNA to make a protein.
In RNA only viruses, like COVID-19, the genetic material is the RNA, not DNA.
RNA only viruses include Orthomyxoviruses, Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), Ebola disease, SARS (a type of coronavirus), influenza, polio measles, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), to name most.
How do Viruses work?
Once in your cells, viruses blend its RNA with your genetic material in the cell and begin replicating and infecting other nearby cells until something causes it to stop.
The “something” that causes it to stop is either an anti-viral agent, your body’s immune system or both.
Different viruses work in different parts of the body.
- the rotavirus works in the gastrointestinal tract, what people refer to a stomach flu
- Herpes and rabies virus works in the nervous system causing pain and tingling like sensation
- Influenza, SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19), and rhinovirus (common cold) affect the respiratory system.
How do the Lungs Work?
Consider the inner parts of the lungs like an olive tree.
First, you have the trunk of the tree; then it splits up into different branches and sub-branches, then, at the end of the sub-branches, you have the olives.
The structure of the lungs is similar to an olive tree in that you have the trachea (the trunk), the bronchi (the branches), the bronchioles (the sub-branches), and then the air sacs (the olives).
The air sacs move air in and out of the lungs, along with exchanging clean oxygen with toxic carbon dioxide in the body.
The potentially deadly problem with COVID-19 is pneumonia, where the air sacs get inflamed, filled with fluid and pus where they cannot do their job– exchange toxic carbon dioxide with clean oxygen and deliver it to the body.
How the Body Protects You from Viruses?
A part of your immune system called B-lymphocytes produces antibodies every time you are infected with a virus.
An antibody can protect you from a virus by;
- Interfering the virus from connecting with your cells
- Recognizing the infected cells then “calling it’s bigger, stronger friends” to come and “beat up” the infected cells to try to get rid of it.
- Leukocytes, T- Lymphocytes, Natural Killer (NK) cells are “the stronger friends.” During this process, technically called Cell-Mediated immunity, the interaction with the “stronger” immune cells and the infected cells causes chemicals called cytokines to be produced.
- Cytokines consist of many, many chemicals that regulate immune function and can set up your body to beat a viral infection in the future. All good. Except when it’s not. In the process of protecting you, cytokines from a viral infection may also cause too much inflammation and fluid accumulation in the air sacs of the lungs, known as a “cytokine storm,” leading to pneumonia.
The Immune Systems Role in Viral infections & COVID-19
A robust immune system is important to prevent and beat viral infections like COVID-19, especially during phase one of infection.
Basically there are two phases in respiratory viral infections.
Phase one, the virus, with or without the host cell, affect anywhere from the nasal cavity to the bronchioles. One can experience anything from mild symptoms, like sneezing, coughing nasal drip to body aches and fever. In phase one there is not a lot of difficulty breathing.
Phase two is the critical and potentially deadly stage where a cytokine storm occurs and fluid accumulation fills the air sacs.
The goal is for the body’s immune system to be “fully awake and ready to go” during the first phase of the viral infection to prevent it from doing harm. Strong immunity during its initial phase helps the body rid of a virus before it gets to the air sacs.
Once the infected person is in the second, more critical phase of the infection, the immune system is on overdrive and stimulating it more can be deadly. Remember, inflammation and fluids that fill the air sacs are caused by immune cells interacting with infected cells.
What is the Coronavirus (COVID – 19)?
Technically speaking, COVID-19(Coronavirus Disease 2019) is not the name of the virus, but the name of the disease caused by SARS-CoV2, the real name of the virus we are all concerned about.
The common name, Coronavirus, stems from the fact that the SARS-CoV2 virus has spikes around it in a circular shape, which looks like a “corona,” Latin for crown.
Those spikes are what sticks to the surface of the cells and penetrate inside of it.
How does COVID-19 work in Your Body?
After a droplet of COVID-19 gets inhaled (the main form of transmission), it attaches to part of the inner lining of the respiratory system called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).
There is more ACE2 in people with diabetes, hypertensives on ACE inhibitors, after ibuprofen consumption (see Ibuprofen section), and teh diabetes drug thiazolidinediones, making the body theoretically more prone to COVID-19 infection.
What are the Symptoms Associated with the COVID-19?
The main symptoms of the Coronavirus are similar to the flu and the common cold.
The most common symptom is fever in about 80% of the cases followed by a cough.
Other symptoms include shortness of breath, body aches, headaches, and upper respiratory symptoms.
Severe symptoms include pneumonia, bronchitis, and death can occur mostly in the feeble, the weak, or the elderly who often, not always, have a weak immune system.
You can be older (above 65 years) and still have a strong immune system, but the older one is, on average, the more work it requires for robust immunity – you know, sleep, nutrition, exercise, etc. (more on that too later)
Symptom unique to COVID-19 may be a loss of taste in the mouth and a red, rash-like appearance around the eyes in fair skin people.
How can the Coronavirus be Deadly?
Death is caused by pneumonia or swelling in the lungs, which can cause the lungs to stop working effectively.
The less optimal the lungs function, the less it can send oxygen to critical organs in your body like the heart and brain.
People most vulnerable are the older population, especially those who smoke, with heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
If you are a smoker, there is no better time to stop. Same with kids who vape, they are also at risk.
How Can the Coronavirus Spread?
The Coronavirus, like most viruses, is passed on from person to person, either from:
- an infected person coughing or sneezing in the air, and then you breathe in the viral droplets from the air,
- or by having direct or indirect contact with a contaminated person (e.g., shaking hands) or an object touched by someone with the virus, say, a doorknob or faucet in the bathroom.
Can someone Have the Coronavirus and Not Know they Have it?
The incubation period is about two weeks, meaning someone can have the virus without symptoms for up to two weeks and still spread it.
The average incubation period is about four days, however.
What are the Medical Treatments to treat the Coronavirus?
None. At this time, there are no vaccines or medical treatments available to treat the Coronavirus.
There are numerous studies on the way.
A vaccine may take 12-18 months, which, according to Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine and infectious disease expert, that is a short time to test the vaccine in animals and then humans for safety and efficacy.
Chloroquine (hydroxychloroquine/Plaquenil) – a drug available since the 1930’s to treat malaria.
- In labs, Chloroquine has shown promise against COVID-19, but it has not been tested in humans.
- Despite presidents Trump remarks on Chloroquine as a “game-changer,” it has yet to efficacy or safety profile. Chloroquine comes with known side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure, and muscle or nerve damage.
- Plaquenil’s label warns of possible damage to the retina, mainly when used at higher doses, for longer times and with certain other medicines such as the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.
Remdesivir, a drug that originally failed to battle against the Ebola virus, is now being studied for COVID -19. In test tubes and animal studies, this drug proved efficacious in other coronavirus type pathogens, SARS and MERS.
Lopinavir–ritonavir, currently used for HIV patients did not improve clinical symptoms or speed of discharge from the hospital from COVID-19.
How do Vaccines Work in Protecting from Viruses?
One of the ways to protect ourselves from a virus is to be infected by it.
That’s why if you ever have had chickenpox (varicella virus), you likely only had it only once since your body grows immunity from the first exposure.
A vaccine is an injection with an inactive, dead virus that allows your body to think you got infected, resulting in natural immunity by your body. So, next time you get infected by that same virus, your body would be ready to fight.
The challenge with vaccines is that there can be hundreds of species of a typical virus, and the trick is to develop the vaccine exactly for the viral species you are trying to protect yourself against.
This may be why the influenza vaccine is only about 40 to 60% effective.
Who does the COVID-19 affect most?
Older people, especially smokers.
Men are more infected and die from COVID-19 than women, at least in Italy and in China.
The reason for this gender difference is unknown, but there area few theories, including men, wash hands less, smoke more than women, and, in general, women have a stronger immune system than men.
The hypothesis is that Testosterone (T), the male hormone, can weaken the immune system while estrogen, the female hormone, strengthens it. Yeah, that blew my mind too when I read about a year ago in the book Why Men Age, by Richard Bribiescas.
Throughout history, including SARS in Hong Kong in 2003, MERS in the Middle East in 2012, and even the Spanish Influenza in 1918, men succumbed to viral infections more than women.
So, an older male who smokes with poor lifestyle and behavioral habits is in big trouble from COVID-19.
How Long Can COVID-19 Survive in the Environment?
Here’s the breakdown from the most recent study:
Aerosol – 3 hours
Aerosol transmission is defined as the person-to-person transmission of microbes, in this case, a virus, through the air by means of inhalation of infectious particles. COVID-19 hangs out in the air for about 3 hours.
Copper – 4 hours
Cardboard – 24 hours
Plastics – two to three days
Stainless steel – two to three days.
While it is nearly impossible to avoid touching substances made from the above-mentioned material, one can wipe work areas often and obsessively wash hands.
ACE-2 & Ibuprofen connection to COVID-19?
Recently, the French government recommended against the use of Ibuprofen in people with COVID-19.
The recommendation was based on a commentary article from the medical journal, the Lancet saying that the virus attaches itself to cells in the lungs by way of an enzyme — angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).
Ibuprofen might increase the number of ACE2 receptors on a cell, which (in theory) with more ACE2 receptors, more opportunity for the COVID-19 to work its way into human cells and cause more problems.
The theory is: Ibuprofen>>> more ACE2 receptors>>> more opportunity for COVID to enter the cell>>> more morbidity from COVID infection.
Not so fast.
Within 24 hours the World Health Organization first recommended against the use of Ibuprofen and now changed its tune, reversing its stand of Ibuprofen, now saying there is no evidence to recommend against the use of Ibuprofen.
While it is true that COVID links to ACE2 receptors in the lung to get into the cell, less ACE2, not more may cause more deadly harm to the lungs. ACE2 to an enzyme with benefits to organs.
Ibuprofen and other NSAIDS may still not be the best option to fight a viral infection, despite the ACE2 controversy.
The theory that Ibuprofen may be a problem for COVID patients is not because it reduces ACE2 expresion in the body but because Ibuprofen along with other NSAIDS may dampen the immune system.
Ibuprofen works by alleviating body aches and fever.
If fever is present, you may no need to take anything– let the fever ride if you can until it hits 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 celsius).
Fever is a good thing.
An increase in temperature is the body’s attempt to get rid of the bad bug by creating an unfavorable environment to it and stimulating the immune system.
But if lowering fever is a must, use acetaminophen as it doesn’t seem to have a negative impact on the immune system.
While acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol) is not risk-free (can cause liver problems at high dosages), this the drug I would favor, if any, for body aches and fever.
Brand names for Ibuprofen include:
- Pediatric Advil
- PediaCare Infant’s Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer Fever
- Neoprofen (ibuprofen lysine)
Brand names for acetaminophen:
- Mapap Extra Strength
- Infant’s Pain Relief
- Tactinal Extra Strength
The maximum dose in adults for acetaminophen is 1000mg every six hours, no more than 3000mg to avoid liver problems. Those already with liver disease should consume less.
Again, let the fever take its course, don’t lower it, if you can.
How Does the Flu compare with the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
The Influenza virus and SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) are similar in that the initial symptoms comparable; aches and pains, sore throat, cough and fever. Two things seemingly unique to COVID-19 is a reddish appearance around the eyes of fair skin people and a loss of taste and smell.
While some experts are touting that COVID-19 is more deadly, at about 3% for every 1000 people infected, we don’t know those numbers to be accurate for sure since testing began not that long ago, at least in the United States.
In the US, the death rate from COVID might be somewhere around 0.6% (compared to about 0.1% from the influenza virus), so yes, that would make COVID a bigger problem.
Also, one COVID infected person can infect about 2.5 people while the flu virus can infect 1.3 people.
Lastly, we know the influenza virus as it has been around for over one hundred years– many of us have grown natural immunity from it. COVID-19 is new, no immunity developed from it and no vaccines.
Behavioral methods to Boost Immunity and Protect Yourself from COVID-19
Wash your hands often for 10 to 20 seconds. I mean, be compulsive about it.
Aside from after using the restroom and going from room to room at the clinic, I’m typically a bit more cavalier, not obsessed about washing hands. Some exposure to microbes is healthy.
Well, at least for now, I am obsessed with washing my hands.
You can get infected from touching any object that has the virus; doorknobs, hand-to-hand contact, faucets, even money from a contaminated person.
Sneeze or cough on the opposite side of your elbow (called the crotch of the elbow), not your hands.
Sleep well. This is not the time to skimp on good sleep. Get at least 6 to 7 hours a night. Sleep resets your immune system.
How sleep helps and awesome tips on how to sleep better, see this post by my friend and expert on sleep, Dr. Michael Breus.
Exercise daily, but no marathons or extreme physical activities. Exercise strengthens your immune system, but excessive activities like marathons or triathlons weaken it.
It is common for runners to get colds after running the New York City marathon, for example.
Go outdoors to a park, the mountains or any natural environment. That is a safe way and healthy for physical activity. Stay at least six feet away from others not from your family.
No Handshaking. This one is hard as I am used to shaking hands al day. It feels disrespectful to no extend my hand to greet someone. Because of this, I have been about 50% compliant with greeting people with anything other than my hands. (That’s why handwashing is so important)
Use fist bump or elbows to greet. Forget about using feet to greet, please. Thank you.
Foods to Avoid and Foods to Eat to Protect from COVID-19
Sugar and processed foods weaken your immune system. Avoid them. This includes white table sugar, candies, candy bars, cookies, and baked goods. Sorry. Foods made from white flour, pasta and bread, for example, metabolize like sugar too. Sorry, I like them too, but…
Eat immune-boosting foods: soups with garlic, onions, ginger, mushrooms. A great book on soups is Clean Soups by Rebecca Katz.
Practice some fasting. Notice when you are sick that you don’t want to eat much. That’s because your body is trying to heal, and digesting food can be taxing to the body trying to fight disease. Stay hydrated.
Time-restricted eating, 14 hours a day or so away from food works well.
Hydration, hydration, hydration. 8 to 12 glasses of filtered water a day. Soups, fruits, and vegetables contain mostly water too, so, when consumed, you may need less drinking water.
Load up on the right dietary supplements.
When it comes to using dietary supplements, it comes down to using the right type with the best amount.
Of course, it is irresponsible to make claims that ANY dietary supplement CURES COVID-19 and the US government has rightly “slapped the hands” of numerous supplement companies for doing so.
In general, the better your diet and behavioral practices, the less dietary supplements you need.
Also, recommendations are primarily for the prevention or the initial, phase one of infection, not when someone is critically ill, primarily to build the body so that it can better fight infection early.
Dietary practices do not replace proper behavioral practices or advice from your physician.
Vitamin C is one of my favorite nutrients as it does a lot of good things to the body beyond treating scurvy. One of them is an excellent immune booster, but if taking vitamin C in supplement form, one pill a day will not cut it.
Vitamin C increases iron absorption, which is OK in most, especially menstruating women (not a problem in men too, just get ferritin, transferrin, and liver panel levels checked) UNLESS the person has Iron overload in the body, a conditioned called hemochromatosis. If iron overload is suspected, stay away from vitamin C.
Talk to your nutritionally oriented physician. **
“Wait, I heard most vitamin C is urinated out of the body, so it’s not worth taking,” you are thinking, “isn’t vitamin C just expensive urine?”
Yes, the kidneys control how much vitamin C stays in your body and how much is urinated out. When there are high amounts of vitamin C going through the kidneys, the body, in its great wisdom, gets rid of what you don’t need.
That’s why vitamin C consumption should be spaced out to no more than 500mg at a time. At that amount, most vitamin C stays in the body to do the work it does.
So, while, yes, some vitamin C comes out in your urine, you should take enough to saturate your cell with this essential nutrient.
Keep in mind you also pee out most of the water you drink. Should you stop drinking water?
For prevention, take 500mg of vitamin C two times a day.
If fighting an infection take – 500mg of vitamin C EVERY two to three waking hours. That sums up to about 4000 to 5000mg a day.
Your stools may soften a little when taking high amounts of vitamin C. That’s not a big deal – it will normalize when you scale back.
Intravenous (IV) vitamin C at about 20grams is currently a major treatment for COVID-19 in China and clinical trials on this approach have begun.
Vitamin C infusion also began for COVID patients in one hospital in New York. (March 25, 2020)
For an expert resource on IV vitamin C for viral infections and COVID, see Dr. Paul Anderson’s website.
Zinc is essential from a strong immune system. Foods high in zinc include grass-fed meats, oysters (the highest), pumpkin seeds, and chicken.
Take 15 to 30mg of zinc, once to two times daily. Taking 60 mg of zinc a day for a long time may require at least one to two mg of Copper with it to avoid copper deficiency.
Zinc lozenges are also excellent.
Vitamin D is vital for a healthy immune system, but it is better to get it from dietary supplements in the winter since we don’t have much sun exposure around this time of the year.
4000 to 5000 units a day is good before or after a viral infection.
Selenium, like zinc, is one of the most important minerals to boost the immune system and anti-viral activity.
(scientific references below)
For prevention and with a viral infection, take 200 micrograms of selenium a day.
Melatonin is a hormone released at night, during sleep and a very dark environment by the area of the brain called the pineal gland. Light diminishes melatonin production, so the less light the better in the bedroom for optimal levels of this sleep hormone.
In dietary supplements, 3 mg – 30 t0 60 minutes before bedtime is a good amount to take.
Melatonin may or may not help with getting a restful sleep in my experience (about 50/50) but it may still have good immune benefits.
Medicinal Botanical & Herbs that Strengthen the Immune System & Anti-viral Properties
Medicinal herbs that have anti-viral properties and essential for immunity include elderberry, Andrographis, goldenseal, Echinacea, Astragalus, and Arabinogalactan (Larch tree).
I hear elderberry not advised for COVID-19 because it can cause a “Cytokine Storm”?
No. There is no evidence, from my clinical experience nor from the scientific literature, the Elderberry (Sambucus) causes a cytokine storm. I’m not exactly sure where this elderberry/cytokine storm connection came about it is only that, a rumor.
Remember, cytokine production is important to fight viral infections, as mentioned above. Elderberry does produce cytokines, but it seems to do it in earlier stages of infection and to cause a favorable immune response.
ACTIVE HEXOSE CORRELATED COMPOUND (AHCC)
AHCC *- known to help with viral infections and boost immunity. (also the main cancer nutrient used in Japan).
For prevention, take 1 pill (750mg) two times a day
With viral infection, take 2 pills (1500mg) two times a day
This chemical from the Indian spice, Tumeric, does many good things for the body.
Curcumin can likely help reduce excess inflammation (cytokine storm) in the lungs.
Curcumin has potent immune benefits that can help fight infections.
For prevention, take 400mg to 500mg once or twice a day.
With viral infection, take 1000mg two times a day
Quercetin is a flavonol from a family of flavonoids found in foods like onions and apples.
Flavonoids are excellent for immune support for respiratory infections.
Quercetin may have anti-viral properties, mainly against the influenza virus.
Quercetin (and Curcumin) may be beneficial for COVID-19 infection.
For prevention, take 30omg to 500mg once or twice a day.
With viral infection, take 30omg to 500mg twice a day.
Herbal & Nutritional Formulas to Consider
ImmunoPCTN and GDtoxSel* which I formulated for prostate support are loaded with immune-boosting nutrients including, zinc, vitamin C, glutathione, Grape seed extract, Reishi mushroom, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and selenium, combined.
For ImmunoPCTN*, take three pills two times a day is a general good dose for all.
For GDtoxSel* take three pills a day for prevention or treatment[ Currently, ImmunoPCTN and GDtoxSel is well stocked, for now, March 25, 2020]
Immunitone plus by Designs for Health (currently out of stock) is a good formula for viral prevention and natural treatment. (March 25, 2020)
Immunitone plus contains many of the botanicals mentioned above to support a healthy immune system:
Echinacea, Astragalus Extract, Elderberry, Andrographis, Green Tea Extract, Arabinogalactan (ImmunEnhancer™) (Larix laricina), Mushrooms including Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum).
For prevention, take one pill two times a day for prevention.
For treatment, take 2 pills two to three times a day.
Herbal throat spray like Gaia’s Echinacea, Goldenseal Propolis is a good one. Throat mist from Wise women is good too. I carry either one in my pocket and spray numerous times a day throughout the day.[Currently, many immune supplements and sprays recommended are out of stock in most places. March 25, 2020]
Final Thoughts on the COVID-19 Pandemic, March 25, 2020
One should assume they have or had COVID-19 and act accordingly until proven otherwise. I remember seeing a few clinical cases four or five weeks ago where the patient complained about “weird” flu symptoms. These patients could have had COVID-19, thinking back.
We should all do our duty and take proper action, quarantine, social distancing, etc.
However, panic and hysteria is not the solution. Stay calm and embrace the uncertainty.
As the world is rushing to develop drugs for a cure, let’s focus on what we can do to build our bodies, despite age, so our body can protect us now and in the future.
Realistically, it’s impossible to do all behavioral things experts are asking to prevent COVID-19 infection – wipe doorknobs, computers, desks, wear gloves and mask, don’t touch the face, turn the bathroom knob with elbows, etc.
I touch my face about one hundred times a day and even if I’m now more mindful about, say, rubbing my nose, I still do it subconsciously.
To now habitually wear a mask (in limited supply), gloves, and wipe the doorknob with alcohol too? That’s not going to happen.
Let’s be holistic but realistic.
The most essential thing to do, in my opinion, is to strengthen your body. It is virtually impossible to not have viral exposure.
And this tip is for all of us despite age. We are all vulnerable to get infected.
The goal is to not get too ill and not transmit to others who may be more vulnerable.
Now, the nutritional and the other recommendations are ONLY for prevention or during the first phase of a viral infection where the symptoms are relatively mild, cold or flu-like in nature. During a more critical, phase two-state, I would recommend NOT taking any of the suggested supplements, including Elderberry and seek medical help.
IV vitamin C may be a reasonable option for the more critical, advanced phase.
This is an important distinction because an overactive immune system may cause more problems –a “cytokine storm” – and contribute to fluid accumulation in the lungs.
Now and after this pandemic focus on good sleep, optimal nutrition, and daily exercise.
If time not made for optimal health, then time will have to be made for illness. There’s no other way.
Social distancing and quarantining are hard but essential at this point.
We have to try to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. If not, the death toll will skyrocket to unprecedented numbers.
Build your body. Stay positive. Be well.
This blog post is my opinion and my interpretation of the scientific articles I have read on the Coronavirus and how to make strengthen the immune system. This blog post is not meant to replace medical advice.
* For disclosure purposes and transparency, I am the formulator of ImmunoPCTN and GDtoxSel and Co-founder of XY Wellness, LLC. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using this product.
VITAMINS & MINERALS
Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data
ASTRAGALUS & ANDROGRAPHIS
ARABIONGALACTAN (LARCH TREE)