As a Functional Medicine provider who has been caring for patients with various chronic complex diseases, it has become clear to me that if we want to have an impact on the trajectory of COVID-19, we need to immediately identify our risk factors, modify our underlying metabolic and immune imbalances, and improve lifestyle and dietary habits. These changes may sound difficult, perhaps overwhelming, but they are within our reach. They are as close as our fork or the dietary supplement isle of your nearby grocery store.
This Coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to reevaluate our priorities. Many of us have neglected our health and spent too little time thinking of the consequences of our sedentary life. We consume processed food, experience lack of sleep and endure high, relentless stress. Whether we are willing or not, ready or not, as an act of self-preservation and as an act of service to all our family, friends, and co-workers, it is imperative that we focus on our personal health and well-being.
Change is difficult, disruptive, and full of uncertainty, but the faster and smarter we act individually and collectively, the more we can prevent and lessen the suffering. I wish this were not true. Pretending that we are invulnerable is not an option. Preparing to fight and win the battle against this invisible adversary is empowering and more likely to lead to a successful outcome than avoiding making the changes necessary to remain healthy and productive.
What do we know about the Coronavirus and its effect on our health?
We don’t know much about this virus yet. This is a novel virus, which means that only a few people have developed immunity. Experts estimate it will infect 40% to 70% of our population—that’s over 150 million Americans. Currently, 80% have mild or no symptoms, 20% need hospitalization, and 5% have needed intensive care. The mortality rates vary depending on the population but range from 0.6% to up to 15% in elderly patients with chronic disease.
The sobering fact is that only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy. 75% of us are overweight, 42% are obese, and one in two Americans have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Currently, 60% of Americans suffer from underlying chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, etc. These comorbidities increase mortality rates by 5 to10 times that of healthy COVID-19 patients. Obesity increases the risk of death almost 3-fold. The hospitalization rates among 20 to 54-year olds who are overweight or obese are up to 40% higher.
These are terrible statistics but it is in our power to quickly begin to change our trajectory from illness back to wellness. Each of us must now focus on improving our metabolic health and strengthening our immunity to better fight the risk of COVID-19. So that, if we do get sick, the illness would be mild and less likely to cause long-term or even irreversible disease or injury.
In my practice, over the years, I have seen many patients dramatically transform their lives, recovering from chronic disease in a matter of weeks by using the principles of Functional Medicine. People who were severely obese, suffering from type 2 diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal problems, and more, were able to change their diet, and get off most or even all of their prescription meds in just a few months. These were not miracles, but the diligent and consistent application of current scientific knowledge that is available to everyone.
Self-care is not selfish. It is our responsibility to ourselves and to our loved ones and it will help us minimize suffering, loss, and death, by slowing and stopping the pandemic. Unfortunately, we can’t control the virus but we have tremendous control over our bodies. By applying the principles of Functional Medicine, a science-based approach to creating health and resilience, we can make our body an inhospitable place for the virus or for any other disease.
Here are my suggestions on how to take care of yourselves and your families
As a nation, we’ve made enormous sacrifices to avoid becoming infected or infecting other with COVID-19.We have practiced social distancing, stopped shaking hands, improved our hygiene practices, canceled vacations and business trips, closed businesses and schools, and many of us work from home. We’ve been protecting our elderly, those with autoimmune conditions, cancer or those on immunosuppressant medication.
Is there more that we can do to increase our chances in this fight for our health? Yes, there are 4 easy steps that can optimize our health and prepare us for when we’ll encounter this virus.
- Eat to Boost Your Immune Function
- Engage in Immune Enhancing Lifestyle Interventions
- Take Metabolic and Immune Support Supplements
- Benefit from Functional Medicine Care through Telehealth
1. Eat to Boost Your Immune Function
Whether you cooked once in a while or have never cooked before, now is the time to start. It is a wonderful activity to do together with your family and at the end, you get to enjoy delicious, nourishing food. You need to observe a few simple rules to get the most benefit from your food:
Eat real, whole foods. Unprocessed foods maintain their nutritive value and do not take a long time to prepare.
Stop consumption of all industrial, ultra-processed foods. They suppress immunity with their abundant sugary, starchy, and salty calories.
Eliminate sugar and starch (think of them as the same thing). They suppress immunity and worsen viral infections. If you struggle, we can help you do a reset program.
Stop or at least limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol suppresses immune and depletes key nutrients.
Incorporate foods containing nutrients with anti-viral properties:
- Kaempferol (spinach, cabbage, dill)
- Quercetin (dill, onion, oregano, chili pepper, apples, leafy green vegetables, broccoli)
- Hesperidin(oranges, grapefruit, lemon, tangerines)
- Oleuropein(olives and extra virgin olive oil)
- Catechins and epicatechin gallate (green tea)
- Lauric acid (unrefined virgin coconut oil)
- Immune boosting and anti-viral herbs and spices (ginger, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, chilipepper, oregano)
Eat adequate amount of protein for proper immune function. Often, elderly and those on a vegan diet tend to consume insufficient amount of protein, which increases their risk of death from infections. Aim to consume approximately 1 gram/kg or about half your body weight in grams of protein a day, or about two four-ounce servings of organic, clean animal protein. Plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds) are adequate if consumed in enough quantity. Tofu and tempeh from non-GMO soy have the Kaempferol highest protein concentrations.
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are indispensable for our immune defense systems. The most important amino acids are taurine, carnosine, anserine, and creatine from beef and lamb. Unfortunately, plant proteins do not contain adequate amounts of these amino acids.
Enhancing and/or maintaining your gut bacteria (microbiome) that is critical for regulating inflammation, which is connected to obesity and nearly all chronic diseases. Approximately, 70% of our immune system is in our gut, which is why it is critical to focus on gut health now.
- Eat prebiotic foods - Dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, bananas, apples, konjac root (try shirataki noodles), cocoa, burdock root, flax seeds, jicama root, and seaweed.
- Eat probiotic foods - Grass-fed sheep, cow, or coconut yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut,tempeh, miso, natto, kimchi, pickles.
2. Engage in Immune Enhancing Lifestyle Interventions
Sleep has a big influence on immune function, so it is essential to get seven to eight hours a night. Practice good sleep hygiene - turn off screens, ensure the room is cool, quiet, and dark. If necessary, incorporate various relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day or before bed time to reduce stress and allow your mind to fall asleep and rest.
Salt water gargles are excellent for sore throat, loosening mucus and helping fend off bacterial throat infections. Hot teas and lozenges containing slippery elm are excellent demulcents (to relieve minor pain and inflammation of mucous membranes) for soothing irritated sore throats. Two tablespoons of honey in hot water can also help to soothe and decrease throat inflammation and pain. Chamomile and peppermint teas are also helpful for soothing irritated sore throats, as are teas or infusions made from marshmallow root and licorice root, both of which can act as soothing demulcents.
Humidifiers, vaporizers, steam inhalers or just spending time in a steamy bath or shower can improve symptoms or respiratory and sinus congestion. Vaporizers and inhalers can also be used with decongestants or essential oils such as eucalyptus, menthol, peppermint, or frankincense. Nasal xylitol sprays are very beneficial, as is nasal irrigation using a Neti pot or nasal irrigation bottle. Buffered saline is easy to make or can be purchased in packets and eliminates any irritation to delicate, irritated mucous membranes.
Movement and physical activity should be incorporated throughout the day to improve our immune system ability to fight infections by increasing the number of white blood cells and antibodies, and by increasing blood circulation. At the same time, exercise decreases stress hormones, which have an inhibitory effect on our immune function. Engaging in regular exercise will also improve cognitive and physical resilience. It is preferable to work out outdoors in less populated areas. It that is not possible, you can find online workouts and yoga classes. Some of my favorite sites are Lumowell and the 7-Minute Workout app.
Prayer, meditation and yoga have been shown to mitigate the negative effects of chronic stress, which left unchecked will increase our susceptibility to viral infections. In one study, volunteers had cold viruses injected into their nasal passages. Only ones who scored high on the stress questionnaire succumbed. Some options are to participate virtually in local community events or in a religious or spiritual group.
Staying connected with those you love is essential for your mental and emotional health. Seek out opportunity to spend time with people who are positive or affirming. Have FaceTime, Skype or Zoom virtual visits and dinner parties. Try to avoid hostile and non-supportive encounters, that may cause long lingering detrimental effects.
3. Take Metabolic and Immune Support Supplements
At this time, there are no specific vaccines or uniformly successful treatments for COVID-19. In this context of insufficient evidence, a lot of information and misinformation has been circulating concerning which supplements can help or hurt your chances of fighting off this virus. There is a lot of good science on the importance of a variety of nutrients in the immune function but nothing has been specifically researched for COVID-19. Therefore, the best approach at this time is to choose those dietary supplements that have been researched and shown to improve and maintain a healthy immune function. These are generally safe but you should always consult with your health care provider before starting anything new as well as for obtaining proper dosing information. All of the following dietary supplements are available in our store at https://www.drionelahubbard.com/store. You can also order many of these products through our Wellevate store available on the same webpage.
The Basics for Supporting Your Immune Function
It is necessary to distinguish and address the different clinical needs in each of the phases of COVID-19. In particular, we must determine the person's needs in early infection, where it is important to support natural killer (NK) cells and Th1 cells, to help the anti-viral response get ahead of the virus.
- A multivitamin and mineral – My Multi Adult Iron Free. Other options are MultiThera 1 Iron & Vitamin K Free and MitoCore
- Vitamin C – Ester-C Bio or Buffered C. Other options: Vitamin C with Flavonoids and Quercetin Ascorbate Powder
- Vitamin D3 – Vitamin D3 & K2 liquid, or K-force (capsules containing Vitamin D3 & vitaminK2)
- Zinc – Zinc 30, Zn-50 Zinc Gluconate, Zinc Picolinate 30 mg, Zinc Chelate
- Quercetin – Quercetin Ascorbate Powder, or Quercetin and Nettles
- Melatonin – Melatonin-SR 2 mg, Melatonin Liquid 1 fl oz, or Melatonin 5 mg Peppermint
- Probiotics – Flora Supreme or Sibiotica
Enhanced Immune Support
- Glutathione - Glutathione Supreme with NAC or Trizomal Glutathione
- N-Acetyl Cysteine 900 mg
- Alpha-Lipoic acid - R-lipoic acid
- Immune Support - an herbal formula that supports natural killer (NK) cell activity and the balance of cytokines as part of a normal immune system response. It contains Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) from green tea and mushroom extracts that provide immune-supporting properties. Other option is Immunitone Plus
- Curcumin – Meriva 500 SF or Turmero-XL
- Resveratrol – Resvero-XL, Resveratrol Ultra High Potency or ResveraCel
- Astragalus, Andrographis, and beta-glucan from mushrooms – Innate Immune Support
- Natural Killer Cell Formula - Transfer Factor Multi-Immune
- Elderberry - Sambucus Black Elderberry 8 fl oz or Black Elderberry Alcohol-Free 1 oz
Later on in the disease progresion, some individuals begin to show signs of escalating inflammation. At this time, one may need to reduce the antiviral support and shift to stronger emphasis on anti-inflammatory support.
- Curcumin – Meriva 500 SF or Turmero-XL
- Resveratrol – Resvero-XL, Resveratrol Ultra High Potency or ResveraCel
- Sulforaphane - Balanced Immune
4. Benefit from Functional Medicine Care through Telehealth
Now is the time more than ever to focus on getting healthy. At our center, we are helping patients reclaim their health with Functional Medicine. We are equipped to take care of new and returning patients using telemedicine. If necessary, COVID-19 testing for active disease or immunity inducing antibody testing will be ordered. Your insurance and health savings accounts are now reimbursing for telehealth services and COVID-19 tests.
If you are a new patient to our practice, simply download our new patient forms from our “Get Started/Becoming a Patient” page at https://www.drionelahubbard.com/get-started/becoming-a-patient Complete the COVID-19 Symptoms and Lifestyle Questionnaire and submit it to us at your earliest convenience. You can also contact us by phone at 949-726-0707. Please be patient, as we are getting many requests, but we will get back to you.
Disclaimer: This resource is only intended to identify dietary, nutraceutical and botanical agents as well as lifestyle factors that may boost your immune system. It is not meant to recommend any treatments, nor have any of these been proven effective against COVID-19. None of these practices are intended to be used in lieu of other recommended treatments. Always consult your physician or healthcare provider prior to initiation. For up-to-date information on COVID-19, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.
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