How to Stay Healthy During a Pandemic
Updated: Apr 11
The Corona virus, or more specifically, COVID-19, is all anybody is talking about these days. We want to be prepared, we want to be smart, but how? How do we protect ourselves from an invisible enemy?
The first answer is simple and I know we have all heard it a thousand times, but it really works:
1. Wash your hands.
One study showed that the virus can live on a hard surface for up to 9 days (1). Imagine how many people's hands touch a door handle in 9 days! Washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds will break apart the virus and remove it from your hands. No special soap necessary. Palli Thordarson, a chemistry professor in Australia, posted a viral tweet that explains why regular hand washing is a simple, yet very effective tool against the virus.
Soap molecule surrounding oil (https://www.bnl.gov/newsroom/news.php?a=213090)
Regular hand soap has a water-loving side that clings to water and a fat-loving side that will adhere to oil or grease. Now the virus acts like the oil drop in the image, the fat-loving ends of the soap break apart the fatty layer on the outside of the virus, exposing the RNA (the genetic information that tells your body to get sick) on the inside, causing it to be deactivated and flushed down the drain.
2. Social distancing
We have been hearing about this a lot lately as gatherings larger than 50 people are banned, schools closed down and people being asked to work from home. This is to prevent a spike of infections, to ease the burden on our already overextended healthcare system and protect the most vulnerable in our population. That being said, connection is a very important component of holistic health, so take care that you are not totally isolated socially. You can always make a good ol' fashioned phone call to a friend, video chat, or go for walks outside. Reach out if you are feeling isolated, because there is a good chance others feel that way too.
3. Protective gear
If you are out in public often, especially public transit, a simple way to protect yourself from the virus is to wear gloves or even one glove. Use that hand to open doors, press elevator buttons or hold handrails and the other to hold personal items, such as your phone or wallet (2). Face masks are for people showing symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing, or those working closely with vulnerable or infected people, not for people trying to protect themselves from contracting the illness in the general public. The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. states,
"The role of facemasks is for patient source control, to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes. Patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should wear a facemask until they are isolated in a hospital or at home. The patient does not need to wear a facemask while isolated." (3)
Facemasks do not seem to make any difference in contracting the disease when just walking around town. Please leave them for the people that actually need them, as people's lives are at stake.
4. Boost your immune system
Several simple ways to ramp up your immune system include:
Cutting out sugar. Although, not all sugars are created equal, cutting out refined carbohydrates makes good health sense. A diet high in sweets is unhealthy for a variety of reasons: one, it fills you up with empty calories, therefore, decreasing the amount of nutrient dense food you could be eating. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, and good quality proteins are crucial in supporting your body's immune system. Two, it changes the character of your gut bacteria, leading to a loss of microbial diversity. Our microbiome is a key barrier in our immune system, changes can then lead to gut permeability and inflammation, which makes you more susceptible to disease. Furthermore, these changes can start taking place in as little as 24 hours (4).
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol intake also has a significant negative impact on your gut bacteria. It limits the communication between the microbiome and the intestinal immune system. It damages the lining of the digestive tract and other frontline immune cells, which can lead to leakage of damaging microbes into circulation. Beyond the impact on the digestive system, alcohol disrupts the function of the small, hair-like cells that line the upper airways. It also impairs the immune cell function of the respiratory tract, making you more susceptible to respiratory infections (5), such as COVID-19.
Get plenty of quality sleep. I know that this is easier said than done for most people, but sleep is also very important for your immune health. Sleep disturbance can suppress antiviral gene activities. It is also a time when many virus fighting immune cells are created and pro-inflammatory cells are limited. When sleep is regularly limited, pro-inflammatory immune cells are released, which can lead to low-level inflammation and immunodeficiency (6).
Take a quality probiotic. Probiotics have been shown to upregulate the immune system. Studies are inconclusive on the exact mechanism for this, but probiotics may exert antiviral effects directly on the virus or by stimulating the immune system (7).
Daily Vitamin D. Studies show that Vitamin D supplementation in children can have a profound effect on the decrease of respiratory tract infections (8). The data is somewhat less conclusive for adults, however, it shows a dramatic decrease in contracting respiratory infections if the participant has low vitamin D levels. As people living in Canada in the winter, many of us will have low vitamin D if you are not currently supplementing, so adding it to your daily or weekly regime can make a big difference in conferring immunity (9).
Add a mushroom powder or a capsule to your coffee, soup or smoothie. Specifically, Maitake, Shitake, and Reishi mushrooms all contain very high amounts of polysaccharides, which seems to be the constituent responsible for modulation of the immune system. They are beneficial in both acute illness and in chronic disease states, so it is safe to continue taking both as a preventative and a treatment. They are also known as adaptogens, which means they enhance our bodily resistance to stress (which is most likely elevated these days). These mushrooms have many, many other benefits too, so they can be a very potent supplement to take.
Take Echinacea before you get sick. A high potency, good quality echinacea tincture or capsule of the root of the plant has shown to boost the immune system. It either shortens the duration of a viral infection or prevents it from occurring in multiple clinical trials (10). Other studies have shown that echinacea works by boosting non-specific immunity through enhancing phagocytic activity. Phagocytes inactivate pathogenic organisms (bad guys) and present their antigen to other immune cells, signalling the immune response. This makes the herb mostly effective as a preventative (11). The quality of the supplement is important, as other studies that used lower doses or aerial parts of the plants did not show any statistical difference from placebo (12).
RELAX! Stress can have a disastrous effect on your immune system. Of course, periodic stress cannot be avoided, but it is when the stress is unrelenting that it can start to take its toll on the body. When we have a stressful event, our bodies release cortisol into the bloodstream. Over short periods of time it is incredibly helpful, but over the long-term it will have some negative side effects. Just on the immune system alone, elevated cortisol will decrease the amount of white blood cells circulating, shrink lymphatic tissue (where white blood cells are made), and suppress the immune system. So take care to bring your stress levels down in a way that works for you. Some options include: meditation, yoga, walking, deep breathing, or light exercise.
This is by no means a conclusive list, but it gives you some ideas of things to do that you may or may not be doing already. Please take good care in this time and, of course, these are only guidelines. Please check with your medical provider if you have any questions regarding any of the recommendations or would like more specificity in regards to dosing. Our clinic is remaining open, so we can address your health needs that come up during this time, but we are taking great care to avoid any spread of the virus.
(1) G.Kampfa, D.Todtb, S.Pfaenderb, E.Steinmannb. "Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents." Journal of Hospital Infection. Volume 104, Issue 3, March 2020, Pages 246-251. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195670120300463?via%3Dihub
(2) Barbaro, Michael. “Learning to Live With the Coronavirus.” Learning to Live With the Coronavirus, New York Times, 13 Mar. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/podcasts/the-daily/coronavirus.html?showTranscript=1.
(3) “Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Protective Equipment.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/respirator-use-faq.html.
(4) Biotics Education Team. “Does Sugar Weaken the Immune System?” Biotics Research Blog, Biotics Research Corporation, 28 Oct. 2019, blog.bioticsresearch.com/does-sugar-weaken-the-immune-system.
(5) Sarkar, Dipak et al. “Alcohol and the Immune System.” Alcohol Research : Current Reviews vol. 37,2 (2015): 153–155. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/
(7) Lehtoranta, L, et al. “Probiotics in Respiratory Virus Infections.” European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases : Official Publication of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24638909.
(8) Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:1255-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20219962?dopt=Abstract
(9) Black, PN, and R Scragg. “Relationship between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin d and Pulmonary Function in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Chest, vol. 128, no. 6, Dec. 2005. Pubmed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16354847?dopt=Abstract.
(12) Di Pierro F, Rapacioli G, Ferrara T, Togni S. Use of a standardized extract from Echinacea angustifolia (Polinacea) for the prevention of respiratory tract infections. Altern Med Rev 2012;17:36-41. http://archive.foundationalmedicinereview.com/publications/17/1/36.pdf
(10) Schoop R, Klein P, Suter A, Johnston SL. Clinical Therapeutics. "Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus colds: a meta-analysis." 2006 Feb;28(2):174-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed
(11) Bone, Kerry. "Echinacea: When Should it be Used?" Alternative Medicine Review, Volume 2, Number 6, p. 451-458, 1997