First of all, please STAY CALM! Stress is known to suppress immune function and increase susceptibility to infection. And at this point, panic buying all the resources at the grocery store does nothing but perpetuate unnecessary fear and prevent other people who may need resources from being able to get them.
For most of us, this is the first pandemic we have ever lived through, and the thought of a new virus spreading like crazy is scary. However, the reality is that while Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, is a very dangerous virus, most people in the population will get sick and recover with protective immunity without any major complications. Severe and possibly deadly complications seem to be primarily limited to people with pre-existing medication conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease) and older adults. And lucky, unlike the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 (the worst recorded pandemic in modern history) that had the worst mortality rates among children, COVID-19 does not seem to cause severe illness in healthy children. In fact, no deaths have been reported in healthy children under 9 years old.
On Social Distancing and Preparedness
While it’s important to keep fear in check, this is a critical moment for taking action to prevent community spread to protect the older generation and those whose immune systems are not well-equipped to fight the virus.
By preventing widespread transmission early on through social distancing, we have a chance to save lives and prevent this virus from becoming another deadly contagion that we deal with year after year. Once COVID-19 is well-established in the human population, it will mutate over time, creating various strains that will sometimes be less severe and sometimes be more severe. Stopping this pandemic early on is critical for managing it in the future. This is the primary reason we are seeing such a dramatic response from the world community in trying to stop the spread of this virus.
At this point, the guidance from the CDC concerning COVID-19 is limited to standard—though critically important—measures for basic preparedness and preventing the spread of infectious disease. I recommend checking this page for up-to-date medical guidance. Information about strategies to support healthy immune function, however, is conspicuously absent from the advice being disseminated by the mainstream medical establishment.
As a practitioner of naturopathic medicine with many years of clinical experience helping patients strengthen and balance their immune systems to overcome a wide range of challenges, I feel compelled to share my perspective and recommendations with regards to this emerging and evolving pandemic.
I am not sharing this information to be alarmist or to incite controversy, but simply, to help you be prepared.
An Important Disclaimer:
*At this point in time, no drugs or natural remedies have been shown to treat or prevent COVID-19. The following recommendations are based on previous and current research regarding natural products that support an immune response associated with fighting viral and bacterial infections, as well as naturally-derived substances that have shown both anti-viral and antibacterial activity. These recommendations are for general immune health and have not been tested for the treatment of or prevention of COVID-19. Nothing I have written here is a substitute for guidance from public health officials and your health care provider.
How to Build a Resilient Immune System
Over my 15+ years of naturopathic medical practice, I have helped thousands of patients overcome health challenges related to viral and bacterial infections. Sinus infections, lung infections, urinary tract infections, colds, flus, MRSA, gastrointestinal infections—you name it, I have helped someone manage it when antibiotics or anti-viral medications were not enough or not an option.
Carefully selected and well-thought-out treatment plans for supporting the immune system are invaluable in helping the immune response at various stages. The recommendations below are designed to assist the immune response in three critical ways.
3 Key Components of a Comprehensive Immune Support Protocol
1) Boost Your Innate Immunity—Your Body’s First Line of Defense
The first component of a comprehensive immune support protocol involves increasing innate immunity, which is regulated primarily by macrophages and natural killer cells. These white blood cells are the body’s first line of defense in destroying invading viruses, bacteria and infected cells. Naturally-derived ingredients have been shown to significantly increase activity of these cells and reduce incidence and severity of illness related to viral and bacterial infections.
2) Fight Infection with Anti-Virals and Antibacterials
The second stage involves the use of natural ingredients that have direct anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Certain nutrient and botanical extracts validated by clinical research offer invaluable tools to assist the immune system in disabling the ability of viruses and bacteria to infect cells and reproduce. This helps to halt the pathogen and gives the immune system a chance to catch up with destroying and clearing infection.
3) Reduce Inflammation and Balance the Immune Response
The third stage involves nutrients that reduce inflammation and prevent the immune response from becoming overactive. I spoke about this extensively in my previous article and podcast about vitamin D. Some of the most dangerous complications of viral infections, particularly the complications associated with the lungs, happen due to an overactive immune response.
When a virus like the flu infects lung cells and starts dividing rapidly, the immune system rushes to the site to fight the infection with an onslaught of inflammatory chemicals and white blood cells. This mechanism fights the virus, but also damages the lung tissue and leads to a build-up of dead white blood cells, which can compromise lung function. Certain nutrients and botanical extracts are critical players in regulating the inflammatory response associated with acute viral and bacterial infection.
Building a Resilient Immune System: Detailed Recommendations
For an immune support protocol to be truly comprehensive and maximally effective, it must utilize tools that address all stages of immune support. The recommendations listed below are what I have used with thousands of patients to improve prevention and speed recovery from viral and bacterial infections. Again, it is not a treatment, nor a cure for COVID-19. It is simply some well-thought-out suggestions for how to support your immune for those interested during this time of heightened awareness and concern.
1) Boost Your Innate Immunity—Your Body’s First Line of Defense
Found in the cell walls of mushrooms, yeasts and grains like oats and barley, beta-glucan is a unique complex carbohydrate shown to prime and mobilize the body’s first line of immune defenses. It stimulates the activity of our immune frontline cells like macrophages and neutorphils and can even support T-cell-mediated immunity.
When taken orally, beta-glucan is processed by macrophages (a key initial part of our immune response), resulting in increased anti-microbial activity. Beta-glucan has been shown to increase macrophage phagocytosis, selective cytokine release and oxidative degranulation—all activities associated with killing viruses and bacteria. Supporting this initial phase of immunity can be a game-changer in preventing an exposure from turning into a full-blown infection.
Macrophages are critical front-line immune cells responsible for killing the viruses and pathogenic bacteria we are exposed to every day before they cause a full-blown infection. Even after an infection has set in, macrophages, natural killer cells and T-cells still play a critical role in assisting the second phase of our immune response that utilizes antibody specific mechanisms. It also noteworthy that research has shown that high-quality, purified beta-glucan extracts from yeast can support the front line immune defense without overstimulating the immune system, so it is safe for those with auto-immune disease.
While you can incorporate beta-glucan into your diet with the addition of mushrooms and high-fiber grains like oats and barley, the research on beta-glucan was primarily done with 1,3/1,6 purified beta-glucan from yeast extract. The beta-glucan I use in my clinic is ImmunotiX. This is a premier hypoallergenic source of whole beta-glucan free of protein contaminants which can negatively impact immune function and free of protein and fat impurities that can interfere with uptake and effectiveness. It has also had the mannan, a potential trigger of allergic reactions or bowel exacerbation, removed. This has been my number one choice of products to support the front line of immune defense for over a decade.
Dose: 1 capsule of ImmunotiX (500 mg) 2x daily 30 minutes before a meal or 2-3 hours after a meal. It is absorbed best on an empty stomach.
2) Fight Infection with Anti-Virals and Antibacterials
One of the oldest and most widely-used cold and flu remedies worldwide, garlic contains a compound called allicin that has potent antimicrobial properties. It is used by the plant to fight off pathogens like fungus, bacteria, viruses and parasites. Surprisingly, fresh, whole garlic cloves do not contain much allicin. The garlic must be damaged (crushed) for the plant to convert its starting compound allinin into allicin.
In my clinic, I use a patented, stabilized garlic extract called Allimax Pro, which is made from crushed raw garlic. Very few garlic products on the market contain substantial doses of allicin and none but Allimax Pro contain a stabilized form of allicin, called AC-23.
Allicin is a very unstable compound and degrades very quickly, so it is critical to use a stabilized extract for any significant antimicrobial effectiveness. AC-23 is the only patented, stabilized allicin extract on the market, and it has shown potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects in test tube and animal studies. In a ground breaking study the ingredient in Allimax Pro, AC-23, reduced the incidence of the common cold by over 60% over placebo and significantly reduced duration of symptoms and recurrence in those that did get sick.
Allimax Pro is a mainstay in the offices of most functional medicine doctors as a key component in protocols for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), common infections like sinus infections, general immune support, Lyme disease, yeast overgrowth and other conditions that require a rebalancing of microflora in the body. I use it as my go-to antimicrobial, and patients report consistently excellent results. Fortunately, pure allicin has very little odor, so Allimax Pro will not give your breath or body any unpleasant odor.
Dose: 2 capsules of Allimax Pro 2x daily with or without food for prevention. 2 capsules 3x daily if experiencing symptoms or have known exposure.
The deep purple-black berries of the elder tree are another time-tested traditional immune support remedy. Elderberry has some of the most convincing research of any natural product for its anti-viral properties. It has been extensively studied for its ability to reduce viral infections and severity of viral illness. This is one of the single most important natural products to take for increased resistance to viral infections.
Dose: 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup 2x daily for prevention. 1 teaspoon 3-4x daily if experiencing symptoms. Best taken on an empty stomach but can be taken with or without food.
Essential oils are potent natural compounds with direct antimicrobial action against viruses, bacteria, yeast, protozoa and parasites. Certain essential oils have been extensively studied for these properties and used clinically to treat difficult infections for centuries. Essential oils are the purified oil extracts from plants and some, including oregano, thyme, clove and garlic, among others, have particularly strong anti-viral and immune supportive benefits. In fact, resent research out of Johns Hopkins University showed that certain plant essential oils were more effective at killing persistent Lyme disease bacteria than standard Lyme disease prescription antibiotics.
The other benefit of these essential oils has to do with how they are absorbed and processed by the body. Have you ever wondered why your breath smells after eating garlic? It is not because the garlic is in your stomach, but because the compounds of garlic are absorbed into your bloodstream and then excreted through the lungs. The fact that many aromatic essential oils are absorbed into the blood and then some of their compounds are excreted through the lungs makes them a particularly good choice for supporting respiratory health. And because respiratory complications are typically the most life threatening with severe viral infections, anything that further supports the respiratory system is critical.
In my clinic, I have had a lot of success with a product called Candibactin AR that contains a combination of highly potent essential oil extracts with strong anti-microbial properties. I have seen it be a very helpful component in supporting the immune system. It can be taken with the elderberry, or these two could be used interchangeably.
Dose: 2 capsules of Candibactin AR 2x daily taken on a full stomach after a meal to reduce stomach upset.
Silver Nasal Spray
Silver hydrosols (an extract produced using steam distillation) have been extensively studied for their antimicrobial properties against bacteria and viruses. Using a gentle nasal spray with natural antimicrobials helps to reduce the pathogen load in an area of the body where many respiratory infections enter.
Keeping the sinuses moist is, in itself, an effective way to support the mucus barrier and prevent infection. Studies show that people with dry sinus tissue vs. those that are well-hydrated get viral infections at a higher rate. I use a product called ACS 200ES in my practice. In addition to the moisturizing benefits of the ultra-pure de-ionized water and herbs it contains, the nano-sliver particles in ACS 200 act as a potent natural antimicrobial. Animal studies have shown the ability of intranasal nano-sliver’s ability to reduce titers of H2n3 flu virus in the lungs of mice along with reduced symptoms.
ACS 200ES has been a great product for my patients. I have not only found it to be very effective at helping people prevent and resolve upper respiratory infections, but it also has an excellent safety record.
Dose: 2 sprays of ACS 200ES in each nostril 2x daily. Long-term use over 3 months not recommended or required.
3) Reduce Inflammation and Balance the Immune Response
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient with a specific affinity for lung tissue and some specific implications in regard to anti-viral activity. I recommend it in situations where extra lung support is desired. Limited research has shown its benefit in preventing lower respiratory infection in children with vitamin A deficiency. I believe that fat-soluble vitamins are under-utilized, and vitamin A is a prime example. Many people are afraid to use vitamin A, because it does have potential toxicity to the liver at high doses or if taken for extended periods of time, so it’s important to use it wisely.
A little bit goes a long way with vitamin A. I recommend taking 10,000 IU of vitamin A palmitate every other day for general lung support and immune support. DO NOT TAKE HIGHER DOSES OF VITAMIN A ON A REGULAR BASIS, AND IT IS BEST TO DISCONTINUE VITAMIN A USE AFTER 12 WEEKS. Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, your vitamin A stores should be quite sufficient after 12 weeks of supplementation and further supplementation is likely not necessary.
Dose: 10,000 IU of vitamin A palmitate EVERY OTHER DAY FOR NO MORE THAN 12 WEEKS. Can be taken with or without food anytime of day.
Vitamin D3 is the most important immune-modulating supplement ever discovered. It is an absolute must in any comprehensive immune support protocol and plays a central role in enhancing the immune system’s ability to kill pathogens and in controlling the immune system to prevent it from causing damage to the body once an infection has set in. For a detailed discussion on vitamin D, check out my recent article and podcast.
Dose: Should be based on recent blood testing, however 5000 IU per day of vitamin D3 is considered a safe dose for long-term use. Most people can reduce their vitamin D dose to 2500 IU per day in the summer and fall months due to increased sun exposure.
Compounds from plants called phytonutrients play a critical role in modulating the immune system and reducing inflammation. Bioflavonoid extracts from citrus, resveratrol, green tea extracts, rosemary extracts, pomegranate extracts all have properties that reduce inflammation and support a healthy and balanced immune response.
Getting an adequate amount of these compounds from plants everyday is an essential part of keeping the immune system healthy and balanced. They can be easily obtained from the diet but most people do not consume an adequate amount of fresh vegetables and fruits to meet higher demand in times of increased immune stress. This is where supplementation can be helpful.
A product I like, called PhytoMulti, not only contains a significant dose of standardized phytonutrient extracts from some of the most well-studied plants, it also contains a full multi-vitamin and multi-mineral assay to support the immune system and the body in a more comprehensive manner. Having a substantial dose of 15 mg of zinc per serving offers specific immune support and a full B-complex assay supports the body through increased times of stress.
Dose: 3 capsules of PhytoMulti daily with food. For those that eat a very nutrient-dense diet, take 3 capsules 3-5x weekly.
Summary: Specific Product Recommendations and Dosages
|Immunotix Beta-Glucan||Stimulates first line defense against infection by supporting macrophage, t-cells and natural killer cells||1 capsule 2x daily away from food|
|Allimax Pro Garlic Extract||Stabilized allicin extract from crushed garlic with potent anti-bacterial and anti-viral action||2 capsules 2x daily for prevention. 2 capsules 3x daily if having symptoms|
|Elderberry Syrup||Supports immune function and disrupts viral replication||1 teaspoon 2x daily for prevention. 1 teaspoon 3-4x daily if having symptoms.|
|Candibactin AR||Combination of essential oils with strong anti-microbial properties and an affinity for the lungs and upper respiratory system||2 capsules 2x daily with food.|
|ACS 200ES Silver Nasal Spray||De-ionized water and botanicals to keep sinus tissue hydrated with nano-silver as a potent anti-viral||2 sprays in each nostril 2x daily. Best to discontinue after 12 weeks of continuous use.|
|Vitamin A||Supports respiratory health and immune balance||10,000iu every other day. DO NOT USE FOR MORE THAN 12 WEEKS|
|Vitamin D3||Upregulates immunity and balances overactive immune responses||5000 IU daily|
|PhytoMulti||Multi-vitamin + multi-mineral with standardized plant extracts to support immune balance and regulate inflammation||3 capsules daily with food.|
In conclusion, while we don’t yet have research to support an immune boosting protocol specifically for protection against COVID-19, we do have is a vast body of clinical data—coupled with traditional use and empirical evidence—demonstrating the efficacy of certain nutritional and herbal approaches in building and maintaining a balanced, resilient immune system.
I believe that taking actions to support your immune system is just as—if not more—important to your overall pandemic preparedness strategy as keeping your house clean and stocked with supplies and planning for all the “what ifs.” Consider incorporating the recommendations I detailed above into your daily routine. Do your best to eat whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods. Get plenty of good sleep. Go for a walk or run outside. Call a loved one. And above all, do your best to stay calm, curious and compassionate. Remember that we’re all in this together.
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