01 Oct Strengthen Immunity Naturally in the Age of Covid
WellnessWrx appreciates having doctor Dr. Susan Reicheld as our medical advisor. Dr Reicheld brings her extensive knowledge and clinical experience to help us build our knowledge base so we can share it with you. Dr. Reicheld is a graduate of the University of Toronto School of Medicine. She has always believed in the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and feels that there are many potential paths to wellness. Her medical background includes surgical training, emergency room experience and work in primary care. Here, Dr. Reicheld explores ways to fortify your system during COVID -19 by strengthening your immunity naturally through diet and lifestyle changes.
Rose A. Weinberg, WellnessWrx CEO, Registered Homeopath, Author, Speaker
Why do some people get sicker than others from COVID? Who is more likely to get this disease? How can I avoid getting this disease? How can we treat this virus?
These are questions that we are all asking ourselves. We are learning more every day about COVID and how it is transmitted, how it enters our body and how our immune system responds to this virus.
It is useful to divide COVID into 4 stages: prevention, infection, inflammation and recovery. The best approach for affected individuals appears to be different for each phase.
Prevention entails limiting your exposure to the virus through social distancing, hand hygiene, and the use of masks where appropriate.
The infective stage of COVID involves the entry and replication of the virus. The body’s response to the infection triggers an inflammatory state that results in tissue damage.
Recovery from COVID will vary depending on how sick you become from the disease. The typical time to recover is 2 to 6 weeks. It is longer for those who require ventilatory assistance.
Who is most at risk?
While all groups are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at the greatest risk. These are individuals that typically have issues with their immune systems. While we can’t prevent aging, we can adhere to healthy living strategies that mitigate the effect of age and enhance our immunity.
Hypertension, diabetes, and coronary disease are common conditions associated with an increased risk of COVID infection and severe lung injury with worse outcomes subsequent to infection. In one report, there was a 30% incidence of hypertension in COVID affected patients. Diabetes is known to affect innate immunity. Innate immunity is the body’s first line of defence against infections, including COVID. Even short term elevations of blood sugar have been shown to compromise innate immunity. Diabetes is also associated with an increased inflammatory response, which is part of the body’s later response to the infection.
Obesity also appears to increase the severity of COVID disease in affected individuals. Fat cells in obesity secrete proinflammatory substances generating tissue damage as COVID progresses from infection into the inflammatory stage. Any underlying medical condition associated with chronic inflammation can worsen the outcome of a COVID infection.
Natural Methods to Strengthen Immunity
Regular physical activity throughout the day and moderate physical activity of 150 minutes per week have been shown to improve blood pressure control. Diabetes, sugar and lipid metabolism are also better controlled with regular low intensity activity. Sedentary lifestyles approximately double the risk for coronary heart disease. The medical conditions most commonly associated with COVID can all be improved through physical activity.
Vitamin D is involved in the body’s immune function. Vitamin D deficiency results in a higher rate of upper respiratory tract infections, especially in people with asthma and COPD. A deficiency in this vitamin is also associated with several autoimmune diseases.
Our bodies obtain Vitamin D through UVB (ultraviolet B) light exposure to our skin and orally through our diet. Vitamin D is then converted to an active form by the liver, kidney and our immune cells. Recommended daily exposure to UVB light varies by skin colour and geographic location. White skin types are recommended to have about 10 minutes of exposure to the sun midday while darker skin types should increase exposure to about 30 minutes. There are no age parameters attached to these UVB recommendations. As we age, our skin has a decreased ability to make Vitamin D. Seniors are therefore more likely to require oral supplementation.
Recommendations for oral supplementation vary as well. Some health authorities recommend people at risk of influenza and/or COVID take 10,000 IU per day for a few weeks followed by 5,000 IU per day. Other health authorities recommend regular supplementation of 800 IU per day with a limit of 4000 IU per day. There are no clear, specific guidelines and the varying recommendations will also depend on your underlying Vitamin D levels. Short term (a few weeks) of high level Vitamin D supplementation is not toxic to most individuals.
Remember that it is possible to get too much of a good thing. It is not necessary to get a sunburn to obtain your recommended dose of Vitamin D from the sun, and long term high dose oral supplements can cause problems.
Vitamin D, via its active metabolites, influences more than 200 genes. Receptors for Vitamin D are extensively distributed throughout the cells lining the respiratory tract and in immune cells. Cells in both the upper and lower airways secrete antimicrobial peptides that also inhibit viruses from entering the body. Vitamin D can increase the production of these peptides. Vitamin D also regulates the expression of ACE 2 in lung tissue.
Vitamin D doesn’t just appear to play a role in the infective stage of COVID. It also influences the subsequent inflammatory stage of COVID which is responsible for disease severity. Vitamin D inhibits inflammatory molecules and is believed to be involved in balancing the immune system.
Other dietary components which have been studied in influenza and other human coronaviruses are plant based polyphenols and flavonoids found in a wide variety of foods. Edible plants with high polyphenol levels include berries, plums, cherries and apples. Black beans and white beans also have high levels of polyphenols as do nuts like hazelnuts and pecans. Foods high in flavonoids include citrus fruit as well as blueberries, spinach, dark chocolate and nuts, to name but a few. This list of beneficial foods is not exhaustive and you can check the polyphenol content of your favourite fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes online to ensure that your diet is rich in these important substances.
Extracts from a species of elderberry have also been shown to have anti-viral activity against a different type of coronavirus by blocking attachment of the virus and inhibiting replication. A pomegranate polyphenol extract was found to have other beneficial effects against the influenza virus. Although plant extracts have been shown to be beneficial in the study of viruses other than COVID, the best way to obtain the benefits of polyphenols and flavonoids is to maintain a diet rich in plant based food.
This is not our first pandemic, nor is it going to be our last. We know that the interaction of COVID with our immune system is complex and can involve immune suppression as well as hyper activation. With no effective, universal treatment for COVID and no current vaccine, the best defense against this disease is minimizing your risk of exposure and maintaining a balanced, healthy immune system.
Dr. Reicheld is a medical advisor at WellnessWrx. She currently lives and practices in Toronto.
You can view her bio here.