Right now much of the country is feeling uncertain, nervous, and even afraid about the coronavirus. Many of you have reached out to me with questions about what you can do to naturally protect yourself and support your immune system. I would like to begin by providing some general information.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from mild to severe diseases. The most recent one referred to as COVID-19 is a new strain that has not previously been identified in humans.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, similar to the flu virus, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.
Like most viruses, the elderly and chronically ill are most susceptible and we have seen this as nursing homes seem to be the hardest hit so far. While less than 1 percent of people who were otherwise healthy died from the disease in China, the fatality rate for people with cardiovascular disease was 10.5%. That figure was 7.3% for diabetes patients and around 6% for those with chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, or cancer.
While the COVID-19 virus warrants close monitoring, it is important to keep things in perspective. As of early March, the corona-virus outbreak has infected more than 90,000 people and killed about 3,000 globally. By comparison, influenza (or the common flu) has infected as many as 45 million Americans since October and killed as many as 46,000 according to estimates from the CDC.
The CDC, WHO, and NIH are recommending the standard prevention techniques including hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing. Also, avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of illness. Additionally, they recommend limiting exposure by avoiding travel to areas of known infections.
While these recommendations are very important and common-sense approaches, I believe there are additional recommendations that I have not seen mentioned and should not be ignored. Since viral infections are not affected by antibiotics and there are no antivirals known to kill the corona-virus, an important step in protecting ourselves is strengthening our body's natural immune system.
Besides avoiding exposure, a strong immune system is our best defense against any virus including corona-virus. So, here are some tips to naturally strengthen your body's natural immune system:
- Get adequate sleep (generally 7 to 9 hours per night)
- Keep stress under control
- Eat a diet high in vegetables and fruits
- Don't smoke
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Exercise regularly (but avoid extreme exercise at this time as it can temporarily weaken the immune system)
- Maintain good vitamin D levels ( 50ng/mL to 80ng/mL)
- Include immune-boosting spices into your diet including turmeric, garlic, onions, ginger, and cayenne pepper.
- Maintain a healthy weight (but avoid crash diets or rapid weight loss)
As a final note, I believe it is important that we take this recent corona-virus threat seriously but also believe there is no reason to panic. It is important that we personally take every reasonable precaution to avoid exposure. But also take this opportunity to improve our daily lifestyle including choices and habits that have a significant impact on our overall health and our body's natural ability to fight infection and avoid chronic disease.
To your health!
Mike Woodley, R.Ph., FAARM, ABAAHP