As we continue to face COVID-19, we want to emphasize the importance of proper immune function. Whether you have had COVID-19 and want to facilitate the best recovery possible, desire to avoid triggering an autoimmune condition, or want to bolster your immune system to avoid succumbing to a serious case, you can take steps to strengthen your immune response.
For those that have had COVID and are suffering lingering symptoms—a condition known as post-viral syndrome that can happen to some people after any viral infection—holistic approaches offer a way to help resolve the ailment. Functional medicine emphasizes holistic and integrative supplements, diet, and lifestyle factors that are safe and effective and can help your body recover.
Before we get into some specifics, a reminder: focus on the basics. We often underestimate the power that diet and lifestyle have on the immune system, especially with regard to COVID-19. Ensuring proper sleep, consuming an anti-inflammatory diet, getting adequate movement, and managing stress are crucial for preventing any viral infection, including COVID-19.
Here are some other approaches that can help you give your body more of what it needs:
Research indicates that individuals with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to succumb to more serious illness from SAR-CoV-2. Vitamin D has been shown to activate macrophages, stimulate antimicrobial peptides, and modulate TH17 cells. Vitamin D also modulates cytokines. Due to these powerful immune-supporting properties, patients taking vitamin D have seen reduced progression, severity, and duration of illness. Furthermore, symptoms of post-viral syndrome seem to resolve relatively quickly by optimizing vitamin D levels. A note for readers to consider is that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin so taking too much can cause toxicity. Therefore knowing your blood levels is important to supplement safely. The safest source of vitamin D is sunlight.
Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant and serves to protect the body from damage caused by infections. We also know that glutathione plays an important role in supporting the body’s immune system, improving insulin sensitivity, decreasing inflammation, and facilitating proper detoxification.
Research shows that glutathione deficiency is linked with serious manifestations of COVID-19. Therefore, optimizing glutathione levels could potentially be a beneficial treatment during illness and throughout recovery. For certain individuals, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), will be better tolerated than glutathione. NAC is a precursor to glutathione and can be an effective tool for building up glutathione levels as well.
We often recommend liposomal glutathione supplementation for the best bioavailability. We have seen patients benefit from nebulized glutathione to directly affect the lung tissue in the face of COVID-19. Also, providing glutathione with IV therapy ensures glutathione is delivered directly into the bloodstream.
We believe supporting the immune system is vitally important to protect the body from a COVID-19 illness. This is just as true for recovery. Our doctors personally use and recommend various immune-supporting nutrients and compounds including vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, curcumin, resveratrol, and more. We also utilize various immune-supporting nutrients and compounds via intravenous nutrition therapy, ensuring these nutrients make their way directly into the bloodstream and therefore are ultimately utilized by the cells. We recommend immune-supporting IV nutrition for preventative care and especially recovery. Another important consideration is that certain nutrients may be beneficial in slowing viral replication. These can include L-lysine, melatonin, and zinc.
Stress. It seems to be ubiquitous with the times. While much of what we discuss in this article are physical or environmental stressors, the mental and emotional burden must also be considered. Utilizing coping skills for mental and emotional stress are critically important for ensuring that the immune system is able to function properly. Helpful strategies include prayer, meditation, mindfulness, cultivating gratitude, various breathing practices, and socializing with loved ones and friends. Maintaining a support system with other people is vital to promoting mental health and decreasing anxiety or depression.
Reduce Exposure to Environmental Toxins
We all face environmental toxin exposure in our world today. Some main culprits of toxin exposure are the air, water, food, cleaning products, personal care products, petrochemicals, plastics, and others. These toxins can accumulate within the body and contribute to an overall toxic burden that impairs the body’s ability to function optimally.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of reducing your toxic load by scrutinizing the toxins you are exposed to. Unfortunately, we have collectively employed very toxic compounds to sanitize everything in this season to kill the virus. This contributes to immune system impairment and disruption of the microbiome; not the eradication of illness. We encourage our patients and readers to use safe, non-toxic options for cleaning and sanitation.
Ketogenic Diet & Fasting
The metabolic state of an individual either hinders or fosters viral replication. Unfortunately, those who are in a constant sugar-burning state are those most susceptible to viral infections. This is a significant reason for why we see individuals with certain comorbidities have more serious outcomes. Switching the host metabolism from a sugar-burning to a fat-burning state has been shown to slow the replication of viruses. Any time blood sugar rises, the body uses sugar as its main energy state. Our bodies were designed to go in and out of sugar- and fat-burning states. Our bodies often thrive when we are in a fat-burning, ketogenic metabolic state.
Viruses don’t have their own energy source. When they inhabit a host, they must rely on the host’s energy and metabolic function. When the host is in a sugar-burning state, viruses of various kinds are able to replicate very quickly because of the abundance of sugar as a fuel source. What happens in this sugar-burning metabolism is that the coronavirus essentially coats itself in sugar in order to replicate. When the virus does this, it also camouflages itself from the immune system. This allows the virus to replicate rapidly and take a greater hold on the host who is in a sugar-burning state, has comorbidities, and metabolic dysfunction.
To combat this, we recommend reducing sugar and carbohydrate consumption and focusing on healthy fats and proteins. Additionally, extending your fasting window overnight to at least 12-14 hours and working up to longer intermittent fasts will also help shift the body from burning sugar to burning fat so that the virus can’t replicate quickly or efficiently.
Consider Underlying Causes
Oftentimes there are ongoing underlying factors that may lead to someone being more susceptible to symptomatic expression of a viral illness. Other aspects to consider looking at are metabolic dysfunction or altered blood sugar handling, hormone imbalances, food allergies and sensitivities, autoimmune disease, environmental toxin exposure, gut dysbiosis, and other latent or chronic infections. Identifying and uprooting these factors can have a profound impact on the immune system and overall health.
It’s important to work with a skilled practitioner to discover what else is contributing to symptoms. The body must be looked at as an interconnected whole for long-term health and wellness to be achieved.
Dr. Ashley Turner is a board-certified doctor of holistic health, traditionally-trained naturopath, author, homesteader, and homeschooling mother of three sweet daughters. You can reach her at Restorative Wellness Center where she practices functional medicine.