Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Are you concerned about the Coronavirus (Covid-19)?

If you are, it’s not surprising, considering the relentless play-by-play news coverage.  It is too early to know what level of concern is justified, but the next couple of weeks will probably tell us.  Flu viruses typically wane rapidly in March, so normal seasonal factors could throttle this outbreak before it gets a foothold here in North America.  In the meantime, there are simple steps we can all take to build up our immunity, not just to protect us from a flu virus, but also from most other preventable disease.  These steps will even reduce your risk of premature cancers, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, dementia, and depression.

Our recommendation:
As well as the usual flu-fighting precautions (hand washing, coughing protocol, and so forth), these nine steps will help develop and maintain a robust and fighting-fit immune system.

1. Eat at home!  Prepare your own food from scratch where possible.  Processed foods are associated with worse health outcomes, while homemade whole foods are associated with better immunity.  Include vegetables or whole fruit, protein, and healthy fat with every meal and snack.  (See Good Food, Great Medicine 4th edition for ideas: pages 134–150.)

2. Minimize sugars, sweet drinks, fruit juice, and refined grains. These high starch/high carbohydrate foods contribute to abnormal sugar metabolism, including type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.  Type 2 diabetes, in turn, is associated with depressed immunity and vulnerability to severe complications from influenza and a host of other maladies.

3. Eat high-quality protein.  Your immune system runs on protein, so make sure you include beans, whole grains, fish (especially oil rich fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna), poultry, eggs, cultured dairy (yogurt, kefir and cheese), and unprocessed meat (beef, lamb, and pork).

4. Culture a healthy microbiome, a diverse range of good bugs in your intestines (gut).  Your microbiome is dependent on eating a wide range of whole foods to "feed" your gut, of which whole grains may be the most important.  Eat cultured foods such as plain yogurt and kefir, and traditional fermented foods like fresh sauerkraut -- but remember that most whole foods are also loaded with probiotics.  Apple cider vinegar (1–2 tablespoons per day in salad dressing or in a glass of water or sparkling water) also helps the microbiome.  We recommend that you do not take probiotic supplements: they can actually have a harmful effect by narrowing the diversity of the gut bugs.

5. Exercise! The contribution of exercise to immunity and overall health is poorly appreciated. Need antioxidants?  Exercise!  Need anti-inflammatories? Exercise! Want to cut your risk of influenza? Exercise! Want to reverse your type 2 diabetes or type 2 diabetes? Exercise!  Many exercise recommendations exist: include something two or three times a day, even if only for 5–10 minutes each time, upper and lower body, and get a bit short of breath and sweaty. Skip rope, climb stairs, go for a brisk walk, toss a medicine ball, use a rowing machine. . . find something that works for you.

6. Sleep is an essential nutrient our bodies can’t store, and is restorative to every aspect of our immune systems.  Schedule 7 – 9 hours nightly, especially if you’re concerned about getting sick.

7. Heat, as in regular deep hot baths (for 15–30 minutes daily) or saunas (5–10 minutes a few times per week) seem to improve cardiovascular risk, mood, blood sugar, and help with weight management.  The important factor may be the transient increase in core body temperature activating the immune system.

8. Sunlight seems to boost the immune system, too.  (Admittedly, here in Portland it is not a dependable source for much of the year; for other sources see our handout Calcium, Vitamin D, and Osteoporosis.)  We recommend a few minutes (5-15) of direct, non-burning midday sunlight on sunny days, with as many square inches of skin exposed as possible, without sunscreen.  This helps produce vitamin D and probably many other metabolic benefits.

9. Finally, consider cutting back on screen time: it not only makes it harder to do the previous 8 steps, but it also exposes us to an unhealthy level of news about the Coronavirus!  

What if you do get the flu, or symptoms that you suspect could be the coronavirus? 
It would probably be wise to contact your physician, especially if you are in a high risk group due to your health history, known exposure, or recent travel to a high-risk area.  Meanwhile, read our Cold, Flu, and Sinusitis handout for treatment tips, useful information about natural remedies and pharmaceutical options – and even recipes! 

More resources 
For more immune-boosting ideas and recipes read Good Food, Great Medicine 4th edition, especially the prescription on pages 22–23.  For more information about the flu, a couple of online resources are: and

Miles Hassell MD