By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Updated May 29, 2020
With novel coronavirus (a.k.a. coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19) taking the world by storm, life as we knew it has transformed dramatically over the last several months. The U.S. now leads the world in COVID-19 cases, followed by Brazil, Russia and Spain (you can view the most up-to-date world statistics here).
The most important thing to do in the face of a lasting pandemic like this is to not let stress get the better of you. Stressing out about challenging circumstances, including the possibly contracting this illness can weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to it or other illnesses. Instead, make rational, smart decisions, and bolster your immune system naturally (I’ll focus on this below), so if you happen to be exposed to the coronavirus, you’ll be better able to fight it.
Coronavirus Symptoms and Complications
COVID-19 is a zoogenic virus, which means it can be transmitted between humans and animals (such as birds and cats). It is part of a family of seven coronaviruses known to affect humans. Some (229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1) cause mild-to-moderate common cold symptoms, while others like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) can result in more serious symptoms. As it has been newly identified, COVID-19 is referred to as a “novel coronavirus” and, like SARS, it is a respiratory illness that impacts the lungs, and its symptoms can be more severe.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, a dry cough, and tiredness. Less common symptoms include aches and pains, loss of sense of taste or smell, runny nose, congestion, sore throat, or diarrhea. Symptoms have “ranged from mild to severe” in afflicted individuals, even leading to death in those who developed complications like acute lung distress or stroke.
The organizations also state that, while the risk factors for severe coronavirus symptoms aren’t yet clear, older adults and people with chronic medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are at higher risk. Still, a few relatively healthy younger people have also experienced severe symptoms or died, highlighting the need for vigilant protective measures.
One of the more alarming health complications associated with COVID-19 is an increased risk of blood clots, which can lead to fatal cardiac events. Younger, otherwise healthy adults with COVID-19 are having heart attacks and strokes, and physicians aren’t sure why. One theory is that the blood clotting is due to cellular inflammation which is a natural result of immune system activity. Another is that silent inflammation due to unhealthy lifestyle habits (poor diet, lack of exercise) and stress is at issue.
In addition to the abovementioned reasons, my colleagues and I also suspect that the recent rollout of 5G may have something to do with these alarming effects in COVID-19 patients. A few small, yet telling, studies (see below El-Bediwi and Weston Price references) have shown that, in the presence of cell phone radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation, blood tends to thicken (blood platelets stick together, which facilitates blood clotting) and the structure of hemoglobin molecules is impacted. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen through the body, and any structural changes to it can result in loss of function…which ultimately means less oxygen to live on.
Lack of oxygen leading to acute respiratory distress has been a common serious complication of COVID-19. Although authorities originally implicated pneumonia as a severe COVID-19 complication, emergency room doctors and other health professionals all around the U.S. have since voiced concerns that pneumonia is not the issue…That instead, the symptoms are more akin to oxygen starvation associated with too-high altitudes.
Is it a coincidence that 60 GHz – the specific millimeter wave frequency of 5G – interacts with atmospheric oxygen in a way where 98% of the transmitted energy is absorbed? While this is a speculative connection, further investigation into the health effects of 5G is merited, particularly with regard to the body’s ability to take in enough oxygen in the presence of 5G radiation.
Another puzzling COVID-19 co-occurring symptom seen by doctors across the globe is chilblains, also known as “covid-toes” – red, swollen, painful toes with red or purple lesions. Chilblains usually occur in response to cold weather conditions, and are due to inflammation in the small capillaries of our outermost extremities. In the case of COVID-19, it appears to be a blood circulation issue. The lungs and heart are inextricably connected, and what impacts one system, impacts the other. (You can learn more about this connection through a recent interview I did on COVID-19 Daily – Radio MD – my part starts at around 2:50).
* If you or a loved one experiences any of the following emergency warning signs or other symptoms of concern, call 911 to seek immediate medical attention: trouble breathing, persistent pressure or pain in the chest, a new feeling of confusion, bluish lips or face, and inability to arouse.*
As for transmission, the CDC states that “symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure,” but also explains that that this statement is based on previous observations of the incubation period of MERS-CoV, a different coronavirus. The CDC’s discussion on how COVID-19 spreads is also “largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses.” Hence, the CDC says that COVID-19 likely spreads from person-to-person – those in close contact (within 6 feet) with an infected person, and through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The CDC also says that COVID-19 is “spreading very easily and sustainably among people,” and is more contagious than the flu.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many Americans are virtually homebound and practicing what has become the buzz-phrase of the 21st century: “social distancing.” Economic and social implications aside, social distancing is seen as the best temporary measure for protecting the mass population in the absence of universal testing.
That said, social distancing will certainly have an impact on our psycho-emotional well-being (and for some, on their physical safety). I am especially worried about people who live alone, and recommended in a recent e-letter that now may be the perfect time to adopt a dog or cat for loving companionship. Having vital connections in our lives helps keep us healthy (heartbreak is a heart disease risk factor).
I personally have been Skyping more than ever now with family, especially my grandchildren that were supposed to come visit us this month. Reaching out regularly to family and friends by phone or computer is one way to nurture those vital connections.
Having hope and keeping your spirits up is crucial during times like these. Do things that bring you joy, be grateful for what you have NOW and focus on the positive…perhaps this means more time with family, getting things done around the house you never had time for before, or learning new skills or hobbies. Try to laugh as much as you can – it not only makes you feel good, but helps keep you healthy.
Back to symptoms and transmission, what’s the takeaway, here? Try to enjoy the time at home and practice social distancing of 6 feet when you go out.
As a cardiologist, I’m worried about all the abnormal blood issues associated with COVID-19, and am recommending that people be extra-conscientious about practicing lifestyle habits that promote healthy blood.
Also importantly, try to build up your resistance to viruses out there like coronavirus, rhinovirus (the common cold) and the flu. To bolster yourself for the challenge ahead, here are some anti-bug basics and dos and don’ts:
How to Boost Your Immune System Against Coronavirus, Cold and Flu
It’s what keeps you alive and healthy, so show it some love! Your immune system is not located in one single place in your body, like your brain or heart. This defense system is a complex, diffuse, and integrated intelligence network of organs (like your skin and liver), tissues (mucous membranes are an example), cells (such as white blood cells), cellular products like antibodies, and, down at the subatomic level, electrons. They all work together, an army of specialized units, in a wondrous around- the-clock synchrony designed to protect you against pathogens, toxins, excesses, poor lifestyle choices, and stress.
Here are my top tips to keep your immune system primed and ready to tackle viral threats:
(Health professionals, you may want to also check out this Review of COVID-19 nutritional interventions my American Nutrition Association board colleagues and I recently published.)
Get Adequate Rest
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it from me repeatedly because it’s so basic. Too much activity and not enough rest is a ticket for trouble, and in this case, weakened resistance. Many studies show that not enough sleep suppresses the immune system and undermines your ability to fend off microbial infections. I recall a 2009 study in which poor or shorter sleep in the weeks preceding an exposure to a rhinovirus (the most common viral infective agent and the cause of the common cold) were associated with lower resistance to illness. Here are some helpful tips for a better night’s sleep.
Minimize Your Stress
Worry, anxiety, anger, depression, or any emotional conflict effectively drains the immune system and leaves you more vulnerable. A major 2012 study found that people with chronic stress are more likely to develop persistent cold symptoms than individuals who are stress-free. Chronic stress overproduces the stress hormone cortisol, which then fails to appropriately regulate inflammatory responses in the body. An inflammatory response lingers long after the cold virus is gone and creates continuing symptoms. We all have stress in our lives. We just need to find ways to defuse it.
Be Mr. or Ms. Clean
Wash your hands with soap regularly and often. Pathogens are everywhere, and in the course of a day’s activities, we constantly touch many objects and may make contact with many people. Without realizing it, we touch our nose, mouth, and eyes. According to the CDC, hand washing is an important measure to prevent getting sick and spreading germs. Doing so reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 21 percent.
Whenever I used to see patients who were sniffling, sneezing, coughing, or rubbing itchy eyes, I made it a point after each visit to wash my hands before seeing my next patient. I didn’t want to be a middleman transferring germs from one person to the next, or upping my own risk of infection. Part of my daily routine today is filling my bathroom sink with warm water and adding a half teaspoon of sea salt. I immerse my face, blink my eyes, and gently sniff the water into my nostrils. This simple facial dip helps zap microorganisms present in these common entrances to the body.
Eat a Nourishing, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
As part of my heart health strategy, I have always recommended the Pan-Asian-Modified-Mediterranean (PAMM) diet, which includes seaweed, a source of more than fifty minerals. Seaweed, in fact, contains a higher concentration of magnesium, iron, iodine, and sodium than any other kind of food. The diet contains the right kinds of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, olive oil and garlic, to benefit your immune system as well. Eat homemade chicken soup frequently, particularly if you come down with signs of a cold. It is a great immune booster, and even more so when reinforced with ample garlic, a natural antibiotic and antiviral remedy that has been used worldwide for centuries. Don’t forget to include fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme in your meals – some of the most powerful immune boosters are right in your garden!
It’s also very important to avoid sugar and junk food. Sugar inhibits phagocytosis, a process in which viruses and bacteria are destroyed by white blood cells. I would also minimize, if not eliminate, your alcohol and caffeine consumption.
As diabetics and those who are obese are particularly vulnerable to the severe complications of COVID-19, I suggest trying to lose excess pounds to help strengthen your body against viral invaders like COVID.
Grounding, also known as Earthing, is reconnecting with the natural and gentle electric charge on the surface of the Earth. This can easily be done by going outside barefoot, or by having bare skin contact with grounded and conductive sheets, mats, bands, or patches while you sleep, relax, or work indoors. Although there are no studies yet to show a link to fewer infections, Earthing can reduce inflammation, help defuse stress and normalize the stress hormone cortisol, as well as improve blood flow throughout the body.
As it also attunes the body to the earth’s natural electromagnetic frequency, Earthing can counteract the negative effects of man-made EMF from wireless devices like WiFi routers, cell phones and cell towers. With the rollout of 5G in cities across the U.S. and the resulting exposure to unprecedented levels of electromagnetic radiation, now’s a particularly important time to ground. I firmly believe Earthing benefits substantially contribute to a stronger immune system.
My scientific colleagues and I continuously discuss the probable deleterious health effects of 5G technology, and I believe 5G will probably have a negative impact on the immune system. Many researchers have said that non-thermal radiation from wireless devices is thought to cause a cellular stress response, which can ultimately tax the immune system. Not to mention, 5G has not been tested for long-term safety or health effects (which explains why 5G proponents are so quick to assert that there’s “no evidence” demonstrating 5G as a health threat). As a precautionary measure during times of illness, try to distance yourself from wireless electromagnetic devices and areas where 5G has been implemented.
Soak Up Some Sunshine (or Supplement with Vitamin D)
Your bare skin has the natural ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D, a critical hormone-like substance that, among many other benefits, exerts an fundamental role in maintaining immune system effectiveness and protection against upper respiratory infections, including the common cold, flu, and pneumonia. Fall and winter, however, mean less available sunlight, particularly in the northeast where I live. But many people, even if they live in the Sunbelt, don’t get out into the sunshine enough. So, no matter where you live, make an effort to get out in the mid-day sun (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for 20 minutes or so to stoke your vitamin D supply, and, as “insurance,” supplement with 2,000 to 5,000 international units of vitamin D3 daily. Experts increasingly regard vitamin D as “a new anti-infective agent” that can impact a broad array of pathogens, and, as I have already reported, helps reduce infections and antibiotic use, even among the more susceptible elderly population.
Take Targeted Nutritional Supplements
In addition to vitamin D3, there are many potent nutritional supplements that can power up your immune system and help keep it running optimally. Here’s a rundown on some of my favorites:
- Multi vitamin and mineral– Everyone stands to benefit from a high-quality formula loaded with basic vitamins and minerals, some of which may be in short supply in a typical Western diet.
- Garlic– As an Italian, I have great respect, not just for the flavor boost of garlic in food but also for the powerful boost it provides to the immune system. As a supplement, look for high allicin content. Allicin is the potent sulfur compound in garlic with the knockout punch. I recommend 1,000 mg a day of garlic. You may develop a garlic breath, but if that is a problem, look for odorless products.
- Vitamin C– Decades ago, Linus Pauling popularized the cold-and-flu-protecting properties of vitamin C. Nothing has changed my mind on the value of this supremely important vitamin. For prevention, take at least 1,000 mg a day. I like to get my daily dose of vitamin C by drinking ElectrolytePLUS Cardio. It also has 1,000 IU of vitamin D3, for combined immune and electrolyte support, and is an ideal delivery system for children and people who have trouble swallowing pills.
- Licorice Root Tincture– Take twenty or so drops under the tongue twice a day. Licorice root has long been used as a folk or traditional remedy for stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and sore throat, as well as infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis. Just a cautionary note on licorice root: don’t take it longer than 10 days and check with your doctor when considering using it if you have high blood pressure (it has the potential to raise blood pressure because of an altering effect on potassium in the body).
- Resveratrol– Naturally found in the skin of red grapes, this compound helps prevent virus replication. Recommendation dosage: 50 to 200 mg a day.
- Curcumin– This celebrated extract from the curry spice turmeric has been repeatedly shown to have a wide and powerful inhibiting effect on many types of microbes, including influenza viruses and herpes simplex virus. Take 250 mg routinely, increase to 1,000 mg if you are coming down with something. It is interesting to note that the combination of resveratrol and curcumin has been featured in a number of studies showing a synergistic (heightened) effect together against cancer cells.
- N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC)– This most important amino acid serves as a building block for glutathione, your body’s most natural immune-supporting antioxidant. Research has shown that 1,000 mg a day can significantly decrease the frequency of influenza-like episodes, as well as severity and length of time confined to bed.
- Astragalus – An incredible adaptogenic root herb, astragalus helps protect the body against physical, environmental, and even emotional stressors. It has a long history of medicinal use in China to strengthen the immune system. As an antioxidant and expectorant, it supports lung and bronchial function. I personally have been taking it for the last 10 to 15 years.
I learned about astragalus from my son, Dr. Drew Sinatra, a naturopathic physician with a keen interest in lung health (he struggled with asthma throughout childhood). He and I teamed up to formulate our Advanced Lung and Bronchial Support supplement with astragalus and NAC, as well as quercetin and other powerful herbs and fruit extracts to support clear breathing and optimal lung health. I, personally, take three capsules a day for lung support, and know other family members do too.
Note: If you take licorice root tincture, and high-dose resveratrol, curcumin, and NAC, it is advisable to use them for four weeks and then skip 3 days during the viral epidemic cycle to give your immune system a rest.
Additionally, I like:
- Beta glucans– Biologically active compounds from yeast, fungi and seaweed, beta glucans boost the immune system’s ability to destroy pathogens in the small intestine. Studies have shown synergistic potency when using beta glucans in combination with vitamin C and resveratrol. Take 10mg daily as a preventative, and 10-20 mg daily at onset of symptoms.
- Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC)– a powerful and diverse mushroom formula with acetylated alpha-glucan, AHCC can increase natural killer cell activity. Take 1.5 to 3 grams daily.
- Black Elderberry– Used for centuries to help fight colds and flu, black elderberries are rich in polyphenolic compounds called anthocyanins – powerful antioxidant flavonoids with anti-inflammatory properties. Available in syrup and gummy form, elderberry is a convenient immune booster for children and pill-averse adults. Take at first sign of symptoms to reduce duration.
- Oil of Oregano – An anti-viral agent. I like a liquid extract and would dose 2 drops under tongue, or mix with 4oz or more juice or water , 1-2 times a day. If you take capsules, is best to take with food to avoid stomach irritation.
- Probiotics: As approximately 70% of immune cells are in the gut, feeding your intestines these very important “good” bacteria helps boost immunity.
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© 2020 Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.