A variety of herbs, nutrients, and lifestyle factors display promise against COVID-19. While there’s currently no treatment for the disease, researchers are exploring the role that natural products could play to reduce the symptoms of the condition.
The death toll from the virus continues to climb, with the elderly and chronically ill at the most risk. Thankfully, the young and healthy remain largely unaffected. Out of every 1,000 people infected under the age of 50, almost none will die. Most of these individuals will develop mild symptoms, and some will experience no symptoms at all.
However, it takes a healthy body and strong immune system to fight off viral disease. Countries across the world are attempting to reduce transmission through lockdowns, social distancing, and other restrictive methods.
These techniques might reduce the spread in the short term, but they’re giving rise to issues of their own. The stress, loneliness, and lack of human contact during this time are enough to impact the function of the human immune system.
As well as reaching out to others and maintaining a sense of community, you can use the list below to build a self-care protocol to help keep your immune system in check.
1. Vitamin D
Researchers propose that vitamin D could serve as both a preventative measure and treatment for COVID-19. Why? Because there’s a large association between severe cases of the disease and vitamin D deficiency. Over 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had low levels of the nutrient in a Spanish study.
Vitamin D likely helps the body fight off the virus in both the early and late stages. It helps the body to make antiviral proteins and tames inflammation.
2. Vitamin C
SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — damages cells in the lungs and elsewhere. Although the microbe triggers the disease, the immune response of the body results in fatalities by whipping up an inflammatory storm.
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C poses as a life-saving option in the late stage of the disease. As well as possibly preventing COVID-19, high doses of intravenous vitamin C may extinguish deadly inflammation.
Several clinical trials are now exploring the role of the nutrient against the virus. So far, the results show a much higher survival rate in patients that received vitamin C interventions.
Zinc plays a key role in human immunity. The trace mineral contributes to the function of immune cells such as neutrophils and natural killer cells. Zinc deficiency, which affects around 12% of US citizens, results in lower immune cell counts. A lack of the element also reduces the body’s ability to control excessive inflammation — a hallmark of severe COVID-19.
To include more zinc in your diet, consume seeds, nuts, eggs, dairy, whole grains, legumes, and shellfish.
Melatonin helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. When we’re exposed to darkness, the pineal gland receives a signal to pump this hormone into the blood. Modern lifestyle factors, such as blue light emitted from phone screens, impairs melatonin production.
Melatonin is an extremely powerful antioxidant. The molecule helps to prevent cell death inflicted by coronaviruses on lung cells. It also helps to dampen inflammation in the lungs and may prevent fibrosis.
You can optimize melatonin production by using blue-blocking glasses and apps that filter blue light. Eggs, fish, nuts, and seeds are good dietary sources of the hormone.
5. Turkey Tail
With concentric circles on their caps and a bright white spore surface below, immune-boosting turkey tail mushrooms are easy to identify. This bracket fungus is a common find and grows all over northern climates, fruiting from May to December.
Complex carbohydrates within turkey tail raise the level of both lymphocytes and natural killer cells in human cancer patients, bolstering the immune system. Now, researchers are testing the efficacy of the mushroom in self-quarantined COVID-19 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.
Traditional North American healers used echinacea to treat throat infections and coughs, among other maladies. The roots of this medicinal herb produce compounds that affect the innate and adaptive immune system. This means they increase the function of our immune cells and may help us to develop antibodies against infectious disease.
Early cell research shows echinacea’s chemical arsenal is capable of inactivating SARs-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses. These results point towards the herb as a preventative against the disease.
Rosemary is perhaps the most underestimated herb on the planet. Its presence in your kitchen cupboard and garden relegate the plant to mere culinary use. However, rosemary packs a cocktail of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals.
A sprig of rosemary contains high levels of beta-caryophyllene, a cannabinoid that acts on the immune system to regulate inflammation. The herb’s potential to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and fibrosis in the respiratory system make it a promising candidate as a COVID-19 therapeutic.
CBD appears so overprescribed that recommending it could seem cliche. But there’s a reason why this cannabinoid hogs the limelight. The molecule interfaces with a network that regulates our entire physiology: the endocannabinoid system.
When it comes to SARS-CoV-2, CBD may help to stop the virus in its tracks. The microbe gains entry into the body by docking at ACE2 receptors in the lungs. CBD appears to decrease the number of these sites within the pulmonary system, narrowing the opportunity for the virus to enter lung cells.
Sleep forms the foundation of health and immunity. A lack of sleep predisposes the body to infections and reduces immune system function. In the short term, poor sleep increases inflammatory markers within the blood. Over time, chronic lack of sleep causes the body to reduce the immune response of circulating white blood cells.
Obesity and high blood pressure are two of the most serious risk factors for severe COVID-19 infection. Regular exercise can help to prevent and treat both of these conditions. Unfortunately, worldwide lockdowns are driving sedentary behaviour and exposing the public to the risk of developing these medical issues.
Exercise may help to prevent deadly COVID-19 complications. Running and cycling help to reduce body weight, improve lung capacity, and strengthen the heart, whereas lifting weights decreases inflammation, banishes stress, and improves sleep.
Luke Sumpter is a freelance journalist that specializes in health, wellness, and alternative therapies. Currently, he’s working on a dissertation exploring the emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in orthopaedic medicine.
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