Responding to Covid-19 and how to build immunity
In my opinion there is something very flawed about the way governments around the world are responding to the “Covid-19 pandemic”.
Initially the lockdown was proposed and implemented under the guise of “buying time” so that medical staff and facilities could become prepared for the flood of cases expected.
Now however this time has passed. Presumably preparations have been made. Yet still people are living under lockdown. Many are being denied the right to work and earn a living, and many are without access to food.
“The virus” is being held up to be this terrifying bogeyman that we all have to avoid and attempt to eliminate at all costs. This is both untrue and unrealistic. Firstly, because we know there is little chance of eliminating the virus. Secondly because even under extreme lockdown, we can see that it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to the virus.
Until now the focus has been on a “downstream solution”: Avoid the virus/ eliminate the virus/ pray for a miracle cure or vaccination to be created. This is based on the “germ theory of disease”. In other words: germ exposure = disease.
In fact the Covid-19 statistics themselves prove why this model is incorrect. Not every person exposed gets sick. And +- 80 % of people who do become infected have experienced a relatively mild illness and recover.
So shouldn’t we rather be exploring how to build our immunity?
The human immune system is a beautifully orchestrated and sophisticated system that is designed to protect us against foreign invaders. Although we know a lot about it, there is still much that is not understood/ is poorly understood. What we do know that there are certain things that seem to assist the immune system to function optimally: Good nutrition, stress reduction and adequate restful sleep are among the most important of these.
Another key component of our immune system is the relative healthy balance in our own microbiome (The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside the human body. The number of genes in all the microbes in one person’s microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome).
Natural health practitioners have long believed that the balance of our microbiome is one of the keys to optimum health and have worked towards achieving this with their patient. For years this was “poo-pooed” by conventional medicine, until mounting evidence made it unavoidable to accept. In the past few years’, the microbiome has received a lot of attention in main stream media. Sales of probiotics have exploded and it is now generally accepted that “the gut” has a crucial role to play in our general health, in our immunity and in our mental well-being (through the gut-brain axis).
However, the microbiome is not only in the gut. Our skin, mouth, nose, colon, and vagina are all colonised by microbes. A person’s microbiome may influence their susceptibility to infectious diseases and contribute to chronic illnesses, when imbalanced.
One of my concerns about the current response to Covid-19 is that many people seem to be becoming almost obsessed with the idea of sterilising every item that comes into their home and their bodies, in an attempt to protect against Covid-19. I am concerned that in this attempt they are in fact impacting the optimal balance and functioning of their microbiome: when we sterilise against Covid-19, we are also killing off all the beneficial microbes on our skin that may in fact be protective against a potential invading organism. Yes, we should practice good hygiene such as washing our hands before we prepare food/eat and after using the bathroom, etc. but over-sanitisation may potentially be more harmful than helpful.
In fact, studies have shown that babies and young children living in over-sanitized environments may have a higher risk of allergies, asthma and auto-immune disease later in life.
There is also new evidence emerging from Chinese clinicians that COVID-19 dangerously disrupts healthy bowel flora and so weakens the response to the infection.
Shouldn’t we therefore be placing more emphasis on keeping/ restoring our microbiomes’ health?
How do we do this?
Prebiotics (vegetable and cereal foods, and some spices (see below), help nurture healthy gut flora) to help maintain your normal gut defences.
Furthermore, there are things that we know detrimentally impact immune functioning such as:
Chronic stress; poor nutrition; sugar; alcohol; inadequate exercise; vitamin D deficiency (we make Vitamin D as a response to sunlight on our skins)
It is clear that many of the measures governments have implemented in response to the pandemic may therefore have been having the opposite effect to what was desired (protecting us from the virus), in the following ways:
- People are highly stressed about the possibility of becoming ill; their loss of income and effect on the economy; having to do more tasks which were previously outsourced (home-schooling; cleaning, etc), which may also mean less time to rest and get good quality sleep. Measures such as social distancing and enforced mask wearing may also be contributing to stress as it becomes impossible to escape the reminder of this “invisible enemy”. Many people are also feeling isolated in their homes.
- Millions of people are unable to access food or good quality nutrition in the current circumstances. When people are hungry, “filling their stomach” seems more important than what they are filling it with. Many resort to high calorie, low nutritional quality foods.
- Worldwide we consume far too much sugar and refined food. Limited access to safe drinking water may encourage drinking of high sugar cool drinks and beverages.
- With people confined to their homes/ exercise permitted only between certain times, getting adequate exercise may not be possible.
- With people confined to their homes people may not be spending enough time outdoors to achieve/maintain optimum Vitamin D levels.
So who is actually most at risk from Covid-19?
The evidence from the frontlines in China, Italy, the USA and other countries, including the UK, indicates that the most risk is for people with a combination of two or more of the following pre-existing conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney and liver disease. Older people with these conditions are more at risk.
A key frontline in the defence against this coronavirus appears to be the cells lining the blood vessels (the endothelium). This is where inflammatory processes begin and disturbances in endothelial function are at the heart of the first three risk factors above.
Of the 40-75% of those infected who know it, 80% have mild or moderate symptoms and mostly engage the three outer defensive rings. THIS IS WHERE WE NEED TO WORK TOO –to reduce our odds of being among the 8-15% who have a severe or critical infection.
What can we do to reduce endothelial dysfunction?
- Cut back hard on refined carbohydrates and sugars, fats and alcohol. This will reduce the stress on the endothelial frontline caused by higher blood sugar levels. ‘Insulin resistance’, brought on by high fast-carb diets is a major disruptor of endothelial function as well as a precursor to diabetes.
- Eat more plants! Polyphenols; flavonoids; anthocyanidins; lignans are phytochemicals found in plants which improve many endothelial function and prevent many forms of heart and circulatory disease.
“HAVE YOU EATEN YOUR RAINBOW TODAY?!”
- Take more spices! Taking Asian spices like turmeric, ginger and cinnamon has also been shown to have positive benefits for endothelial health, even when combined with fatty foods. This can be really quick – one meal will make a difference! A number of these spices have also been shown to help reduce blood pressure. They also help gut immunity and microbiome defences.
So what measures would potentially better serve governments to encourage?
In my view, it is governments role to ensure that public health measures are in place such as access to good nutrition; clean drinking water; hygienic living conditions and access to adequate health care for those that require it.
Public education campaigns on how healthy lifestyle habits benefit immunity would be beneficial. Perhaps “social distancing” and mask wearing could be reserved for the population groups most at risk, allowing the majority of children and healthy adults to get back to productive learning and work without distractions.
It is ultimately up to us as individuals to make good lifestyle choices every day to ensure our own health and well-being. It is our right and responsibility to do this. If governments start mandating how we do this on an individual basis, I believe it begins to infringe on our basic human rights of freedom of choice and autonomy over our body.
If you’d like more support on how to build your immunity, please consult with your Phytotherapist.