Holistic Approach to Immune Support and Self-Care

Hi Friends,

As we all are aware, beyond our typical cold and flu season, we've got some new players on the field this Spring. There are currently 2 known strains of Coronavirus that cause Covid-19. Like most other healthcare providers, I am encouraging patients to support themselves and communities with common-sense self care and public health measures, but not to panic. While we are getting a better sense of how transmissible it is, there is still lots of conflicting data on accurate prevalence and mortality rates, etc in comparison to common maladies, like the flu.

Our understanding is that the most susceptible (as we often see with other infectious conditions) are the elderly, immunocompromised, and those with chronic respiratory disorders (due to the way the virus attaches to receptors in the respiratory tract). If those characteristics describe you, it can be helpful to check in with your personal healthcare provider and devise a personalized game plan (as you would during flu season). Regardless of your health status, be sure to consult with your personal healthcare provider before implementing any of the general immune support recommendations I'll be providing in this letter.

A naturopathic perspective, as I'm sure most of you know, views immune function in a holistic way. To be truly holistic, we must of course start with community health efforts and social determinants of health.  In any pandemic scenario, the greatest support comes from how we consider the health of others.We are only as strong as our most vulnerable during outbreaks of communicable disease. ​ And as an aside: if there was ever a greater illustration of moments when we need universal healthcare and paid sick leave, I haven't seen it.

Here are some essential community efforts you can personally integrate into your life:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water, more frequently if you are out in public 

  • If you don't have access to soap and water, alcohol based hand sanitizers are the next best option in terms of efficacy

  • Wash surfaces in home and workplace (virus can live up to 12 hours on smooth, nonporous surfaces) 

  • Cover your mouth when coughing/ sneezing

  • Minimize touching face (particularly your mouth, nose, and eyes)

  • Do not hoard mass quantities of face masks, sanitizers as this takes resources away from healthcare providers who require and benefit from protective equipment when caring for the sick. 

  • Check in on your neighbors, particularly the elderly and immunocompromised

  • Call your doctor's office first before you go out or go into receive care for flu-like symptoms to ensure they can triage you appropriately

While all supportive supplementation and behavior changes should only be implemented at the recommendation of your healthcare provider, these are some baseline therapeutics we can employ:​

  • Vitamin D: This nutrient is essential for proper immune function (and is commonly insufficient in individuals that live in the Northeast). If there are no contraindications to supplementation, 2-5000 iu/day is an appropriate dose during the winter.

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is also essential for proper immune function, and we also know that the human digestive tract actually up-regulates receptors for vitamin C as we are getting sick. Typical dose is 500-1000mg at meals, though that may need modification as in sensitive individuals that dose can cause loose stool.

  • Mineral Mixes: I love recommending an iron-free mineral supplement for immune support, since they typically contain lots of great micro-nutrients, but more specifically recommended amounts of zinc and selenium that are essential for anti-viral immune support. I recommend iron-free specifically because iron is an essential nutrient for the replication of many bacteria and viruses, and supplemental form may actually worsen infection. Typical dose for more acute use of zinc is 15-25 mcg/day, and RDA of selenium is 200 mg/day. Make sure you take minerals with a meal as zinc can cause digestive upset if taken on an empty stomach.

  • Hydrotherapy: While not a supplement, I love prescribing various forms of hydrotherapy for both the prevention and modulation of acute viral illness. Hydrotherapy, or applying contrasting hot/cold water to the body, stimulates the circulatory and lymphatic system, improving immune system performance as a result. You are likely familiar with it if you've ever used tepid or cool applications to the body to help modulate a fever. If you try any of the methods I highlight below, be sure to be cautious if you have neuropathy or any loss of sensation that would make it difficult to sense temperature changes.

Contrast Showers:


Step into warm shower with temperature as warm as you can comfortably stand in. Stay under hot stream for 1 1/2 minutes. Switch to 30 seconds of cold (as cold as you can get it), being sure to focus some of the stream to the abdomen and extremities. Avoid prolonged direct cold to back of neck. Complete Steps 1 and 2 for 2-4 more cycles, being sure to end shower on cold cycle. Get out of shower and give self vigorous toweling off, drying off in direction of heart.

Warming Socks (AKA “Magic Socks”)

When you're ready for bed or a nap, wet a pair of cotton socks with cold water. Wring them out very well. Throw socks in freezer for a minute or two to make them extra cold. Place on your feet and cover those socks with a pair of dry wool socks (hiking socks). You may kick them off while sleeping, but the idea is that you sleep with them. Socks will be dry after an overnight

I'm considering doing a more specific herbal support donation class, so keep your eyes peeled for announcements about that!


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