I don’t want to sound too sensationalist, but I need to get your attention. The following items should be more important to you than toilet paper right now. Yeah, it’s that serious.
A disclaimer: I am not a doctor. What follows does not constitute medical advice. It is wellness advice. You assume full responsibility for whatever you choose to do with this information. Feel free to consult your physician before taking any action that may affect your health. All of the following information is shared with the intention of better educating us all to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether you’re on top of the details of COVID-19 or not, you NEED to know this:
- Take vitamin D3, vitamin C and beta glucans to boost your immunity.
- DO NOT take ibuprofen (Advil), corticosteroids and probably avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin as they may kill you.
I will explain these statements below. Or you can just scroll to the bottom for all the bare facts you need to get started now.
First, some of you may know I am a passionate medical researcher and have been for decades. No, I don’t work in a lab, no white coat, no degree, I’m just trying to get to the real useful information we all need to survive and even thrive. And it has been part of how I have made my living over the last 15 years. As I have often said, we weren’t given an owner’s or operating manual for our body, so we have to figure it out if we are to maximize the quality and quantity of our lives. That’s all I’m trying to do here. OK, if you’re still with me, great. And feel free to check my sources (provided below).
These are medical research studies published on PubMed, the online library maintained by the The U.S. National Library of Medicine. I summarize what they tell us below.
- Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D
- Vitamin D Supplementation to Prevent Acute Respiratory Infections: Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis
The COVID-19 virus first infects the nose and throat – not fun but not very dangerous. What CAN happen next is what you have to really worry about because it can KILL you. Should the virus move to your lungs, you can develop ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). That is what kills people. The point of sharing this information on vitamin D3 is to tell you how to AVOID DYING from ARDS. It’s simple, cheap, fast and effective.
If you’re thinking the best way to protect yourself is like Bubble Boy (a reference from the ‘70’s-‘80’s), you’re doomed. It is impossible – even if you are a true hermit living away from people – to prevent or avoid all the bad things that might make you sick or kill you. Instead, you must focus on what we were all given from birth, that suit of armor known as your immune system, exquisitely designed to handle not only what threats existed when you were born, but also those that may come along that the body has never been exposed to before, like COVID-19, that apparently didn’t exist or was unknown until recently. As someone wisely put it,
your health and wellness is literally an inside job.
(By the way, if you want to read more about my thoughts on how we became brainwashed to focus on threats like germs and viruses and not so much about building and maintaining immunity, read this post. It explains how we have been led down the path to building a rich and powerful drug industry instead of powerful immune systems.)
While nothing is guaranteed, the two studies in the links above show that vitamin D3 does a very good job of boosting your immune system to avoid ARDS. What you are aiming to do is to get your blood levels of vitamin D3 to at least to 20-30 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter), and even as high as 50 ng/ml. (Levels of 60-80 ng/ml are recommended for those with cancer, but that’s a subject better handled in a separate posting. But here’s one study showing vitamin D3 concentrations that high radically reduced incidents of breast cancer).
Blood levels of vitamin D3 below 20 ng/ml are considered deficient. Vitamin D deficiencies are more common in women than men, and even more common still among dark-skinned women as they make less vitamin D than lighter-skinned women who are exposed to sunlight for the same amount of time.
It is suggested you take 5,000 IU of D3 per day. I take 5-10,000 IU per day during the winter months and am certainly doing so now with the pandemic still threatening. If you haven’t been taking vitamin D3, it could be helpful to take one large weekly dose of 50,000 IU in addition to daily doses of 5,000 IU to get your blood levels over 50 ng/ml faster. I also recommend getting at least 15 minutes of sun in summer months (between 10am and 2pm) but many of you won’t or can’t. At least you have supplementation as an option.
If you want to go to test your blood level of vitamin D3, here is an excellent source of information on what vitamin D tests offer, but not where tests can be ordered. You can search around online for where you can order your own blood tests – no, you don’t need to see a doctor or have a doctor order them for you. Here is a company I have used for purchasing my own blood tests. They offer reasonable pricing, fast results, and have collection labs all over the country. I am not affiliated with this company.
Of the 13 vitamins your body needs, only 1 is made by the body, vitamin D. That’s what you are doing when you expose your skin to sunlight, but supplementation can and often is necessary.
Also, you should know that of those 13 vitamins, 4 are fat-soluble (including D), the rest are water-soluble (including vitamin C which I discuss below). You need to know this because fat-soluble nutrients take longer to build up in the body than do those that are water-soluble. However, they also have more potential to build up to unsafe levels if you are taking large amounts. That’s because they also are depleted more slowly, which is why it is important not to overdo it. Don’t think, ‘if some is good, more is better’. There is a limit on this. If you are really concerned, get tested periodically.
Vitamin K2 is often associated with vitamin D3. While K2 is not necessary for D3 absorption, vitamin D boosts calcium absorption, and if K2 is added, it helps your body incorporate that calcium into the right places, like teeth and bones, and preventing it from building up in the wrong places, like joints (arthritis) and arteries (atherosclerosis). As for dosage, for every 5000 IU of D3, 50-100 mcg of K2 is a good rule of thumb. Here’s the vitamin D3 with K2 combined in one capsule that I take.
In fact, that source, iHerb, is a good one for all the supplements mentioned in this post. They have a large selection, quick, inexpensive shipping, and excellent service. I am not affiliated with this company either. They offer a discount off your first order if you use this coupon code: VAD474
Before I leave the subject of vitamin D, K2 and calcium, women have long been advised to supplement calcium in their diets as they are typically deficient, and become more so as they age. In light of what was explained above about the connection between sunlight, vitamin D and calcium, it’s now easy to see why getting more sun exposure and supplementing vitamin D – and even K2 – will help boost the uptake of whatever calcium women get in their diet or from supplements.
There is so much to say about all the good vitamin C can do, and you can do a lot worse than to read this very good primer on vitamin C. It discusses a number of aspects but one of the most important to note is this phenomenon about vitamin C:
The sicker and/or more toxic you are, the more free radicals you have in your body, and as a result, the more vitamin C your body will absorb and use.
The article is rather long and quite thorough in explaining how to test how much vitamin C you can take (your bowel tolerance level) and what the research tells us about how different symptoms (from a mild cold to full-blown pneumonia) affect the body’s level of tolerance (need) for vitamin C. If you don’t want to read through all of that, my recommendation is to take 2-8 grams (2000-8000 mg) of vitamin C per day on an empty stomach. Vitamin C has so many benefits because of its incredible antioxidant power (the ability to scavenge damaging free radicals from the body) that it should be part of your daily regimen your whole life, not just during a pandemic.
However, there is one issue I take with the advice given in the article. It’s a small one but it has to do with what type of vitamin C you choose to take. If you compare methods of delivery, liposomal vitamin C has an edge in how much of the vitamin actually gets into your system. Studies show about 50% of liposomal vitamin C is absorbed versus anywhere from 30% to as little as 5% from non-liposomal delivery, so I recommend taking liposomal vitamin C whenever possible. See dosage details above. This is a good primer on liposomal vitamin C, what it is, what it does and how to shop for high-quality liposomal vitamin C. They also sell liposomal vitamin C and, while I trust it is the real thing, I have never purchased it. I find this works well for me and costs considerably less, but it can be tough to find it, or any liposomal vitamin C, in stock right now at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s better to not wait, though, and pick up what you can get, as long as it seems to be a quality source of vitamin C. You just may need to take more of it because the absorption rate is lower than that of liposomal vitamin C. Oh, and try Amazon. As of now, they have it.
Adaptogens make up a very special, valuable and rare class of substances in the world. Most of them are plants that have the amazing quality of helping life forms – like us humans – adapt to changing conditions. Beta glucans is one of those special substances. It has the ability to help boost our immune system when it under stress AND to calm our immune system should it become overstimulated.
While it is outside the scope of this (already) long post, there are many health conditions humans are prey to resulting from an overstimulated immune system. They are known as auto-immune conditions and include arthritis, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and multiple sclerosis. Beta glucans can help with these while at the same time boost your immune system! Drugs can’t do that. You take one for conditions you need to stimulate, another for those you need to reduce or suppress.
Beta glucans helps with so many conditions that I encourage you to google ‘beta glucans uses’; I think you’ll be amazed. This adaptogen can be obtained from foods we eat like mushrooms, certain grains and sea plants like seaweed and algae. Plus, we are fortunate enough to be living in a time when it can conveniently and economically be obtained in supplement form. I certainly recommend the food sources (google those too) with mushrooms being my favorite, and include those in your diet. But my recommendation is to be sure you get 500 mg per 50 lbs of body weight per day. If taking a supplement, take it on an empty stomach. That means if you weigh, say 175 lbs, you would take about 2000 mg or 2 grams a day.
Avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications
Catching the virus can be very uncomfortable as your body tries to fight it off. That’s exactly what symptoms are. They are there to tell us something is challenging our immune system, and are evidence of it at work. For instance, coughing, sneezing and sinus congestion are the body’s way of trying to rid itself of not only the invaders – viruses, bacteria, fungi, molds – but also to carry away waste products produced by the body in the course of putting up a fight. That’s why it’s important to keep well hydrated whenever you are ill. The best ways are drinking water or tea without sweeteners.
Fever is another symptom we should appreciate and accept, rather than trying to lower it with drugs. Fever is the body’s way of fighting off invaders that find it harder to survive in elevated temperatures. If you can exercise or have a sauna – dry, steam, infrared – those methods of raising your body temperature will help speed your recovery as well.
As information from health care providers in the field filters in – both to conventional media sources as well as social media – we are put in the position of deciding what we should listen to and what we should hold back following until the information has been fully validated, which often suggests full-blown studies or statistically-valid studies are performed. The temptation is to say, in the words of Trevor Noah, “ain’t nobody got time for dat!” We all must use our judgment and weigh the credibility of the source against the sometimes serious or life-threatening consequences of ignoring what could be useful but that has not yet been thoroughly validated.
That said, as of the publication of this post (early April 2020), there have been a number of sources I follow and respect who are reporting a real danger from using anti-inflammatory medications on anyone with a respiratory infection. This article has lots of good information and studies showing why you don’t want to take aspirin or any anti-inflammatory medications when you have infection like COVID-19. Interestingly, it cites data from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic showing a spike in deaths when aspirin was taken.
There are also articles like this one saying there should be a problem with taking them, particularly ibuprofen. However, that same article from the Los Angeles Times just referenced in the link above makes a statement that should guide your behavior with regard to the use of ALL anti-inflammatory medications:
Both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and corticosteroids like cortisone do tamp down the immune system’s response to infection.
When confronted with potentially life-threatening infections, whether that is the common flu (which kills more every year than it appears COVID-19 is going to kill this year) or COVID-19 itself, you want to do everything you can to boost your immune system, not tamp it down. That’s the best guidance I think you’ll get on the use of anti-inflammatory medications, whether they are non-steroidal (NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) or steroidal.
From my research, more attention has been focused on the dangers of ibuprofen, but acetaminophen has long been known as hazardous to liver health as explained in this medical research paper.
Here are a few facts to drive home the point:
- Acetaminophen accounts for more than 50% of overdose-related acute liver failure and approximately 20% of the liver transplant cases.
- Acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S.
Here are specifics on what to look for concerning your liver health, from the Mayo Clinic. And even a reason to avoid acetaminophen if you are pregnant – the threat of causing autism in the unborn child.
This just in: I feel the need for an update to this post addressing cytokine storms (defined here, if you need a recap) in light of concerns expressed by some readers who may think I either don’t understand cytokine storms or downplay how potentially lethal they can be.
OK, once you are familiar with what cytokine storms are, you can see why they are often mentioned in discussions of treatment for COVID-19 and other severe infections. So why would I still discourage the use of anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen and even aspirin, given their potential to reduce or prevent cytokine storms? Our thinking is framed by our beliefs and value systems. I’ll explain.
From what I have written to this point in this post, two themes emerge from my recommendations: 1) take supplements that boost and/or regulate your immune system and 2) avoid drugs that can potentially harm you and/or inhibit your body’s regulatory system from working properly, namely your liver’s proper functioning.
There are two major schools of thought regarding health and wellness. There is allopathic medicine (also referred to as Western medicine, as opposed to Eastern medicine like ayurveda, herbal medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture with their focus on the whole body and natural and mostly non-invasive approaches). Allopathy dominates our current health care delivery system and therefore the way many think of wellness and illness.
Then there is holistic medicine, which focuses more on keeping the organism healthy so it is not prey to illness. Allopathy is referred by some as ‘heroic’ medicine’ because its focus is almost entirely on ‘fix the problem’ (or at least address the symptoms) AFTER a problem has appeared, not bolstering immunity so it doesn’t happen in the first place. Sweeping in like a caped crusader, as it were.
OK, now to tie this back into belief and values. My belief system is strongly grounded in holistic medicine. For those coming from the dominant paradigm, allopathic medicine, will tend to focus on the problem – cytokine storms, in this case – and not the prevention of them. Taking the narrow allopathic view of ‘health care’ (it’s not, it’s disease care) could cause one to miss the point that building up and maintaining a strong immune system (using the supplements referred to above) can prevent the viral load from growing to the point that such a cytokine storm is triggered in the first place (I said ‘can’, not ‘will’, nothing is ever guaranteed given the myriad variables in anyone’s health). And adaptogens like beta glucans are so amazing because they help modulate the immune response so that it doesn’t go haywire (the cytokine storm) and kill the host in the process. To those from the allopathic world this is a foreign concept because they know of no such equivalent. Their tools consist of drugs that have no inherent ability to adapt like adaptogens can. You give a certain dose to the patient and hope you got it right, because the body has a limited ability to adapt to or compensate for them.
So, the bottom line is, while nothing I know of can guarantee against a cytokine storm, if the preventive measures I talk about are employed well ahead of the threat of a severe infection, the body should be well prepared to minimize the probability and even perhaps avoid the possibility that a cytokine storm may occur.
Natural options for avoiding thick mucus
If you have read any accounts of the progression of COVID-19 in a patient who has contracted it, one symptom health care professionals dread seeing the most is a stage where the sputum (mucus produced in the respiratory tract to transport toxins out of the body) starts to thicken to the point it causes the patient to struggle to keep from literally suffocating. Agents, man-made or natural, known as mucolytic, expectorant or mucokinetic, help the body to increase the transport of these toxins in order clear the airways. While there are many choices from the pharmaceutical trade, most of them over-the-counter (OTC), there are natural options as well which you may want to consider, many of which you probably have in your house now. Start using them early on when symptoms first appear. You may be able to avoid the thick mucus stage while at the same time reducing other symptoms like a sore throat and coughing.
Capsules, caplets, gels or tablets?
The form your medications and supplements come in matters. If your body cannot break it down and absorb the active ingredient(s), it’s not doing you much, if any, good. Unfortunately, hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) is a widespread problem and it grows much more common as we age, particularly after age 60. While explaining how to remedy or avoid this problem is beyond the scope of this post (but you could do worse than to google ‘h. pylori’ and how to fix it), you can compensate for the possibility you may have it.
Whenever you have a choice, try to get your medications and supplements in the most digestible form possible. You want liquid, powder, gel caps or capsules. Try to avoid tablets and caplets. They contain binders and excipients to hold the active ingredient(s) together but, unfortunately, make it more difficult for a stomach with low acid to dissolve them. In fact, the problem is so common that nurses have a slang term for what happens when you eliminate an undigested pill in your stool – they call them bedpan bullets. They often can see the pills clearly in the stool of patients with low stomach acid, if they’re using a bedpan as an inpatient. And in worst cases, the pills are so intact they can literally still ready the writing on them! (In fact, low stomach acid is a contributor to cachexia, the gradual wasting of the body that is so common in older people. They may eat food of good quantity and quality, but their body simply cannot properly digest what they eat, so they are literally starving to death – but that’s also a topic for another post!)
So even if you must take a tablet, it will certainly help you digest it if you crush it. Use a mortar and pestle or just between two spoons. Then you can dissolve the powder in liquid or even sprinkle it on food, if the instructions allow for the pill to be taken with food.
The bottom line:
So if you are following guidelines below, the fortress that is your immune system should be pretty near impregnable. At the least, if or when an opportunistic infection should come along (and they will as I discuss here), your body should be very resilient and ready to bounce right back to health!
To support my immune system and overall health, I take the following daily:
- vitamin D3 (optionally with K2 as described above) – 5000 IU per day with food
- vitamin C – 2-8 grams (2000-8000 mg) per day on an empty stomach
- beta glucans – 500 mg per 50 lbs of body weight per day on an empty stomach
- NO anti-inflammatory medications, no matter what
Take care of your entire self (along with your immune system)
Be sure to get plenty of ‘vitamin S’ (sleep), stay well hydrated, eat healthy (including plenty of fresh and raw vegetables, while limiting sugar and alcohol consumption), get exercise and fresh air, and laugh a lot! Also, meditate, at least once a day for 5 minutes or more, twice is even better. Meditation is not only calming but also boosts your immune system.
If you have access to a infrared light device, make use of it to modulate your immune system. In much the same way beta glucans moderates both ends of the immunity spectrum, Red Light Therapy can reduce inflammation through down-regulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and up-regulating anti-inflammatory cytokines. NOTE: in the one commercial exception in this post, I do offer something for sale to help you boost your immunity to fight off infection, Red Light Therapy devices. If you want to learn more, here are the details.
I close with this. As AJ Lanigan, pharmacist and immunologist, said in his colorful way:
Your immune system is really the only thing that stands between you and all the things in you, on and around you trying to get you all the time.
Be well. And please, pass this on.