Your COVID-19 Battle Plan: Common Sense + 9 Immune-Boosting Supplements
By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD
Everyone is worried about coronavirus and what we can do to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. The
virus is scary because it’s incredibly contagious and the side effects, especially
for those with underlying health conditions, can be dire.
But while much of the advice I give my worried patients is what you will read elsewhere,
I have several tips you may find unique -- and they could make all the difference
for you and your loved ones.
What’s different about our perspective? Start by remembering the wise final
words of the 19th Century scientist Louis Pasteur: The pathogen is nothing, the
terrain is everything.
Pasteur spent a lifetime studying germ theory (the word germ just means any infectious
agent that causes illness), along with inventing the pasteurization process. His
words are a powerful reminder that we absolutely can take steps to create the right
“terrain” — in our surroundings and within our own bodies —
to protect ourselves from any pathogen, including Covid19. Want to join me in taking
a “terrain is everything” approach to avoiding COVID-19? Here are some
practices I recommend.
1. Clean & disinfect: Keep the outside of you clean
Germs breach your immune system chiefly by you ingesting an infectious dose through
your nose, mouth or eyes. You can get this by being coughed on by an infected individual,
or through hand-to-face contact after you touch a surface that contains the germs.
Washing your hands
So to minimize the risk of infection, avoid both those situations, and get in the
habit of frequent hand washing. You don’t need antibacterial soap or anything
high tech or overly harsh. Here are some tips on how to wash your hands effectively:
- Using plain old soap and water works — and works well — because the
lipids (fats) in soap effectively “dissolve” the glue that holds the
COVID-19 virus together, breaking the virus apart and washing it away.
- Go about your hand washing by thinking like a surgeon: Get under your nails, wash
up to your elbows, and keep scrubbing for longer than you normally would. The CDC
recommends 20 seconds of hand washing using warm or cold water. To help
you time yourself, here’s a tip: Sing the complete refrain to Prince’s
Raspberry Beret, which lasts exactly 20 seconds! (If that’s not in
your repertoire, sing the Happy Birthday song twice.) Wash your hands more
frequently than you normally would.
- Don’t worry about using very hot water. The temperature of the water has no
impact on the effectiveness of hand washing. It’s the soap that will kill
the virus; the water is there to simply help you lather up and wash it away. You
may find that using cooler water actually protects your skin from getting too dry
or cracking. (Cracked skin breaches your first line of immune defense!) Carry a
bottle of 70% alcohol hand sanitizer with you for those times when soap and water
Also recognize all the other dirty things you come in contact with — avoid
them or clean them. COVID-19 can last 8 days on surfaces like your cell phone, door
knobs, public toilets, escalator rails, cash and coins, and light switches. If your
hands are not clean and you touch your keyboard or reading light, they’re
now risky too. Here are my suggestions for cleaning and trying avoid high-touch
- For those things that can’t be dunked in soapy water, wipe them down with
an alcohol-based cleaner (70% alcohol). Disinfect your phone often. Only use it
for calls if you absolutely must when you are out and about (and touching so many
germs things); save the Instagramming for when you are home and can have a clean
phone and clean hands.
- Because we all come in contact with so many surfaces during a typical day, you want
to avoid touching your face, eyes and nose unless you have just thoroughly washed
your hands. You may not realize how often you touch your face until you try not
to! You can turn this into a mindfulness practice by noticing that you want to touch
your face and then focus on your breathing until the urge passes.
2. Nutrition & supplements: Keep the inside of you “clean” too
Eating or drinking too much sugar can dampen your immune function, putting your
white blood cells into a sort of “coma” as researchers describe it.
You want your immune system to be ready for action, so if you need motivation to
finally kick sugary foods to the curb, this is it. Here’s how to give your
immune system even more support:
Eat more fruits and vegetables:
- Go for a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables which are rich in
vitamins A, C and E. These include berries, citrus fruits, apples, red grapes,
kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
- Another favorite food is garlic, which contains natural compounds that help fight
viruses and bacteria.
- Some mushroom varieties -- such as shiitake -- also help strengthen immune function.
Add immune-boosting supplements:
Sometimes our diets just can’t give us the amount of nutrients we need, or
nutrients may not be readily available from common foods, so supplements are a great
option. For immune support, here are some supplements that I find to be very effective:
- Vitamin C (taken to bowel tolerance)
- Vitamin D
- Fish oil for the omega-3s
- Anti-inflammatory curcumin
- Vitamin K2
- Vitamin A
- Selenium (Eating 2-3 Brazil nuts daily can supply most of the selenium you need.)
It’s always best to work with a naturopathic physician to understand how much
supplementation you require, especially for vitamin A. This approach gives general
immune support; be wary of claims that specific supplements fight off COVID-19 --
the science on that isn’t settled yet.
You can give your immune system even more support by taking a probiotic -- check
Super Biotic supplement which promotes digestive health and immune support.
As studies have shown, gut bacteria play an important role in the development of
white blood cells that help the body's immune system fight off pathogens; the more
good bacteria you have, the stronger your immune system. Stay hydrated too as that
keeps all your systems in better working order.
3. Social distancing: Avoid crowds and needless contact
Viruses mutate quickly when there are lots of cases. If we can limit cases of coronavirus,
we’ll see fewer mutations, and the virus will be easier to contain. We can
do our job by avoiding crowds, especially in enclosed spaces. Do your shopping at
off-peak times because greater distance from other persons reduces the risk of infection.
If you cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow or a tissue. Avoid shaking hands or
using cash. Stay home when you are sick. So called “social distancing” may be the best tactic we have
to slow the spread of COVID-19.
You may feel comforted by wearing a surgical mask in public, but they just don’t
work that well to protect you from inhaling the virus. The particles are too small
and can get through (or around!) the filter. Respirator masks do work, but consumers
generally can’t buy these, especially now. Only wear a mask when you are sick.
During these times of social distancing and self-isolation, try to see the cup as
half full, not half empty. Think of it as a self-imposed self-care retreat. Clean
out that closet, finish that scrapbook, write that novel, watch yoga videos on Youtube
and do everything you need to take good care of yourself. Give yourself permission
to embrace this time of slowness, stillness and rest.
4. Manage stress: Turn off the TV and give the terrain of your mind some self-care
Being in a chronic state of stress is proven to suppress immune function, so give
yourself extra self care and try not to worry too much. Yes, you do need up-to-date information about COVID-19, but keeping the TV
on 24/7 or being glued to the internet all day is only going to keep you stressed.
Here are some ideas that you could try:
- Give yourself a few “virus update” times during the day where you watch
or read the news to get the latest, then go on with your day.
- Take time to meditate and do some deep breathing to relax.
- Prioritize getting enough sleep.
If coronavirus worries are keeping you up at night or your days are plagued with
anxious thoughts, your adrenal glands
are probably in overdrive and may need
Is the pandemic really just a needless panic?
Even doctors may disagree about this. My view is that this virus is much more dangerous
than the usual flu. That’s for five main reasons:
- The gestation period for the infection is unusually long. In infected people, it
can take 14 days for symptoms to appear versus just a few days for the flu.
- About 80% of cases are mild and easily confused with a cold. This plus the long
gestation period mean that infected people can expose hundreds of people to the
germs without being aware at all.
- The virus lingers in the air and on surfaces longer than the flu. This means that
infected people who cough or sneeze are spreading the germs further than we are
- Although the data is still emerging, it appears that the mortality rate among vulnerable
groups -- the elderly and those who are immune-impaired -- is much higher than for
the flu. We may also find that the rate of serious complications, like organ damage,
- The coronavirus family is highly mutagenic. This means it could easily mutate into
a more dangerous form. The fewer cases there are, the less likely that is to happen
As the days go by and more and more cases of coronavirus inevitably spread across
the globe, I want us all to take better care of ourselves and each other. Staying
home and avoiding infection will help do that and give other benefits too, not just
now but over the long term. And I can’t help but see this pandemic as a much-needed
wakeup call that our health simply must come first. If there is a “terrain”
that is worth tending, we are it.
Take care and be well. We’ll get through this together.
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Last updated on 03/19/2020