What the research tells us that can help you at home
Over the last few weeks, myself and some herbalist colleagues have been collating a lot of research about 2019-nCoV, more commonly known as Covid-19 or Coronavirus. We have been looking at research from how the virus interacts with the human body to the research coming out of China on the herbal medicine protocols that have been successful.
There is a lot of misinformation out there so I want to share with you what I've learned - based on the latest research - about what you can do at home to help yourself and, a few of the herbs I am using to help people and why.
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19 is a respiratory virus that is one of a group of viruses called a coronavirus. We've seen a few coronaviruses over the years, including SARS and MERS. Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that we have not seen before. However, it is closely related to SARS which makes a great starting point for research.
(Geeky science stuff - coronaviruses are enveloped, positive-stranded RNA viruses which is helpful to understand how to treat it but perhaps not what you need to know).
How do I know if I have Covid-19?
As all respiratory viruses (including flu and the common cold) have a similar symptoms, the only way to definitely tell if you have Covid-19 is by getting testing. Unfortunately, in the UK not everyone is being tested so we have to take note of key symptoms and follow the official guidelines on self-isolation.
You should stay at home if you have these key symptoms:
- A fever - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- A new, continuous cough - this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
And you should seek emergency medical care if you have any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
- Your illness is worsening
- Any other serious or unusual symptoms
What can you at home to help prevent getting Covid-19?
A fundamental part of natural medicine is ensuring we have a healthy immune system and the best way to do that is develop some healthy lifestyle habits.
- Eat a rainbow: Boring, I know, but a healthy, well balanced diet is one of the best ways to boost your immune system. Try to keep the foods you eat as fresh as possible including 6 - 8 servings of veggies as well as nuts, whole grains, pulses, fish and eggs.
- Move your body: Research shows us that regular moderate exercise can improve our immune system. However, if you already exercise a lot, then actually throttling back a bit on the training will help. The key is to do some exercise but not too much. Why not try some gentle walks or an online yoga class?
- Sleep like a cat: Lack of sleep weakens our immune system and so makes us susceptible to infection from viruses. We should be aiming for somewhere between 7 and 9 hours per night. If you're having trouble sleeping, then get in touch to see how I might help.
- Gargle: Yeah, I thought it was odd too. I've seen loads of social media post and I thought it was just another quack trying to recommend something that would be useless but then I read the research and there are a few studies that show that gargling plain old water, 2 to 3 times a day for 15 to 30 seconds, can be effective in preventing upper respiratory tract infections. So why not give it a go? It can't hurt.
Let's take a moment to talk about supplements.
I'm not a huge fan of recommending supplements. On the whole if we eat a well-balanced diet and get some regular exercise outside then we'll get all the nutrients we need. However there is a lot of research that some key vitamins and minerals can improve our immune function.
NOTE: If you have an underlying medical condition or are taking medication, please consult a medical professional before taking any supplements.
Vitamin C is commonly recommended for cold and flu prevention, with good reason. There are nearly 150 different animal studies that show how it can improve immune cell function and help fight different viruses (including SARS). In humans a meta-analysis (where they analyse lots of research papers together) by the Cochrane Institute, showed that vitamin C can lead reduce the duration and severity of the common cold. Vitamin C is also being studied as part of the intensive care treatment protocols for Covid-19 but there is as yet no definitive data on its effectiveness. Foods that are rich in vitamin C are oranges and grapefruits but other sources include red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, and baked potatoes. Given vitamin C supplements are relatively safe, if you are concerned that you are at risk, it is worth considering taking some. An adult can safely take up to 2000mg per day, even if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. A child's dose is substantially lower.
Chances are if you like in the UK, in winter, you are likely to have some level of vitamin D deficiency, particularly if you work in an office and don’t spend much time outside during daylight hours. And yet, vitamin D is a really important for a healthy immune system and to fight infections. According to a meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal it can protect against acute respiratory tract infections, particularly in those who had a vitamin D deficiency.
The best form of vitamin D in supplement form is vitamin D3. It's fat soluble so you need to take it with food and taking between 1000IU and 2000IU a day is enough for most adults and is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding (again for children this is much less). Other sources of vitamin are getting outside for at least 15 minutes a day and fatty fishes such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.
Zinc is an important mineral for fighting viruses. Not only does it play a role in our immune system, it may help prevent viruses replicate and cause inflammation in our respiratory system. Red meat, shellfish and pulses are all really good sources of zinc. Unfortunately zinc is not that well absorbed from tablets. It is possible to buy lozenges but before you do, it is worth consulting with a medical professional as taking zinc supplements can interfere with the absorption of certain medications.
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that gives colour to many fruits and vegetables. The food with the highest quantity is red onions but others include leafy green vegetables, broccoli, peppers, apples, grapes, black tea, green tea, red wine, and some fruit juices. Why is it important? Well research has shown that it prevents a coronavirus docking on cell surfaces meaning it can help prevent the virus from penetrating into our cells.
It is possible to buy quercetin supplements and mostly they are considered safe but at high doses they may cause side effects such as headaches, stomach aches and tingling sensations. While fine in food, there are currently no studies on the safety of pregnant and breastfeeding women using quercetin supplements. It may also interfere with some medications, including antibiotics and blood pressure medication. Please consult a health care professional if you are thinking of taking this as a supplement.
So what about herbs?
There is lots of research coming out of China and Korea about how they are using herbal medicine to assist in the treatment of Covid-19. Because of the culture of integrated medicine and herbal medicine hospitals, this is possible. Some patients are receiving a combination of herbal medicine and allopathic antiviral medication, others are just receiving herbal medicine but all are under hospital care and have access to emergency ventilation as needed.
In one study, 8 out of 50 patients in Wuhan were discharged from hospital within 1 month and were considered fully recovered; six of these had been considered severe cases of Covid-19. All 50 patients showed significant signs of recovery. Another more extensive study of 701 patients with confirmed Covid-19 claims an effective cure rate of over 90% when using herbal medicine alone.
Unfortunately, here in the UK, integrated medicine is exceptionally rare, even more so during this time. That doesn't mean we can't learn some of the lessons from these studies, and use them to help prevent infection.
There are many herbs that I will be using to support my clients but here are three that you can get hold of easily and use safely at home to help prevent infection.
Most people by now have heard about Echinacea and its use in the prevention and treatment of the common cold and flu, and numerous studies show this to be true, though not always at statistically significant levels. Part of this may due to the quality of the echinacea supplement being taken (echinacocides make your tongue tingle) as many of the studies uses leaves in their preparations but most of medically active constituents reside in the roots….. Which would make it a more expensive product to test.
Nevertheless, it is a very useful herb in improving immune function as it has been shown to enhance non-specific immune function, stimulate natural killer cell activity, increase T-cell response and the levels of various cytokines. So while there is specific evidence for using in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19, it could reasonably form part of a prevention programme.
Echinacea has been shown to be generally safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. You should avoid it if you have active, chronic systemic autoimmune conditions, if you have an autoimmune condition and have previously tried it and experienced a symptom flare-up, or if you are taking immunosuppressive medications. As always, please consult a medical professional if you are thinking about taking it.
No, I haven't gone crazy!
Urtica dioica, the common stinging nettle, is a very powerful herbal medicine. Research shows it to have many antimicrobial properties including one research article that shows it inhibits SARS by targeting the early stages of the replication cycle of the coronavirus and neutralising it by binding to the SARS-CoV spike (S) glycoprotein. It has also been shown to have an immunomodulatory effect by increasing neutrophil activity and stimulating lymphocyte proliferation.
Spring is a great time to harvest your own nettles as the young leaves can make a great soup (see BBC Good Food for a recipe). As we all know from the name, stinging nettles sting! So be careful when preparing nettles (think two pairs of rubber gloves AND gardening gloves)….. Once they are cooked they no longer sting. Gentle nettle is considered safe but allergic reactions have been reported so be careful (this is not the same as the sting which is a chemical reaction that everyone gets.
Fifty years ago, if you had a cold, the chances are your mother or grandmother would pull out a jar of honey filled will garlic and onion pieces and make you take regular teaspoonfuls of it. They weren't being just cruel.
Research shows that garlic has a range of antimicrobial effects and can shorten the duration and decrease the severity of symptoms for colds and flus. It's relevance to Covid-19 is this…
A sub-unit of Covid-19 binds to the ACE-2 enzyme on the cell membrane surface. Polyphenols in garlic (and red and white onions) inhibit ACE-2 enzymes which can help to prevent infection.
Garlic is not as safe as some of the other herbs I've mentioned. If you are allergic to the allium family you should not take garlic. Ditto if you are taking warfarin or saquinavir. Also taking too much may cause flatulence, heartburn and diarrhoea.
Taking cautions into account, why not get yourself an empty jar, fill it with peeled garlic cloves and a roughly chopped onion, top it up with honey and start taking a teaspoon a day? Warning: you may need to hold your nose!
You can book a free call with me. if you have questions or concerns. I'd love to hear from you.... and there's no obligation to buy.
Important note: This is not a substitute for official information. Please visit:
This article does not constitute medical advice and is not a guarantee of prevention. It is important that you still follow the latest government guidelines as given in the links above. The information here is based on the latest research as of 26th March 2020.
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