With headlines popping up daily announcing new statistics from COVID-19, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what’s going on and what we can do.
Information is both abundant and lacking and it’s confusing to sort through.
At the end of this article, I’ve compiled a list of useful resources for you to peruse that I think provide balanced, helpful, and actionable information.
In the meantime, I’d like to discuss one massively important variable that naturopathic doctors are very familiar with but that isn’t discussed at all in the mainstream.
And it’s a crucial component to determining your risk for catching the virus and how it progresses through your system.
That variable is called terrain.
That’s about right.
It’s not often discussed (or ever discussed) in conventional medicine, and Wikipedia calls it “medically obsolete.”
I disagree, Wikipedia.
Investigating our terrain provides insight into the questions: will we get sick if we are exposed to the virus and how sick?
We’re all very familiar with the other major variable of contracting coronavirus: exposure.
We’re seeing lots of action from governments around the world in this arena.
There’s especially a lot of hubbub in Seattle right now, as it’s the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.
Schools are being canceled.
People are working from home.
Major events like ComicCan, SXSW, and the first leg of the Pearl Jam tour have been canceled.
Stores are sold out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Seriously, what’s with the toilet paper?
I’m getting emails from my local co-op explaining how they are taking extra care to wipe down high touch areas in their store, use gloves around food, and desperately trying to restock hand sanitizer, wipes, and immune herbs.
Our governor has asked us to curtail social activities.
These actions are important and helpful ways to stop the spread of the virus.
Good ol’ handwashing is still #1 for decreasing your chances of catching COVID-19.
Soap not only breaks through the mucus capsule around the virus and kills it quickly, the mechanical action of the water rinses mucus droplets off of our skin, whisking them away from potentially getting smeared onto our face.
We’ve been reminded to wash our hands so much that people are getting fabulously creative.
There are now articles suggesting multiple popular song choruses to wash your hands to, in case you’re bored of Happy Birthday for your 20 second timer.
Personally, I’d go with Africa by Toto, but you do you.
Also on the musical front, I came across this meme:
So now you can sing COVID-19 merrily in your head and maybe lighten the mood a little.
Decreasing your exposure to the virus is a great way to keep infection rates lower.
Please remember that a virus can’t live for very long outside of the body.
It can’t penetrate your skin.
It has to be able to attach itself to a mucus membrane, like the skin inside your nose, mouth, sinuses or throat.
This is why avoiding touching your face is an important way to decrease your exposure.
Now it’s time to talk about terrain.
*Rubs hands together excitedly*
Exposure is hyper focused on the pathogen, and this perspective is rooted in germ theory, or theory that microorganisms lead to disease.
Crazy to think of it as a theory, right?
It seems like fact.
And modern medicine treats it as fact.
In contrast, terrain theory states that the environment the microorganism comes into contact with is what allows it to become pathogenic.
If the terrain is healthy, the bug either does not affect the host or it has a less severe effect on the host than if the terrain were unhealthy.
There’s a super cool Ted Talk by a cancer researcher who discovered this in her experiments.
She found that the area around a cancer cell, or its microenvironment or terrain, influences its development and restoring a normal environment can positively affect the cell’s development and expression.
Terrain theory lends a possible understanding to why two people exposed to the same strain of virus can have different responses to it.
It can also help to explain asymptomatic carriers, or those who have the virus in their system but are not affected by it.
The virulence or strength of the pathogen matters as well.
Sometimes the healthiest terrain can be disrupted by a strong bug.
However, the host’s ability to recover and adapt quickly largely has to do with the state of their terrain.
A balanced and healthy terrain will have less roadblocks to healing and recovery.
An unbalanced and toxic terrain will have more hurdles for the immune system to clear.
We are not all susceptible to COVID-19 in an identical way.
64% of people admitted to the hospitals of Wuhan, China due to complications associated with COVID-19 had underlying co-morbidities, or other disease processes, typically associating with the lungs, heart, or diabetes.
Terrain, or the environment of your body, matters hugely in how deeply the virus impacts you.
And we have a hand in its resilience.
You CAN DO MORE than just wash your hands and not touch your face!
If you take care of your terrain, you’ll be less likely to have a severe case of the virus if you’re exposed to it.
So… how do you support your terrain?
#1 Get between 8-10 hours of sleep per night
Sleep is the main way we recover and heal. Your body undertakes a major restoration project every time you sleep.
The more it can clean up, the more energy our immune system can use to defend us instead of having to spend time and resources continuing to detoxify inflammation, chemicals, or other irritants.
#2 Stay hydrated
Shoot for at least 60oz of water per day. If you’re a larger person, go for 80-100oz.
Chronic dehydration makes it difficult for our bodies to process metabolic waste products, chemicals we’re exposed to, hormones, inflammation from food we eat, and more.
Things build up, decreasing the vitality of our terrain, or ability to adapt if we’re exposed to something.
If you live inside with forced air heat or are traveling on a plane, the air can be very dry.
The second largest way we lose water is through our lungs and skin!
You might need to up your water even more if you’re in a dry environment.
Pro-tip: bring saline nasal spray with you and sip water frequently if you’re flying. Dry mucus membranes inside your sinuses and throat are easier for bugs to attach themselves to.
#3 Cut back on inflammatory food
This is a good time to reduce alcohol, sugar, and refined/processed stuff.
If you know of any allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances, be strict about avoiding them.
Our immune system has to clean up all of the inflammation created by foods that don’t agree with our bodies.
That means it has to divide its resources and clean up the terrain instead of devoting more energy to fighting off a bug if you get exposed.
#4 Don’t panic
Stress is another drain on your system! Be concerned, but don’t panic.
Channel that energy into good self-care practices in supporting your terrain and reducing your exposure.
Check out this article written by another naturopathic doctor on the silver lining of COVID-19 health and public health recommendations to help spark that self-care.
And check out all of the handy resources I have linked at the end of this post.
#5 Get some sunshine
Sunshine is great for mood and boosting vitamin D, both of which positively impact our immune system.
Plus, check out this fabulous article about the benefits of sunshine and fresh air during the 1918 influenza. It really works!
#6 Fresh air
In Chinese medicine, your lungs are your major immune organs.
Caring for them with fresh air can help to boost their vitality.
Pears are also an excellent way to improve your lung health, especially if they are feeling dry or if you have a dry cough (common in COVID-19).
#7 Exercise or walk
Contracting your muscles moves your lymphatic system, which is a major part of your immune system.
If you regularly work out, keep doing it!
Just limit your exposure to equipment or make sure to wipe it down before and after you use it.
Or choose activities you enjoy that aren’t in a gym or social atmosphere. Good ol’ walking does the trick just fine!
#8 End your shower with cold water
This is a great little immune boost to start your day. And who needs caffeine after that? Whew!
I’d like to emphasize that these are a drop in the bucket compared to the lifestyle changes you can make to keep your terrain healthy.
But they can be nice preventive insurance and helpful if you do actually get sick.
Vitamin D -- 5000IUs/day -- maximum a couple months at this dosage. You can also drop down to 2000IUs/day after 1 month.
Vitamin C -- 2000mg/day
Zinc 15-30md/day (Zinc interrupts the replication of COVID-19), so it’s great to take if you’re feeling acutely ill. Please know that Zinc inhibits the absorption of copper, so it is not appropriate to take long term.
Mushroom Immune Formula like My Community 3-4x/week
Elderberry -- 1 tsp/day
Resveratrol 500mg/day (may work with MERS-Cov)
For a more comprehensive list, including what to do when traveling or if you’re acutely sick plus up to date information on stats and prevention strategies, check out this article.
#10 Inspiration for systemic social change
Health and economics are intimately tied to each other.
Many of the recommendations I listed above come with the privilege of a stable economic situation.
People with higher paying jobs and who are able to work remotely can reduce their exposure.
What about those working shift jobs for minimum wage?
Folks who can’t take time off work because they’re barely scraping by?
What about those who work multiple jobs and only have time for 6 hours of sleep a night?
Or who don’t have disposable income to grab a supplement or two?
Those who live in food deserts and who can’t afford or have the time to gather whole, fresh foods for their families?
Seattle public schools made the painstaking decision to close for 2 weeks amid concerns about children who depend on the school for meals and parents who now must stay home or acquire childcare who can’t afford to. Online learning is not possible due to resources, whereas for many private schools it is.
The lack of social safety net in the United States is appalling and those with the least means will be hit the hardest economically and healthwise during this time.
It’s time to examine and radically rethink our broken system.
We are all connected. We are a community. A country. We all impact each other in both deep and subtle ways and we need to look after each other.
What about folks with compromised immune systems?
I would talk to your doctor before starting immune supplementation, but all of the lifestyle options I mentioned would be absolutely appropriate and will boost the health of your terrain even with a chronic illness.
These lifestyle suggestions are a large part of what I recommend to my chronically ill patients to help support their bodies in general!
What about a vaccine?
Taking care of your terrain is so much more important waiting for a vaccine.
One of my mentors, Dr. Nancy Welliver, summed up the issues with vaccines very nicely:
“Because of the ability of viruses to quickly and continuously adapt, the odds of us meeting, as a species, novel viruses is infinitely high. This is why relying on immunizations is folly, and providing good lifestyle based medicine is the best course. Right now, the estimate for the arrival of an immunization is 9-12 months. By then the virus will have hit the susceptible hosts, and will probably have mutated, making the immunization fairly ineffective, as we have seen with successive years of flu immunization. Promoting a healthy immune system is the best defense.”
I hope this helps you to feel a bit more empowered around what you can do for yourself other than trying to limit your exposure to the virus.
Healthy terrain really does make a huge difference on the impact bugs and invaders have on a person’s system.
And decreasing your exposure to others can help prevent the spread of the virus, reducing the risk for those who are older or have more vulnerable systems.
Coronaviruses are not new, this is just a new strain. They go around every year. Most decrease as the weather gets warmer as they can’t survive the higher temperatures.
An interesting and helpful perspective on all of the statistics that are still developing. This article asks important questions about how things are being measured and if we are truly observing something extraordinary.
Coronavirus: 10 reasons why you ought not to panic, including the fact that 81% of cases are mild and there are 13x more recovered cases than there are deaths and that proportion is increasing.
13 Coronavirus Myths Busted by Science (though I disagree with their assessment of nutrients and herbs)
Most people are not infectious about 10 days after they develop symptoms. Coronavirus has a high viral shed rate during the first few days of the incubation period, when people are likely asymptomatic.
Great article summarizing what we know about how the infection has spread, which is surprisingly not through schools or hospitals in China.
Very helpful infographic in this article about how COVID-19 spreads compared with other common infections.
Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now great insight into why reducing exposure will help prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed, like we’re observing in Italy right now.
Up to date info on COVID-19 from a natural perspective. He writes new posts frequently.
The Silver Linings of COVID-19 Health and Public Health Recommendations by a naturopathic doctor with great advice!