In the age of COVID 19, as an integrative/functional medicine doctor, it concerns me that almost no one is talking about what can be done to improve basic immune function. As the news reports track the spread of this new virus, many people are afraid. But it is important to remember that you are not helpless against this. You have the most valuable protection on earth already inside of you - your immune system. Your immune system is amazing. It has been dealing with new diseases since the dawn of time. What we need to do is make sure that people are optimizing it. What is the probable difference between why some people who get this virus don't even know they are sick or only have mild symptoms vs. the other end of the spectrum where people actually die? It is the immune system. It is important to realize that you are not helpless in this fight. You can improve your immune system by doing some simple and inexpensive things.
What many people don't know is that a large percentage of us (adults and children) are deficient in many vitamins and minerals. This is often because the "Standard American Diet" (S.A.D.) is woefully low in critical nutrients. In my practice, I test each new patient for their nutrient levels, and almost everyone is low in many of them. These nutrients are what our body uses to keep us healthy. Without adequate amounts of them the immune system is weakened.
Although this virus is new and there has not been time to study it extensively so no one knows exactly what will work against it, there are supplements that are well known to help the body fight off viruses in general. I think it just makes sense to utilize the self-defense mechanisms that nature gave us while research is being done on other options. So in addition to the standard recommendations of social distancing, washing your hands for 20 seconds, wearing a mask when in public, etc. - in my opinion, we should all be taking some basic vitamins and minerals.
One of the most critical vitamins for its immune-enhancing, anti-viral effect is vitamin D. Essentially everyone is low in vitamin D unless they are out in the sun without sunscreen on, with their skin exposed, during the summer. This is hypothesized to be one of the reasons that viruses are so much more prevalent in the winter. It is also important to know that the darker your skin tone, the more sun you have to get to make adequate levels of vitamin D, so people of color are often even more deficient in it. For most adults, a daily oral dose of 4000 - 5000 iu of vitamin D3 is enough to help their immune system, and for most children, 1000-2000 iu daily. The optimal range for this vitamin to help with fighting viruses is higher than the low end of the normal range, so it is helpful if you can get tested. Even though this is a fat-soluble vitamin that can build up in the body and potentially cause toxicity if too much is taken, the doses listed above are safe for the vast majority, and in my opinion the risks of being low in this vitamin far out-weigh the risks of taking it, especially during a pandemic. Under medical supervision, higher doses can be safely taken.
In addition, it is important to remember our friend, vitamin C. Taking 500 mg - 1000 mg once or twice daily as a preventative is prudent, and when getting sick, up to 1000 mg vitamin C every 2-4 hours initially can help the immune system fight a virus. If your stomach gets upset, cut down.
Extra minerals such as zinc - up to 50 mg twice daily for adults for a few days can help when getting sick, and taking 10-15 mg daily is good for prevention. Selenium at adult doses of 100 - 200 mcg per day is also good for helping the immune system. Children obviously need smaller doses of everything.
Many other things have been shown to help the immune system such as mushroom extracts or even just eating mushrooms. Herbal supplements such as Quercitin and EGCG, and probiotics have been shown to be helpful. The list of beneficial herbs and nutrients that improve immune function is too long to list here.
Remember, the RDA doses of vitamins and minerals are often not high enough when fighting off an infection, and there are individual differences between people on how much they really need to be healthy, but do not take mega-doses of anything without consulting a physician.
Don’t forget the basics like getting enough sleep, controlling stress, maintaining an optimal hormone balance, and eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Although there is much more that can be done to improve immune function with medical supervision, taking a few basic vitamins and minerals at safe, over-the-counter doses at a time like this, in my opinion is a prudent thing to do and could potentially save lives.