With many of us glued to the news about the spread of the coronavirus, we want to address the questions we’re receiving daily. Preventing illness altogether may be out of our control; however, preparing our bodies, minds and homes can help us to navigate this era with more confidence. Our goal is to give you some clear and actionable tips to boost your immune system and reduce the impact this virus has on your family’s daily life.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the name given to a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus of unknown origin which is currently spreading quickly throughout the world. Symptoms can be similar to a mild cold or may exacerbate to pneumonia. There’s still a lot to be learned about the defining symptoms of this particular virus.
Known Symptoms of COVID-19:
- Fever, sometimes alternating
- Cough, mild or severe, sometimes leading to pneumonia
Possible Additional Symptoms:
Who is at risk of catching COVID-19?
Like other coronaviruses, such as those which cause the common cold, this year’s coronavirus spreads easily. In fact, the virus causing COVID-19 seems to have a slightly longer incubation period than most, which means that individuals may unknowingly carry and spread the virus for a few days before symptoms appear. Herein lies the reason for the vast reach this virus is having.
Who is at risk for more serious complications of COVID-19?
As with all illnesses, certain individuals are at a higher risk for serious complications related to COVID-19. This includes anyone over the age of 65 and infants/small children. You are also at a higher risk if you suffer from any health issues that might compromise your immune system or respiratory system, such as cancer or asthma, respectively.
In fact, any underlying health condition is reason to take extra precautions to avoid catching the virus and to boost your immune system to fight it off more effectively should you catch it.
Many individuals who contract COVID-19 will have minimal symptoms and some may not even realise they have it.
What is the mortality rate of COVID-19?
Calculating the rate of mortality during the current outbreak is difficult, as many illnesses are unreported or not confirmed with tests, and many individuals have such mild cases they may think it’s a common cold.
To illustrate this difficulty, consider South Korea as an example. A rigorous campaign of testing tens of thousands of individuals has shown a mortality rate of 0.6%. In contrast, last week when only a few hundred tests had been administered to individuals in the U.S. showing symptoms, the mortality rate among confirmed cases was reported to be above 5%.
If these fluctuating and inconsistent figures show us anything, it is that numbers change, there are many factors involved and panicking over them is not helpful.
6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System to Help Protect Yourself from ANY Coronavirus
As with any illness, there are things that you can do to minimize your risk and help protect or reduce the severity of symptoms from catching a cold, the flu or the current coronavirus.
1. Hand Hygiene
This one may seem obvious but wash your hands well and frequently using warm water and soap. Here is a link to the World Health Organization’s recommended hand washing technique. Implement a policy that everyone washes their hands as soon as they enter your home. It is also a good idea to regularly sanitize high-traffic areas around your home such as doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, etc.
To avoid getting dry and rough hands from frequent washing, you may like to apply warm sesame seed oil infused with lavender essential oil.
2. Rest & Sleep Properly
Even though we are all extremely busy, make sure you are getting enough sleep. When you sleep your body goes through natural healing and detox processes that are important for maintaining a strong immune system. It is important not to deprive yourself of that healing time.
Good sleep hygiene includes:
- Reading a good novel at bedtime instead of catching up on the day’s news on your phone
- Turning off your phone’s notifications in the evening
- Turning down the lights to create a more soothing bedtime environment
- Sleeping in complete darkness
- Practicing meditation or Yoga Nidra
3. Maintain a Healthy Diet
“You are what you eat” is a phrase that almost feels outdated. But guess what? It is true. Make sure that you are eating a healthy Kapha-pacifying diet with plenty of foods such as leafy greens, healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates. Try to avoid prepared foods with ingredients that you can’t pronounce, refined foods and processed foods. And of course, do your best to minimise white sugar. If you need to use sweeteners, use a natural one such as honey, maple syrup or jaggery or lower-glycemic sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit or coconut sugar.
Here are some foods known to boost your immune system. If you are unable to find them fresh, frozen is fine, just make sure that you eat them warm and mildly cooked and add some digestive-aid spices.
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are high in vitamin C and E and flavonoids, all helpful for the immune system to work optimally.
- Orange and yellow foods such as sweet lime, key lime, apricots, peaches, pears, red bell peppers, yellow beans and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, a protective antioxidant.
- Vegetarian/vegan essential fatty acids such as walnuts and sesame seeds supply healthy fats.
- Spices such as black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black cumin, ajwain turmeric and garlic have immune-boosting effects.
- Berries, especially blueberries, contain flavonoids, compounds helpful in fighting off upper respiratory tract infections.
- Probiotic foods such as lassi, kefir, kimchi or natural yoghurt contain a variety of good bacteria which are helpful to the immune system.
- Unpasteurised local honey can help reduce cough symptoms. Take one teaspoon with roasted, ground cloves in the evening before bed.
4. Take Your Herbs
Now is a good time to use some of those herbs that are cluttering up your cupboard before they go out of date!
- Amla fruit (Indian gooseberry)
- Tulsi (holy basil)
- Guduchi (tinospora cidopolia)
- Brahmi (bacopa)
- Yashtimadhu (licorice)
- Trikatu (three pungent spices)
- Pippali (Long pepper)
If you are already taking the above herbs you may increase your intake by one-half teaspoon or two capsules for their protective effects from respiratory infections. If you are starting to take them as a preventative than ½- 1teaspoon a day or 2 capsules/tablets will be enough. Of course, nothing can provide 100% protection, but a good base of immune support can provide you with an advantage.
5. Try Oil Therapies
You can try external therapies such as adding respiratory-cleansing essential oils to a bowl of hot water and inhaling the steam. Use essential oils such as:
You can also give yourself nasal therapy with drops of “anu tailam,” an Ayurvedic oil. (Caution: do not use if you have mucous or phlegm production)
6. Stay Hydrated
One of the things people find the hardest to do when busy is remembering to drink enough water. The rule of thumb is that if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated!
What you should aim for is at least 8 to 10 glasses of room temperature or warm water per day. This is so beneficial to every aspect of your well-being. Water helps macro and micro-nutrients move around between cells, helps your cells clean themselves out at night and helps your lymphatic and urinary systems flush out the bad stuff so that you feel refreshed and healthy. Being properly hydrated helps your immune system, skin, nails, hair, muscles . . . the list goes on!
If you are someone who just doesn’t like water, try adding in a squirt of lemon. Not only does it make water more palatable, but it contains vitamin C and has liver-cleansing properties as well.
7. Reduce Stress
Stress reduction tops the list of healthy lifestyle habits and is particularly important at times like these when your Vata (the energy of movement) creates excessive thoughts. Find small ways to calm things (and yourself/kids) throughout the day, and definitely try to avoid blasting CNN 24/7.
When we are feeling stressed-out our bodies feel it too. This is not just a psychological issue; it’s also a physiological issue because the stress hormone, cortisol, changes the body’s reactions to food, sleep and immunity.
Give yourself a warm sesame seed oil massage, break up the day with some outdoor time, take up meditation, read a good book, start a craft project, sing a little karaoke . . . the list is endless! Whatever feels calming to you, make a little time for it daily.
What to Do If You Think You May Have Contracted COVID-19?
Despite your best efforts, the new coronavirus might still infiltrate your home or community. For most of us, this will mean a mild to moderate bout of illness, whereas for others it may be more severe and require hospitalization. If you feel your symptoms may be consistent with COVID-19 there is no need to panic; it is always best to deal with the facts of the situation calmly.
First Contact Your Family Doctor or Local Public Health Service
First and foremost, telephone your family doctor or your local public health department or telehealth service to determine your next steps. This may include specific instructions to go to a local testing centre rather than going to a clinic or emergency department.
If You Are Advised to Stay Home
Should you be advised to stay home, here are some things you can do to make your illness as short and painless as possible:
1 – Stay Well Hydrated
You likely will not be overly hungry during this time so sticking to soups and/or bone broth is a good plan. Drink plenty of water and add some apple, blueberry or pomegranate juice to help with your electrolytes. Herbal teas such as ginger or tulsi can be soothing as well as hydrating, which will help you feel better.
2 – Humidify to Relieve Congestion
Herbal steaming with essential oils or using a diffuser or a humidifier can help to relieve chest congestion. If you don’t own either, try closing the bathroom door and running the shower as hot as possible to create a makeshift steam room.
You can use a few drops of eucalyptus oil or camphor oil to make a chest rub and bring some relief to the lungs. Dilute 10 to 15 drops of essential oil in 50 ml of base oil like almond, sesame or grapeseed. (You can add less or more based on your tolerance to or enjoyment of the smell.) Or apply a few drops directly from the bottle onto the back of your hands, neck, chest and forehead.
3 – Take Elderberry Syrup
Charaka, the “father of Ayurvedic medicine,” says to first consume herbs that grow in the region where you live. Elderberry plants are native to North America. Studies have found that elderberry syrups and extracts, readily available in health food stores and integrative pharmacies, help to reduce the duration of colds and respiratory infections. Keep a bottle in the fridge for a targeted remedy to take at the first sign of symptoms.
4 – Take a Combination of Amla and Holy Basil
Taking equal amounts of amla (Indian gooseberry) and tulsi (holy basil) with honey can also help reduce the duration of a cold, flu or respiratory illness, especially if taken preventively or within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.
5 – When It’s Over, Sanitize Everything . . . Again
Once your symptoms ease up and you are feeling more like yourself, it is generally a good practice to sanitize everything that you can. Make sure you change your bedsheets, pillow covers, towels and your toothbrush as well as tongue cleaner.
When to Seek Urgent Medical Help for Your Symptoms
Secondary infections such as pneumonia are a real risk with COVID-19, so it is important to keep tabs on your symptoms.
If your fever climbs to 39.5° C (103.1° F) or higher, you have trouble breathing with only slight exertion, feel chest pain or pressure, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting—these are all symptoms which warrant a call to 911 or your local public health department’s telehealth number.
We hope this information helps you to feel calm and confident in your ability to handle whatever may come your way. If you would like to discuss a long-term plan to keep your health and immune system in the best shape possible or if you require personalized care, please give us a call. Our team is here to serve you with its Ayurvedic expertise!
Article prepared by Ismat Dhala-Nathani, Doctorate of Natural Medicine, Ayurvedic Practitioner
Hand washing video to share: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PmVJQUCm4E