“If you can keep your immune system while all around are losing theirs…”
I hesitated before using, or rather abusing, this Rudyard Kipling quote because there’s nothing funny or flippant about the state we and our loved ones find ourselves in. Nevertheless, with no medical treatments available for coronavirus, maintaining a strong immune system is the name of the game. Cancer patients will be all too familiar with this dilemma and, in many ways, the advice for coronavirus builds on what you already know. Natural medicine, as far as we know, cannot stop you becoming infected, nor can it offer a cure, but research suggests you maybe able to reduce your chances of hospitalisation by improving your metabolic status.
There is very little scientific evidence specific to this new virus so we are all working in the dark, but it’s reasonable to assume that it will share many characteristics in common with other viruses, even though it is more contagious and tenacious. This post is my attempt to provide some common-sense guidance from that perspective. Cancer patients are considered to be a highly vulnerable subset of the population, and I hope that by sharing some knowledge here I can help you feel safer, and reinforce the idea that you’re doing the right thing – particularly for those who are mid- or immediately post-treatment, and may be wondering what to do for the best.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The good news is that the evidence for protecting your health from viral infection has much in common with advice for cancer: there are lots of synergies, so you can vigorously try to protect yourself against coronavirus without compromising all the good work you’ve been doing to help your body recover from cancer.
First things first – it is obviously important to follow all of the public health advice to the letter. I would add to that the importance of wearing a mask while in any situation that exposes you to the public. Regular washing of door handles, kitchen and dining areas and bathroom loos, sinks etc should also be a priority, as well as wiping down goods after delivery. But there are other preventative measures you could take:
Blood sugar control
You won’t have missed the news that being diabetic or pre-diabetic and/or having hypertension are the key risk factors for hospitalisation with coronavirus so I’m particularly pleased to find a paper entitled ‘Dietary carbohydrate restriction improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, microvascular function and cellular adhesion markers…” (Ballard, Quann, Kupchack et al., 2013). Although this was a study in statin takers, it shows that vulnerable groups can improve their metabolic status with diet, and that low carb approaches may be the right choice.
Successful anti-cancer diets tend to be low in carbohydrates for all sorts of good reasons. So keep on doing what you’ve been doing: avoiding sugars and starches, eating lots of above-ground rather than below ground vegetables, focussing mainly on berries and apples for fruit intake, and eating plenty of sardines, anchovies, mackerel, cold water salmon, nuts (especially Brazil, pecans, walnuts), seeds, garlic, leeks, onions, herbs and spices. Remember that artificial sweeteners can exacerbate poor glucose handling (Suez, Korem, Zeevi et al., 2014) so avoid these.
Other key foods and nutrients that can help control blood sugar, reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure are:
- Cocoa (Hurrah!) (Cordero-Herrera, Martin, Escriva et al., 2015)
- Magnesium (Rodriguez-Moran & Guerrero-Romero, 2014)
- Grapeseed Extract (also an aromatase inhibitor) (Montagut, Blade, Bay et al., 2010)
It is well known that in humans, even a single fasting interval (e.g. overnight) can reduce metabolic biomarkers associated with chronic disease such as insulin and glucose. Incorporating intermittent fasting patterns (such as an extended overnight fast up to 16 hours) into your lifestyle on a longer term basis can reduce fasting insulin levels and restore insulin sensitivity (Patterson, Laughlin, LaCroix et al., 2015). Although fasting must be approached with care for those who are underweight or coping with active cancer, there is evidence for its regenerative effect on the immune system and potential to reverse immunosuppression (Cheng, Adams & Perin, 2014). Remember fasting doesn’t mean you have to reduce your daily calorie intake, you can eat the same number of calories in a more compressed time period.
Gut flora support
Your gut flora helps to modulate insulin sensitivity (Khan, Nieuwdorp & Backhed, 2014) and plays a vital role in immunity and inflammation (Brestoff & Artis, 2013). Support this area with a daily probiotic, plenty of leeks, vegetables, flax, and fermented foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, etc. This is a good time to learn how to make kimchi or sauerkraut.
A rich and varied diet
Although supplements can be powerful, I recommend a ‘food first’ approach in combating the virus and supporting the health of the respiratory tract: partly because we know already that many healthy people on a ‘normal’ diet are experiencing only mild symptoms; and partly so that you don’t overload your body with supplements and unwittingly cause other imbalances in immune and antioxidant function. There are plenty of foods that inhibit the ability of viruses – either by increasing resistance, reducing replication, or supporting immune cell function. The following list will give you plenty to focus on, with important ones in bold:
VITAMIN A: found only in animal foods: e.g. liver, fish liver oil, dairy, eggs. Foods rich in beta carotene (e.g. red, orange, yellow and dark green plants) are considered to be the equivalent of Vitamin A but I have found that many cancer patients have genetic difficulties converting beta-carotene to Vitamin A so direct sources are needed.
VITAMIN C: found in green veg, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers, chilli peppers, parsley, fruits especially citrus, berries, apples, kiwi, sprouted seeds and beans. Cooking, soaking and storing diminishes levels. Be wary of oral supplementation with active cancer. Interestingly, China has been using very high dose intravenous Vitamin C to directly treat the virus with good effect – evidence that we, as a nation, are apparently ignoring.
VITAMIN D: not found in abundance in any foods but sardines, eggs, fish liver oil, mushrooms contain some. Being outdoors, skin uncovered for half an hour a day between April and September may be adequate. If you choose to supplement always choose a formulation that includes vitamin K2 but it’s best to test first if you can and monitor levels via your GP.
SELENIUM: Brazil nuts are the best source, beef liver, fish esp tuna, shellfish, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, garlic, yeast, seeds and cottage cheese are also good sources. Beware toxic metals in carnivorous fish – sardines offer the best selenium/mercury balance.
SULPHUR: eggs, onions, garlic, fish, chicken, legumes, beans, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, pak choi, Brussels sprouts, rocket, mizuna, watercress, mustard cress, turnip, swede and beets (and their greens), radish, daikon, horseradish, wasabi, mustard seeds).
ZINC: Seafood (esp. oysters), shellfish, fish and red meat, green leafy veg, mushrooms, nuts (esp. Brazil, walnuts and pecans) seeds (esp. pumpkins), lentils, legumes, yeast, cheese, eggs.
OMEGA 3: found in high levels in cold water oily fish, walnuts and flax seeds, and in good levels in dark green leafy veg and organically farmed, grass fed meat and dairy, and wild game. Flax or linseed oil is the only oil higher in omega 3 than 6 fats.
GLUTATHIONE: (recycles Vitamin C) found in beef liver. Boost indirectly by eating sulphur rich foods, cruciferous vegetables, whey protein and exercise. Milk thistle (silymarin) and alpha-lipoic acid can boost. Depleted by alcohol and toxic load.
PHYTONUTRIENTS: Many plant-based chemicals have a powerful influence on the immune and inflammatory systems, many are directly anti-viral. Here, researchers highlight: “Berberine, curcumin and resveratrol are examples of three commonly consumed nutraceuticals which have been investigated for prevention/treatment of various diseases and ailments for centuries. These and other nutraceuticals are contained in different components of our diet, such as; fruits, berries, grapes, spices obtained from plants such as turmeric, oils from plants and fish and in addition leaves from various plants and trees. In general, they are not toxic at doses that we consume normally. Moreover, they have been associated with long life and the prevention of common health problems such as: cardiovascular, bacterial, fungal and viral infections, diabetes, inflammation and even obesity.” (McCubrey, Abrams Lertipiriyapong et al., 2018)
GARLIC & ONIONS The following abstract explains: “In the current scenario, pharmaceutical industry is dependent on chemical based drugs to treat viral infection. However, these drugs are known to induce many side effects in human body. There is pressing need to promote safe alternative to chemical based antiviral drugs. Onion and garlic are natural sources which are known to possess antiviral properties. It is well known that onion and garlic are rich source of organosulfur compounds. Organosulfur compounds like quercetin and allicin are associated with inhibition of viral infection. These chemicals can hinder virus attachment to host cell, alter transcription and translation of viral genome in host cell and also affect viral assembly. Quercetin can affect entry and attachment of Enterovirus and Influenza virus on host cell. This compound also has ability to inhibit RNA polymerase which is necessary for viral replication. Quercetin also inhibit process by which virus alter signalling pathway in host cell. Organosulfur compounds like allicin, diallyl trisulfide and ajoene are main chemicals which impart antiviral property to garlic. It is known that allicin can pass through phospholipid membrane of cell and can further contribute in inhibiting viral multiplication. Considering numerous studies which corroborate antiviral effect of onion and garlic, this paper recommends consumption of these plants as a safe alternative to prevent virus infection.” (Neha Sharma, 2019)
MUSHROOMS deserve a special mention for their ability to boost immune cell function (Akramien, Kondrotas, Did et al, 2007) There is good evidence for a variety of mushroom extracts in supporting immunity, inhibiting viruses and reducing sickness duration in Herpes and HIV, especially in combination with mushroom polysaccharide extracts e.g. beta-glucans and AHCC (active hexose correlated compound). Hifas da Terra and TerraNova are good quality brands for supplementation.
A chance to revamp your lifestyle
Sleep and sunshine are also powerful healers so do your best to get as much as possible of both while respecting the government guidelines. Don’t self-medicate with sugar and alcohol to ease stress and boredom – find something more constructive to do.
Stress plays havoc with your immune system so this is a key concern. However, it seems ridiculous to advise you to reduce your stress levels: better to encourage you to manage the inevitable stress at a time like this by changing your stress response -with uplifting exercise, music, books, dance, yoga, FaceTime chats with loved ones, dog walks, gardening etc. This is a good time to start growing your own veg if you haven’t before. Magnesium sits in the synapse of nerve cells and has been shown to limit the release of adrenalin and thus its impact (Kharitonova et al, 2015). This roughly translates as: if two people are in the room together with a sabre toothed tiger (or a cup full of coronavirus) the stress stimulus may be identical but the stress response and impact will be more muted in the one with better magnesium status. Magnesium gel (e.g. BetterYou) is a great way to absorb magnesium trans-dermally – and it also helps with oxidative stress (Zheltova, Kharitonova, et al, 2016) and blood sugar balance.
IF YOU DEVELOP SYMPTOMS
We know that the virus tends to lodge in the throat first before descending to the lungs. If you develop the cough it’s time to hit things harder. Use raw garlic and onions in salsas, salads etc, though bear in mind this can burn a bit and upset your stomach so caution is required if you have any stomach problems. Peppermint has been found to be effective against the herpes virus and heat is known to denature virus particles, so there’s no harm in drinking copious amounts of peppermint tea, and even gargling if it’s not too hot; add a slice of ginger for anti-inflammatory support. And, of course, there’s always chicken soup! (Rennard, Erik, Gossman et al., 2000).
And – I hope this goes without saying – if you develop more severe symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help in line with current government guidelines.
You may want to consider investing in some supplements just in case you become infected but that’s a more personal equation that will depend on your cancer diagnosis and medical treatment. Email me if you’d like more information on this or book a supplement review consultation here.
And, by the way, since I’ve had to shelve my plans to offer cancer workshops this summer, I’ve opened clinic again. You can make an appointment in the usual way here.
YOU MAY SAY I’M A DREAMER…
Given that we have nothing but our own immune system standing between us and the virus, I’m disappointed to say the least, that the government and public health bodies between them still stolidly refuse to promote natural health, or at least offer some advice on blood sugar control – with a few wonderful exceptions… Dr David Unwin is a one-man-medical-crusade for the ability of low carb diets to reverse type 2 diabetes and incidentally to improve other health conditions like hypertension.
Just imagine what would happen to the daily stats and the pressure on hospitals if we all self-isolated AND sorted out our blood sugar issues!
Image: The 21 sheep who live in the field behind us defied the lockdown last week to visit many of the local houses and sample a few vegetable gardens! I managed to snap this shot in the early morning sun. It took 5 days to round them all up!