While the following post is not directly related to Dementia, it is somewhat related from a chronic disease prevention perspective. While I am not an expert, I feel as though since every single entity I have ever given my email address to (including the company who repaired my refrigerator!) has informed me how they are handling Covid-19, I thought I’d weigh in.
There is endless talk about the impending vaccine and its promise to protect the population from Covid-19. In addition to my thought that massive, frequent testing is the most expedient way out of this public health crisis, I strongly believe that waiting for the vaccine is not the best strategy for helping society. Most vaccines take 2-5 years to develop and distribute. The Covid-19 vaccine is being “fast tracked” and scientists all over the world are contributing their efforts. In the event that this vaccine will be available in 12-18 months or even sooner, will that “fast track” compromise safety and efficacy? Clinical trials take time and can’t really be sped up without some sacrifice. Will this vaccine protect against what is certain to be multiple strains of the mutating virus? The effectiveness of the annual flu vaccine varies from as little as 10% to as much as 60-70%. The CDC found that the flu shot during the 2017-2018 flu season was 36% effective. This rather dismal effective rate is due to different strains of the flu as well as varied individual response. I am not suggesting that one should not get either the flu vaccine or the impending Covid-19 vaccine, I am merely suggesting that we must look elsewhere to achieve better protection.
Anti-viral drugs present a similar issue. Many of the drugs in current clinical trials are turning out to be ineffective. I’m certain that the pharmaceutical industry will ultimately develop a drug that addresses the virus, but how long will it take and will it work for everyone? Our genetic differences contribute to our varied responses to drugs, vaccines and to the virus.
There is also the pertinent question of life after Covid-19. This pandemic will eventually subside, but without question, there will be more viruses to follow. Is the best plan to start from scratch and develop a vaccine and drugs with each and every new virus that threatens society?
I think the most constructive approach towards successful outcomes will be to guide the population to become more resilient and to make their health the number one priority. The data reveals that over 90% of fatalities from Covid-19 are associated with comorbidities. These include high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes 2. The first step is to teach people to optimize their immune system. This will be difficult and costly, but it’s hard to imagine that it will be more difficult or more costly than our current situation.
There are two types of immune system. The first is the innate immune system and the second is the adaptive immune system. A healthy immune system responds to threats in two stages. Stage 1 occurs at the first sign of a threat and the immune cells rush to the site of the invader and trigger the initial inflammation. This is the functioning of one’s “innate immune system”. If this first assault by the innate immune system fails to extinguish the threat, the cells in the adaptive immune system step into action. Ideally, after these two types of immune systems do their job, one’s immune system returns to normal. Sometimes, one’s body overreacts, does not return to normal and due to a release of chemical messengers called “cytokines”, the immune system becomes overactivated and remains in a continual state of inflammation. This is what is referred to as the “cytokine storm”.
The following includes a variety of vitamins, supplements and non-pharmaceutical ways to optimize one’s immune system.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce pro-inflammatory mediators and to enhance immune cells. Fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols which are antioxidants and can protect against certain health issues. One should eliminate all pro-inflammatory foods which include carbohydrates, excessive sugar, fried foods and processed foods.
One should eliminate or at least reduce their intake of alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
Exercise has been shown to lower cytokines as long as it’s “moderate” and consistent. Too much exercise can be pro-inflammatory.
Stress reduction is critical. Chronic stress is one of the major contributors to an unbalanced immune system and leads to predisposition to diseases. While lowering one’s stress is easier said than done, the first step is to change our response to stressful situations. There are several smartphone apps available to guide one through a meditation practice to alleviate stress. These include Insight Timer, Meditation Studio, 10% Happier and Simply Being.
Deep sleep is essential for a healthy functioning immune system. This must move to the top of the list of one’s health priorities.
Early morning sunlight can balance one’s circadian rhythms which in turn, will contribute to an optimal immune system.
Vitamin D3 plays an important role in normal immune function. It is a source of power for T-cells. Vitamin D has a broad impact on genetic expression. One should always take Vitamin D3 along with K2 to make sure that calcium is not circulated improperly in soft tissue. This vitamin (which is actually a hormone!) should be taken in the morning as opposed to at night. Please consult your health care provider for specific dose recommendations.
Zinc is important for immunity and is known for fighting infection. Zinc deficiency can increase the risk for pneumonia. Dose moderation is paramount. Please consult your health care provider for dose specifications.
Vitamin C is a bit more controversial. It is vital to the function of white blood cells. Humans do not synthesize vitamin C and must obtain it from food or supplementation. There have been studies showing that vitamin c may be helpful in treating the flu virus and colds. Please consult your health provider regarding dose.
Copper is a trace mineral that contributes to the formation of red blood cells, among other things. It helps the body fight free radicals and inflammation and contributes to the maintenance of immune function. One should determine their current blood levels for this and for all other micronutrients prior to supplementation. Consult your health provider.
Melatonin is thought to improve immune response to inflammation. There have been some studies that show melatonin helps to regulate cytokines and decrease the cytokine storm. This is a supplement that has been widely studied and should be taken 30 minutes before going to sleep. Consult your health care provider.
Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have shown it can inhibit certain viruses and potentially reduce inflammatory cytokines.
Hopefully, this pandemic will result in addressing the widespread breakdown in the health care system infrastructure. There is a critical need for massive change in the health care system. We must acknowledge that public health policy has to adapt to the current 21st century demands of society and develop new approaches that accommodate both rich and poor people. Many of the steps toward increasing resilience and optimizing one’s immune system cannot be monetized. Since the basic tenets of good health don’t present a financial incentive to private enterprise, the government must step in. Some of these fundamental steps as I have outlined above, include sleep, nutrition, stress reduction and exercise. I am well aware that one of the most difficult things to change is human behavior. An example of successful policy driving behavioral change is mandatory seat belt laws. This represents an example of behavior following a change in social norms. Perhaps the Covid-19 public health crisis will be the impetus for many to change their health related behavior.