Beyond the Pandemic: Top 10 Ways to Create Wellness in Your LifeDr. Zoltan P. Rona, MD, M.Sc. July 27, 2020
(Updated July 27, 2020)
Now that the coronavirus pandemic is mostly under control in Canada, it’s time to consider the most effective ways to restore our health and wellness going forward. While I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from following the recommended government guidelines for preventing COVID-19 infections, such as using hand sanitizers and wearing masks, there is much more that can be done to help both body and mind recover after the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lock down.
Based on a great deal of scientific evidence, along with my clinical experience during 42 years of medical practice, what follows here is my recommended protocol that any healthy person between the ages of 12 – 100 can follow to get the most out of their immune system. Those who have chronic health conditions could also apply these same principles to help their recovery, with the approval of their doctors. Here are my top 10 recommendations:
1. Avoid Sugar – It Cripples the Immune System
There are many theories and regimens that have been advocated as the best diet to follow (paleo, vegan, ketogenic, Mediterranean, etc.), but the single most important factor that everyone agrees on is the avoidance of large amounts of sugar.
Science has established as far back as 1973 that when we consume 100 grams of sugar from, for example, a litre bottle of pop or three candy bars, this reduces the ability of our white blood cells (neutrophils) to kill invading pathogens by at least 40%. This crippling effect on our immune system can last up to five hours. In addition, sugar consumption increases the number of pro-inflammatory free radicals produced by the white blood cells, called “reactive oxygen species”, that can cause all sorts of damage to body cells and tissues.
I see evidence of this among my patients year in and year out – especially after holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and Easter when sugar consumption is at its highest. That is also when the incidence of respiratory infections (pharyngitis, bronchitis, sinusitis), middle ear infections in children, and other immune system abnormalities are most prominent. These are also the times when mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and psychoses are at their worst. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is also more common during these times and it too has been linked to a high sugar intake.
Also worthy of note, high sugar consumption has been linked to obesity – one of the most common factors that predisposes a person to viral infections. So, first and foremost, avoid high sugar use, especially if you are pre-diabetic or diabetic. If you are having trouble doing this, please read the book Lick the Sugar Habit by Nancy Appleton.
2. Make Immune-Boosting Probiotics a Priority
On the positive side, eat lots of daily probiotic and prebiotic foods. There are several mechanisms by which these foods help the immune system resist viral infections. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh, miso, natto, raw unpasteurized cheeses, kombucha, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk are great sources of friendly bacteria (probiotics). These help fight pathogenic microbes while improving digestion and providing our system with numerous enzymes and vital nutrients, including vitamin B12 and vitamin K2.
The top probiotic strains that are backed by a high degree of evidence supporting their immune benefits include:
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus clausii
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus sporogens
- Saccharomyces boulardii
To nourish your inner ecology in a way that aids the growth of probiotics, try eating more prebiotic foods because they enhance the benefits of friendly bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics include foods like dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, chicory root, garlic, onions, jicama, under-ripe bananas, and asparagus.
Both prebiotics and probiotics also reduce inflammation and help with weight loss and overall digestive, skin, cardiovascular, and mental health. In addition to food sources, prebiotics and probiotics can also be taken as supplements so this is another option.
3. Choose Your Supplements Wisely
There are a great number of vitamin, mineral, herbal, amino acid and homeopathic supplements that have been recommended in this recovery phase of the pandemic. What I believe to be the most important of these – that you cannot live well without – are listed here.
4. Take 2,000 IU Vitamin D Daily
Since many people have been spending a great deal of time indoors during the lock down, they are surely not getting much vitamin D from sunshine exposure. The body cannot make vitamin D from sunshine that’s coming through a window because beneficial UVB rays are blocked by the iron component in windowpane glass. So the only way to get the UVB rays that promote vitamin D formation in the skin is through direct exposure to the sun (without sunscreen).
Not only is vitamin D important for bone health but it has profound benefits for our immune system. If you can get out into sunshine every day for half an hour or more and expose your skin to sunshine without getting a sunburn, then you might not need any oral D supplementation. But if you can’t get into sunshine regularly, then do take a supplement of at least 2,000 IU daily. If you are lucky enough to have a doctor willing to check your blood level of vitamin D, and they find it to be low, a higher dose of 5 to 10,000 IU daily could be necessary.
Don’t forget that vitamin D receptors exist in your brain and a deficiency has been linked to depression, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, and numerous other mental health problems. Supplementation can be important here.
A recent study showed that the most severe cases of COVID-19 infections were seen in people with vitamin D-deficient blood. Vitamin D encourages the body to manufacture more of a protein called cathelicidin, a natural antiviral antibiotic. Since vitamin D supplementation is generally regarded as safe, it’s a good idea for most folks living in the northern hemisphere to take it daily for prevention of viral infections and numerous other adverse health conditions.
And remember that vitamin D is best taken together with vitamin K2 supplement. In fact, many companies selling vitamin D now offer it combined with a low dose of vitamin K2, usually 120 mcg for every 1000 IU of vitamin D. The reason for this is to prevent calcium from being deposited into arteries and organs like the kidney, in case the supplemented vitamin D amounts get too high in the blood.
5. Include 25 – 50 Mg Zinc with Lunch
Zinc is a mineral that’s been much studied for its beneficial effect on immunity as well as mental health. ‘No zinc, no think.’ As a result, I believe it to be of profound importance in recovery from the stresses caused by this pandemic lock down.
Zinc lozenges were recently found to help both prevent and treat viral infections effectively. The dose I recommend is 25 – 50 mg daily for prevention, but much higher doses can be used when one is suffering from a cold or ’flu. High dose zinc supplementation for extended periods of time can deplete copper stores in the body leading to anemia and joint inflammation. So, for every 50 mg of zinc, supplementing with 8 mg of copper is a good idea to prevent copper deficiency caused by excessive zinc.
Zinc is found in many animal and plant-based high protein foods. The list of these is below:
- Lamb – 3 ounces contains 2.9 mg zinc
- Grass-fed Beef – 3 ounces contains 2.6 mg zinc
- Chickpeas – 1 cup cooked contains 2.5 mg zinc
- Cashews – ¼ cup contains 1.9 mg zinc
- Pumpkin seeds – ¼ cup contains 1.6 mg zinc
- Yogurt (or Kefir) – 1 container of plain yogurt/6 ounces contains 1 mg zinc
- Chicken – 3 ounces contains 1 mg zinc
- Turkey – 3 ounces contains 1 mg zinc
- Eggs – 1 large contains 0.6 mg zinc
- Mushrooms – 1 cup contains 0.6 mg zinc
- Salmon – 3 ounces contains 0.5 mg zinc
- Cocoa powder — 1 Tbsp contains 0.3 mg zinc
6. Take Vitamin C Morning, Noon, and Night
I have written extensively about vitamin C in past issues of this magazine, most recently in the Spring 2020 issue. Suffice it to say that many natural health authorities – from Linus Pauling to the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service – have strongly promoted it for enhancing immunity, clearing physical stress, and for preventing and treating viral infections of all kinds.
Using 1,000 mg, up to 4 times daily, is effective prevention for most healthy adults, but doses can be much higher for infections. You know if you are taking too much vitamin C because excess intake causes loose bowel movements or diarrhea. So, ideally take a bowel tolerance dose (and may you never be constipated ever again).
You can get vitamin C from your diet by eating a variety of citrus fruits and raw vegetables every day. Supplementation, however, is most important for those not able to consume an ideal diet or who are suffering from chronic illness or weak digestion.
7. Include a Multivitamin / Mineral Supplement
For most people, a multivitamin and mineral supplement is a very good idea. A multi will at least provide the minimum daily requirement for nutrients missing from the diet. It will also balance the other nutrients taken in larger doses on a regular basis. Get one from a health food store. Avoid brands manufactured by pharmaceutical firms that contain numerous additives and potentially harmful ingredients. Check with a natural health care provider to advise on supplement quality. Be aware of the recent false accusations concerning the lack of effectiveness of multivitamins. These claims have been debunked by numerous experts and are best ignored.
8. Exercise is Essential
According to HEALTHbeat, newsletter of the Harvard Medical School, one of the best ways to boost immunity is through regular exercise. With the onset of the warmer weather, getting outdoors for long walks or even some light jogging would be very beneficial, provided your joints are in reasonably good shape. Of course, there are numerous sports like tennis and golf that can be enjoyed by many. Otherwise, swimming or using a stationary bicycle might be better alternatives. Many find it useful to work with a personal trainer or just get some helpful tips from your trusted local gym. There are also several other alternatives like Yoga and Tai Chi that have been advocated for their immune system benefits. The main thing is that you do something with movement on a regular basis.
9. Relieve Stress
Everything recommended in the protocol just described will be helpful in managing the stresses that may come your way in the coming months. Furthermore, meditation, massage therapy, life coaching, and psychotherapy are all effective at reducing your response to stress.
Since stress primarily affects the endocrine system, especially the thyroid and adrenal glands, it’s a good idea to get your hormone levels tested. This could be done through either a medical doctor or naturopath.
Herbal remedies called adaptogens that help stabilize the most important stress hormone (cortisol) include ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola.
The amino acid L-theanine (250 – 1000 mg up to 4 times daily as needed), which is derived from green tea, is calming but also something that allows one to focus better. It helps basically by increasing brain levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA and by boosting brain alpha wave activity. It can be useful in helping relaxation as well as sleep without knocking you out like many drugs do.
10. Get Enough Sleep
Also for improved sleep, consider using melatonin (1 to 3 mg before bed) on a regular basis, because it not only helps to bring on sleep but is a powerful antioxidant that aids prevention of a long list of chronic health problems.
If you are generally healthy you can safely follow these recommendations without much concern. Those of you who are taking prescription drugs, or have serious medical conditions for which you are being monitored, would need to work with your health care practitioner to personalize your protocol. Be safe and be well.
• 72% of Canadians Support Mandatory Covid-19 Vaccines. https://globalnews.ca/news/6932834/mandatory-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine-ipsos/
• Sanchez, A, et al. “Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis.” Am J Clin Nutr. Nov 1973; 261: 1180-1184.
• The Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis: https://tinyurl.com/sugarandphagocytosis
• Ringsdorf, w., Cheraskin, E., and Ramsay. R “Sucrose, Neutrophilic Phagocytosis and Resistance to Disease.” Dental Survey. 1976; 52(12): 46-48.
• Mohanty, P., et al. “Glucose Challenge Stimulates Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) Generation by Leucocytes.” J Clin Endocrin Metab. Aug 2000; 85(8): 2970-2973.
• Sorensen, L.B., et al. “Effect of Sucrose on Inflammatory Markers in Overweight Humans” Am J Clin Nutr. Aug 2005; 82(2).
• Sugars and Obesity. http://www.actiononsugar.org/sugar-and-health/sugar-and-obesity/
• Appleton, N. Lick the Sugar Habit. (New York: Avery Penguin Putnam, 1988).
• Prebiotics discussion. https://draxe.com/nutrition/prebiotics/
• Probiotics discussion. https://draxe.com/nutrition/probiotics-benefits-foods-supplements/
• Vitamin D deficiency may be linked to more severe cases of Covid-19: https://tinyurl.com/Ddefeciencycovid19
• Can Zinc Lozenges Help with Coronavirus Infections? https://tinyurl.com/zincandcoronavirus
• Zinc Benefits. https://draxe.com/nutrition/zinc-benefits/
• Coronavirus Protection and Treatment: Top Ten Natural Remedies https://tinyurl.com/top10coronaremedies
• Benefits of Multivitamins. https://villagevitaminstore.ca/blogs/news/benefits-of-multivitamins
• Harvard Health. How to boost your immune system: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc, offers consultations on nutrition and natural remedies in Thornhill. He has recently retired from medical practice as a Complementary and Alternative medical practitioner and now strictly offers nutritional consultations. He is the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and has also published several Canadian bestselling books, including Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin. To see more of Dr. Rona’s articles, visit: www.highlevelwellness.ca and for appointments, please call (905) 764-8700; office located at: 390 Steeles Ave. W., Unit 19, Thornhill, Ontario