Elisa Song, MD, is a board-certified, Stanford-, NYU-, UCSF-trained holistic pediatrician. She is the founder Whole Family Wellness, an integrative pediatric practice in Belmont, California.
Flu hysteria has now transformed into coronavirus hysteria, and many of my patients have asked me how worried you should really be. News around COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and most are not sure whether to panic or stay calm. Addressing the Munich Security Conference on Feb 15, 2020, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “…we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic…This is a time for facts, not fear. This is a time for rationality, not rumours.”
I always say that knowledge is power, but in this case, because the world has never seen this particular coronavirus (which is why it’s called “novel”), we don’t know a whole lot. Scientists and researchers across the world are scrambling to learn more about COVID-19 and possible treatment and prevention strategies, and we are learning more every day. I have to admit that I’m more worried about COVID-19 than I was when my young son had the flu with a 105.5 fever. But when I get anxious about something, I try to dig in and get the facts. And that’s what I did—for days. Over on my blog, Healthy Kids Happy Kids, I share all the facts that I’ve uncovered, all in one place,so that we can all be calmly and rationally prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic—it is the most evidence-based and up-to-date research I could find to help us navigate these times with as much knowledge as possible.
Remember, the vast majority of people appear to have mild illness, especially children. Researchers are investigating what makes certain populations more vulnerable to severe illness. However, we know from other viral illnesses that there are ways to reduce our susceptibilities to serious illness. Infection + Susceptibility = Symptoms. So, if we can reduce our individual susceptibility to serious illness, our likelihood of developing mild symptoms if we are infected is much higher. Let’s take a look at some of the possible ways that we can reduce our susceptibilities to protect our families. There are commonsense measures to protect yourself from COVID-19 that you should be practicing regardless of whatever virus is circulating at the moment. The only unique recommendation with COVID-19 is to avoid unnecessary contact with non-domesticated animals due to presumed animal-human transmission. Other commonsense measures to protect yourself and prevent the spread of illness include:
Wash hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face. Washing hands with warm soap and water for at least 30 seconds is the best option. This study found that washing hands even with plain running water without soap was more effective than ethanol-based hand disinfectants at killing the Influenza A virus!
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth! Do your best to keep those little fingers away! The first step is helping children (and adults) be mindful about how often we actually do touch our faces! Varying studies have shown that we touch our faces on average 23-50 times per hour. So, help your children notice when they’re touching their faces so they can pay attention to not touching their faces even when you’re not with them.
Stay home when you’re sick, unless you need urgent medical attention. You may be increasing your possible exposures to COVID-19 if you don’t have it, or exposing others unnecessarily if you do. Cover your cough with your elbow or tissues. Teach your kids proper cough etiquette. And if you use a tissue, immediately throw it into the trash and wash your hands.
Keep your distance. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is obviously sick with fever and/or respiratory symptoms.
Irrigate your nose. While we do not know if nasal irrigation makes a difference for prevention of COVID-19, I believe that one of the MOST preventive things you can do for any viral respiratory illness is to irrigate your, and your children’s, nasal passages with Xlear nasal spray at the end of every day and after any potential exposure (work, school, playgroups, plane travel, etc.). This is a saline nasal spray with xylitol and grapefruit seed extract, both of which have antimicrobial properties. You cannot overdo it, and will not get “addicted” to it. Other options for nasal irrigation are a regular saline spray, Neti pot, and other sinus rinses like Neilmed. Apart from regular hand washing, I believe that daily and frequent nasal irrigation is one of the MOST important things that we can do to prevent influenza and other viral respiratory infections from taking hold. This is because after exposure to a virus, the influenza virus tries to invade and multiply in your nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place!
Load up on foods and spices with antiviral properties. These include coconut oil, raw garlic, oregano, ginger, kimchi and other fermented foods, walnut, pomegranate, green tea, apple cider vinegar, and medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkeytail).
Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants, which will destroy the free radicals that weaken our immune system and are responsible for making us feel sick when we catch a bug. Each color provides different antioxidant power—so be sure to eat a rainbow every day. If your kids aren’t the biggest vegetable eaters yet, give them their antioxidant dose with a smoothie packed with fruits AND veggies, use that smoothie to make jello with grass-fed gelatin or popsicles, sneak pureed vegetables into your spaghetti sauce, soups, chilis, or whatever other way you can think of—be creative!
Stay well-hydrated. Stick to water, coconut water, herbal teas, and bone broth. No soda or sugary drinks, please! What’s a good estimate for how much water you need at a minimum? Divide your body weight (in pounds) in half and drink that number in ounces! Do you come close?
Drink your bone broth! Bone broth has amazing immune-supporting properties. See this Amazing Bone Broth to get started making your own.
Eat fermented foods. The probiotics contained in fermented foods have tremendous immune-boosting powers. In fact, the fermented Korean cabbage, kimchi, was found to have significant effects in preventing and fighting the H1N1 influenza virus! Other examples of delicious fermented foods to try include sauerkraut, pickles (try “real” pickles without added vinegar like Bubbies), miso, kefir, and kombucha.
Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. Did you know that your blood shows lab evidence of a lowered immune system within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose), and causes a 50% reduction in your white blood cells’ ability to kill germs? White blood cells are our “army” cells that fight off germs. This effect is most noticeable 2 hours after ingestion, but is still present 5 hours later! Keeping blood sugar levels healthy has been shown to improve immune system activity.
Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Moderate exercise can boost the production of macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “eat” bacteria and viruses. However, intense exercise can actually temporarily decrease immune function—so don’t overdo it!
Get adequate sleep. An increase in sleep actually increases the number of your white blood cells. On the other hand, loss of sleep even for a few hours at night, increases inflammation in our body which makes us more susceptible to catching the flu and having more severe symptoms. So, make sure your whole family is getting enough Zzzz’s. For tips on getting a good night’s sleep, see Eat Yourself to a Good Night’s Sleep and The 3 Things You Need to Know to Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
Minimize stress. Emotional stress creates physiological stress in our bodies that lowers our immune defenses and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Stress has been shown to lower our white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs, and actually creates more inflammation that may make us feel even sicker. For guidance on how to help manage your child’s stress naturally, take a look at Back-to-School, Back to… STRESS!!! for some great tips.
Keep your immune system as strong as possible. Consider keeping your immune system even more supported with the following nutritional supplements to give your body even more antiviral defense:
- Fish oil: Omega-3 essential fatty acids have a host of immune benefits too long to list!
- Probiotics: One study showed a dramatic reduction in fever and upper respiratory symptoms in children who took a probiotic with a specific combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium daily throughout the cold and flu season. This particular combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can be found in Metagenics Ultra Flora Children’s Chewable probiotic, Ultra Flora Synergy powder, and Ultra Flora Balance capsules. The recommended dosage for children and adults is ¼ tsp 2x/day, 1 capsule 2x/day, or 1 chew 2x/day. Probiotics are why fermented foods pack such a punch, so if your child’s palate hasn’t expanded yet to include a lot of fermented foods, be sure to give her a probiotic supplement to keep her gut and immune system healthy!
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which assists our ability to ward off and deal with infection. I have been using Metagenics Ultra-Potent C because it has added ingredients such as lysine and glutathione which assist in fighting viruses.
- Vitamin D3: There is speculation that rates of illness increase over the winter because of the widespread deficiency of Vitamin D. As mentioned above, Vitamin D deficiency may be one of the risk factors for sepsis. Studies have shown that people supplemented with adequate levels of Vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season had significantly lower rates of infection. Vitamin D3 increases our body’s production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial compound, to help fight viral and bacterial infections, that I discussed above in the section on sepsis. The Vitamin D Council recommends a maintenance dosage of 1000IU of Vitamin D3 per 25 pounds of body weight (the dosage may be higher in people with Vitamin D deficiency, which is epidemic and can be measured through an easy blood test). Vitamin D3 is one of the supplements that I am “religious” about giving to my kids.
- Zinc: Zinc is required for the normal functioning of white blood cells. Supplementing with just 15mg of zinc per day in adults has been found to improve our immune cells’ ability to ward off infection.
If you DO start to feel a fever and cough coming on, remember—it is very likely the common cold, influenza, or one of the other more commonly circulating viruses and not COVID-19—so DON’T PANIC. And even if it is COVID-19, remember that most people appear to have MILD symptoms. If I were concerned that I or my family had COVID-19, I would still use the same pediatrician-approved natural remedies for colds and flu-like illnesses that I detail here.
As a disclaimer, I am not in any way recommending natural treatments as a replacement for standard medical care or vaccination, but until that time that effective medical treatments or vaccination for COVID-19 are developed and approved for use in kids and adults, I will be using all the tools I have that I know can work for other viral respiratory illnesses, like the flu. In the meantime, stay calm but be prepared.
Share this story