Doctors at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson offer several strategies to enhance the immune system and reduce the risk of viral infection.
Across the University of Arizona Health Sciences, researchers are directing their attention to studying the coronavirus pandemic and offering support through activities including personal protection device donations and specimen collection kit assembly.
At the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, faculty and staff have seen an increased interest in evidence-based integrative strategies to prevent COVID-19 virus infection and associated pneumonia.
The open-access journal Explore recently published an academic report in which doctors in the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, including Andrew Weil, MD, Victoria Maizes, MD, Lise Alschuler, ND, and Randy Horwitz, MD, offers strategies to enhance the immune system to reduce the severity or duration of a viral infection.
Although no integrative measures have been validated in human trials specifically for COVID-19, this is an opportune time to be proactive, said Dr. Alschuler. These supplemental considerations should be used in addition to the current recommendations that emphasize regular hand washing, physical distancing and avoiding non-essential travel.
Adequate sleep: Shorter sleep duration increases the risk of infectious illness. Adequate sleep also ensures the secretion of melatonin, a molecule that may play a role in reducing coronavirus virulence (please see below).
- Stress management: Psychological stress disrupts immune regulation; various mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises and guided imagery, reduce stress.
- Zinc: Coronaviruses appear susceptible to the viral inhibitory actions of zinc. Zinc may prevent coronavirus entry into cells and appears to reduce coronavirus virulence. Typical daily dosing of zinc is 15-30 milligrams daily, with lozenges potentially providing direct protective effects in the upper-respiratory tract.
- Vegetables and Fruits: Vegetables and fruits provide a repository of flavonoids, considered a cornerstone of an anti-inflammatory diet. At least five to seven servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruits are recommended daily. Some foods and/or dietary supplements to consider include: tomatoes, apples, onions, oranges, nuts, parsley, celery, berries, licorice and Chinese skullcap.
- Vitamin C: Clinical trials have found that vitamin C shortens the frequency, duration and severity of the common cold and the incidence of pneumonia. The typical daily dosing of vitamin C ranges from 500-3,000 mg daily, with even higher doses utilized during times of acute infection.
- Melatonin: Melatonin has been shown to be anti-inflammatory; it also reduces oxidative lung injury and inflammatory cell recruitment during viral infections.
- Curcumin: Curcumin, a key component of turmeric, has anti-inflammatory actions and antiviral effects against a variety of similar viruses.
People with symptoms of infection or a positive test for the covid-19 virus may want to avoid certain supplements. In the absence of human clinical data, caution is warranted with the following immune-activating agents due to their possible stimulation of an inflammatory response:
- Sambucus nigra (Elderberry)
- Polysaccharide extracts from medicinal mushrooms
- Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea
- Larch arabinogalactan
- Vitamin D
Other commonly used natural immune-stimulating and antiviral agents are available, several of which may work to restore immune balance, or homeostasis. These likely are safe to use both prior to and during COVID-19 virus infection. Whether these agents mitigate the symptoms or severity of COVID-19 is unknown and, therefore, the benefit of these agents during COVID-19 infection is unknown. Recommendations include:
- Allium sativum (garlic)
- Astragalus membranaceus
- Full mycelium mushroom extracts
- Mentha piperita (peppermint)
- Andrographis paniculata
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Weil Center for Integrative Medicine is offering two online integrative health courses free of charge from now until May 1:
- An Introduction to Contemplative Care: This course explores an approach to caregiving that incorporates mindfulness practice, compassionate action and moment-to-moment awareness of the relationships around you. The first section features mediations to help you, your friends and family members cope with stress. Developed with the co-founders of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, this course may offer just what you crave in trying times.
- Nutrition Above the Neck: Opportunities are available to alleviate stress and improve mental well-being in the face of the coronavirus challenges. This video lecture course explores the role of nutrients in mental health. Learn practical steps to reduce your anxiety through food and supplements.