How to Protect Yourself from Super Viruses, Part 2

by and | Updated Nov 27, 2022 | Flu and Colds, Immune Efficiency

Health experts are warning about the triple threat of a virulent flu season in 2022-2023, new variants of Covid that seem adept in escaping immune detection, and strong RSV viral infections in children. Here are additional, simple, often effective, science-validated, and affordable ways that may optimize your immune efficiency. They may help to protect you from, or reduce the severity of super viruses. 70 references are included.

The Gut-Immune Connection

More than 70% of the body’s immune cells are located in the gastrointestinal tract, indicating a direct connection between the immune system and intestinal microflora.1 To build up immunity against respiratory infections, we need to understand and take advantage of the gut-immune relationship. During health, the human gut bacterial community is diverse. Each individual harbors over 100 trillion bacteria comprised of over 2000 different known species. The gut microbiome plays an essential role in the development, instruction, and priming of the immune system.  The proper balance, composition, and healthful diversity of gut bacteria is necessary for favorable immune responses and optimal health. Imbalance that favors unfriendly gut bacteria over friendly germs triggers strong immune and inflammatory processes that promote chronic disease. Friendly gut bacteria have the opposite effect!

Gut Health Shapes Lung Health

The gut and the lungs are connected in an intimate and bi-directional fashion. The immune system’s anti-viral responses to a respiratory infection, such as the flu, are linked to disturbances in the composition of microflora in both the gut and the lungs. Consequently, this imbalance can lower one’s threshold to a secondary bacterial infection.2 The gut bacteria can also shape the response of the immune system to lung infections.3

Gut Health & Respiratory Infections

Probiotics can reduce the number of respiratory tract infections (RTI), RTI episodes, the number of days that the patients spent with RTI symptoms, and the need for antibiotics.4 In human studies, probiotics were found to protect against the common cold and flu by over 50%.5. Several clinical trials have revealed the efficacy of probiotics and their metabolites in treating patients with SARS-CoV-2.6 For example, a single-center, quadruple-blinded, randomized trial tested the effectiveness of probiotics in treating adults with symptomatic Coronavirus Disease in 2019. In this study, probiotic supplementation was well-tolerated, reducing nasopharyngeal viral load and lung infiltrates compared to placebo. Probiotic supplementation significantly increased specific IgM and IgG (antibodies) against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) compared to placebo.7

If you have had COVID-19, please note:  COVID-19 patients demonstrate intestinal microbial dysbiosis, even six months after recovery. As previously mentioned, this imbalance leads to a preponderance of unfriendly bacteria (that generate pro-inflammatory substances) and a reduction in friendly bacteria that manufacture beneficial substances that help protect us from chronic diseases.8  Diet, environmental factors, and genetics play an important role in shaping gut microbiota which can influence immunity. Gut microbiota diversity is decreased in old age. Hence, it is essential to pay attention to the laws of health that improve diversity and balance of gut microflora.9 

Keep Your Gut Healthy

Gut dysfunction, deficiency in beneficial gut bacteria, and its associated leaky gut syndrome may exacerbate the severity of Covid-19 infection by enabling the virus to access the surface of the digestive tract and internal organs. 10 Because yogurt is high in sugar (which suppresses the immune system), it is not the best source of probiotics for super virus prevention.

Diets that are high in whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, but low in added sugar, saturated and trans fats) stimulate the proliferation of beneficial bacteria such as those that have beneficial anti-inflammatory properties.11  In this aspect, liberal amounts of raw fruits and vegetables are particularly useful in building healthy gut microflora.12 In contrast, a poor-quality or Western diet (rich in sugar, animal products, salt, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates) is linked to more disease-causing bacteria in the gut.13,14 Eating meals at regular times, exercise, and sufficient sleep help to populate the gut with disease-fighting bacteria.15

Colorful, Whole Plant Foods Fight Viruses

One study showed that blueberry consumption for six weeks increased natural killer activity and reduced anti-inflammatory compounds.16 Bilberry, cranberry, and blackcurrant have high antiviral effects against flu viruses.17 Mangoes, apples, citrus fruits, and broccoli contain terpenes which inhibit the herpes simplex and flu viruses.18

Polyphenols inhibit the ability of viruses to enter into the cells. Berries, grapes, pomegranates, beans, and nuts are loaded with polyphenols that offer virus protection. They help to improve the blood sugar and reduce diabetic complications!19,20 Good news for diabetic individuals who are prone to both viral and bacterial infections!

Immune Boosters From Whole Grains

Remember all the talk about carbs being bad for you? The polysaccharides and several phytochemicals  from whole fruits and whole grains (good carbs) inhibit viral replication and interfere with the viruses’ ability to bind to the cell receptors.21 Phytic acid from whole grains and legumes enhance the virus-destroying activity of the natural killer cells.

Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber that boosts immune activity and makes it more efficient. Specifically, β-glucan stimulates lymphocytes (white blood cells that bind to viruses and release chemicals to destroy them). Oats, barley, certain types of mushrooms (e.g., reishi, shiitake, maitake), nutritional and brewer’s yeast, and seaweed are good sources of β-glucan. Beans, peas, lentils, broccoli, sweet potato, and eggplant contain some beta-glucan.22

Nutrient Deficiencies

Deficient micronutrient stores of vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate, and trace elements, including zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, and copper compromise immunity and enhance one’s susceptibility to viral infections.23

Please note, vegetarians:  A deficiency in vitamin B12 significantly decreases the activity of natural killer (NK) cells in the spleen. Low or marginal levels of vitamin A also compromises the effectiveness of NK cells. Vitamin E improves the efficiency of natural killer cells. The elderly are susceptible to vitamin E deficiency.24 Vegetarians need to pay careful attention to getting adequate vitamin D and zinc. If you are a vegetarian or have dark skin, summer’s sunshine will not supply enough vitamin D through the winter. Fortified cereals, toasted wheat germ, firm organic tofu, lentils, black beans, green peas, and pumpkin seeds are high in zinc.   

We recommend a plant-based, predominately whole-food diet. Emphasize colorful fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, avocadoes, unsalted nuts, and seeds. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent, so get your vitamin D level checked. Those who consume a vegan or a vegetarian diet should be sure their vitamin B-12 level is in a good range. If one knows that their diet is not the best or has multiple food allergies or health conditions, a modest amount of supplementation may prove helpful until one can get a dietician’s help planning a well-balanced, plant-based diet. To avoid any undesirable drug-supplement reaction, always check with your pharmacist first before taking any supplement if you take medicine.

Immune Bolstering & Antiviral Herbs

Test tube studies provide early evidence that common culinary herbs and other plants may inhibit the proliferation of viruses and may even assist in destroying them. Basil25 and rosemary26 can inhibit enteroviruses, a group of viruses that originate in the digestive system and can spread to the central nervous system and other organs.

(We  want to insert a caveat about herbal studies.  Test tube (in vitro) and plant and animal (in vivo) studies provide early evidence that a particular herb might be effective against a specific virus. However, cells, tissues, and organs inside the human body are so complex compared to a test tube environment. In vitro studies suggest “possibly” or “may”; they do not offer conclusive results. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies are needed to provide definitive proof, and even then, confounding factors must be evaluated. The authors view herbs as useful adjunctive treatments, not cure-alls and magic pills.)

Cold and Flu Fighters

Compounds in echinacea activate non-specific virus-destroying natural killer (NK) cells directly and appear useful for respiratory infections.27 Echinacea inhibits the herpes simplex virus, some coronaviruses, and rhinoviruses (that cause the common cold). Turmeric and garlic target specific flu viruses. Viruses mutate into different strands so that it is not “one herb fits all” strains of flu. For example, turmeric inhibits H1N1, H6N, where garlic inhibits the parainfluenza virus 3.28

Raw Garlic & Astragalus

Garlic exhibits antiparasitic, anti‐inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and antifungal effects. Raw garlic increases both natural killer cells and killer T lymphocytes. Natural killer cells are the first line of defense against any viral invaders. Lymphocytes provide tailor-made immunity. Studies suggests that garlic may offer some protection from influenza A (H1N1) virus, herpes simplex virus, rhinoviruses in colds, and HIV.29

Extracts from whole astragalus root increase the number of circulating white blood cells, improve antibody production and lymphocyte production, and enhance the killing ability of NK cells. Powdered astragalus root in capsule form appears to be more effective than the extracts.30

Red Ginseng

Red ginseng works synergistically with vitamin C to boost NK cell activity. Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, is an herb that stimulates NK cell activity.31

Curcumin

Curcumin from turmeric has a broad spectrum of biological actions, including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities.32 In vitro and in vivo studies show that curcumin exerts antiviral activity against Sars-coronavirus, influenza viruses, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes simplex virus, dengue virus, chikungunya virus, hepatitis B and C viruses, influenza A virus, the Epstein-Barr virus, and zikavirus.33 34

Curcumin & COVID-19

Clinical studies have demonstrated the effects of nanoencapsulated curcumin in patients with COVID-19. A significant reduction in clinical manifestations of COVID-19 (fever, cough, and dyspnea) was observed in the group treated with nanocurcumin (patients with mild and severe disease).  Moreover, nanocurcumin reduced the mortality rate of these patients. However, the mortality rate of the placebo group was significantly higher than that of the two groups (patients with light and severe disease) treated with nanocurcumin.35 Some evidence exists that curcumin may reduce the risk for the cardiovascular complications from a severe covid infection.36

Nutritional supplements of curcumin with vitamin C and zinc have shown promising results in boosting the natural immunity and protective defense against the COVID-19 infections. These results have been noted in many hospitalized patients in an Indian setting.37 Please note: Inflammation and the formation of undesirable, small clots fuel covid’s severity and complications. Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and exerts some blood thinning activity.  Individuals who take medicine (including over-the-counter drugs) should always check with their pharmacist first before using medicinal amounts of herbs.

In a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, 70 symptomatic adults with positive COVID-19 antigen tests were all given standard COVID-19 treatment. The control group received probiotics twice per day in addition to the standard treatment and the experimental group received the curcumin supplement twice per day in addition to the standard therapy. This study included mild, moderate, and severe cases of Covid-19.

When compared to control patients, the curcumin group showed earlier symptomatic recovery of fever, cough, sore throat, breathlessness, less deterioration over the period of hospital stay, lower incidence of danger signs, and better ability to maintain for more days the oxygen saturation above 94% in room air throughout their hospital stay. Fewer patients in the curcumin group required oxygen therapy; fewer failed to maintain oxygen saturation above 88%; fewer required intubation and mechanical ventilation to maintain oxygen saturation. While there were no deaths in the mild and moderate curcumin subgroups, there was one death out of the 30 in the mild control subgroup, and five deaths out of 25 in the moderate control subgroups. Fewer deaths occurred in the severe curcumin subgroup (two out of 15) compared to the severe control subgroup (five out of 15).38

Curcumin and Absorption

Curcumin is not very well absorbed. If you are thinking about a supplement, get curcumin with piperine. The phytochemcial, piperine (from black pepper), substantially increases curcumin’s absorption. Combining turmeric or curcumin with a healthful vegetable, cold-pressed oil also increases its absorption. Meriva is a formulation of turmeric extract with phospholipids and has been shown to have 29 times better absorption of curcumin in humans compared with some other extracts. 39  Nano formulations of curcumin and piperine added to curcumin improves its absorption. Always take curcumin with a meal. Individuals who have iron-deficient anemia should not use curcumin for long-term as it decreases iron absorption.

Neem 

Approximately 20 compounds isolated from neem leaves extract showed high binding affinity against COVID‐19 main protease protein (the major protein for viral replication).40 41

Ginger

Ginger and its bioactive compounds showed effective antiviral activity against SARS‐CoV‐2, influenza virus, herpes simplex virus, Chikungunya virus, and hepatitis C virus.42 Additionally, ginger exerts antihistamine and anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies suggest that fresh ginger is a more powerful antiviral agent than dried ginger.

Regarding the SARS‐CoV‐2 viruses that produce the COVID-19, several bioactive compounds in ginger block the spike (S) protein from binding to the ACE2 receptor.  The S protein is responsible for SARS‐CoV‐2 entry during the infection which binds with angiotensin‐converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor from the host cell to produce an environment for viral replication. In other words, ginger contains compounds that discourage the SARS-CoV-2 virus from gaining a foothold in the body and from replicating itself.43

Lemon Balm

Test-tube research has shown that lemon balm has antiviral effects against avian influenza (bird flu), herpes viruses, HIV-1 (when combined with peppermint and sage), and enterovirus 71, which can cause severe infections in infants and children.44 45 46 47 The herb, lemon balm, should not be used if one has a thyroid condition.

The Up and Down Side of Licorice

Glycyrrhizin in licorice tea inhibits replication of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-associated virus.48 However, individuals who have high blood pressure, eating disorders, diabetes, heart and kidney conditions, and low potassium should avoid taking licorice. Because sugar is an immune suppressant, avoid licorice candy. Consuming licorice for more than a couple of weeks can cause the potassium level to drop low enough to cause dangerous problems even in healthy adults. Licorice can produce sodium and water retention.

Broad-Spectrum Anti-Viral Phytochemicals

Apigenin to the Rescue

Apigenin is an anti-inflammatory phytochemical that exerts broad anti-viral activities against African swine fever virus, influenza A virus, H5N1 flu virus in epithelial cells in the lungs, enterovirus-71, foot and mouth disease, and hepatitis C virus.49 Where do you find apigenin? Parsley, celery, onions, oranges, chamomile tea, and wheat sprouts.

Helpful Quercetin

Quercetin is a phytochemical abundant in leafy vegetables, broccoli, red onions, pepper, red apples, berries, cherries, and grapes. Early in vivo studies suggest the antioxidant quercetin diminishes the replication and other activities of many viruses: influenza A viruses, rhinovirus (common cold), dengue virus type-2, hepatitis C virus, and Epstein-Barr virus.50 51 Additionally, it reduces inflammation. Studies show that quercetin helps lower respiratory tract infections by five different mechanisms.52

Since quercetin is concentrated in the peel of a fruit or the outer layer of a vegetable, juicing may not be the best option for getting this valuable phytochemical. Phytosomes or nanoparticle formulations also make it more absorbable.Robust evidence suggests that quercetin helps to lower high blood pressure. Other evidence suggests that quercetin may reduce elevated blood sugar. 53  Therefore, individuals who have hypertension or diabetes should check with their pharmacist before using it if they are take blood-pressure lowering drugs or diabetic medicine. Quercetin supplements, like garlic supplements, are contraindicated for individuals with low blood pressure. Since quercetin reduces mucus production, it should be avoided by individuals who have have dry sinuses. 

Glutathione

Glutathione is an amino acid complex of glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine. Additionally, glutathione is an important antioxidant that scavenges free radicals, bolsters immunity, enhances natural killer cell activity, and protects the liver. There is some evidence that individuals who experience severe COVID-19 illness have depleted levels of this important anti-oxidant.54 

Stress, obesity, toxins or drugs, alcohol, excess dietary fat, and severe exercise deplete the liver of glutathione. Lemon contains a special flavonoid that counters this depletion and reduces oxidative stress occurring in the liver. The trace mineral, selenium, is necessary for glutathione to do its work.

Avocados, asparagus, potatoes, raw tomatoes, grapefruit, strawberries, and watermelon are all good sources of glutathione. As foods are processed, they lose some of their glutathione content. Sublingual and liposomal oral glutathione supplements are better absorbed than plain oral glutathione.  Liposomal glutathione increases the killing power of NK cells and proliferation of lymphocytes. Individuals who have autoimmune conditions or are at risk for lymphomas should not use supplements of glutathione, but rather get it from their foods.55

NAC (N-acetylcysteine)

NAC inhibits the replication of human influenza viruses (H5N1, Vietnam/VN1203 strain) in human lung epithelial cells in a dose dependent manner and also the HIV virus.56 A review study concluded NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating characteristics that may prove beneficial in the treatment and prevention of SARS-Cov-2 if used promptly. This review used studies that included both the oral and the intravenous forms of NAC.57 Indeed, oral NAC (600mg, bid) significantly decreased the frequency and severity of influenza.58  A randomized, controlled study found that 600 mg of NAC given twice a day significantly reduce inflammation and the severity of pneumonia.59 In patients with mild-to-moderate acute lung injury, intravenous (IV) NAC treatment is required to prevent inflammation and reduced mortality from lung infections.60 

N-acetyl cysteine also replenishes glutathione and enhances its effectiveness. It has proven useful in serious lung infections. A meta-analysis published in 2017 of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), found that treatment with NAC led to shorter duration in the intensive care unit (ICU) compared to the control group.61 Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a type of respiratory failure characterized by rapid onset of widespread inflammation in the lungs.

Regularity Counts

Not only do circadian rhythms impact gut microflora, they also affect the immune system. Most immune cells have circadian rhythms. Consequently, circadian rhythms help to shape immune responses. Disturbed biorhythms upset the immune system making a person more vulnerable to viruses and generating more pro-inflammatory compounds.62,63 Viruses can highjack cellular metabolism and have the potential to change body clocks.64

Boost Melatonin

The hormone melatonin, a powerful regulator of the circadian rhythm, exhibits wide-ranging anti-viral activity.65 Exercise in bright morning sunlight is the best way to boost melatonin. Shutting off blue light devices in the evening also increases melatonin and improves the body’s metabolism. If this is not possible, use blue light filters on your devices in the evening. Adequate vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), and folic acid are also important in the synthesis of serotonin and consequently melatonin.

Central nervous system stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, stress, certain NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), calcium channel blockers, and bright lights at night (including moonlight) reduce the levels of melatonin. Ironically, many sleep medications shut down the body’s natural production of melatonin causing dependency and eventually, addiction to the sleep aids.

Most commercial supplements of melatonin raise your level up one to twenty times the amount that your body actually needs. For this reason, it is better to use lifestyle changes to nudge your melatonin upward. Individuals who have confusion, depression, diabetes, hypertension, or seizures should not take melatonin as it may aggravate these problems. Melatonin has the potential to react with medicine. Therefore, counsel with your doctor before using it. Melatonin can produce drowsiness! Take it near bedtime. Unless contraindicated, the dosage 0.5 to 3 milligrams is usually safe for a few weeks.

Hydrotherapy for Viruses

A properly prescribed and skillfully given hydrotherapy treatment can be a powerful weapon against infections. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, individuals who developed this flu had a much better survival rate if they had hydrotherapy treatments.66 The temperature variations caused by hydrotherapy increase the circulation of disease-fighting white blood cells—like natural killer cells—that attack viruses and other invaders.67

If a person is healthy and without medical conditions, a contrast shower or a hot footbath may energize the immune system to prevent a viral infection. However, every hydrotherapy treatment has its indications and contraindications. A patient’s overall medical history needs careful consideration. Unfortunately, one type of treatment does not work for every type of virus.

Fever is generally beneficial for the host (the sick person), triggering multiple events that lead to the strengthening of immunological defenses. Artificially raising the fever via a hot bath, or sauna, or steam bath also increases virus-fighting killer T lymphocytes and natural killer cells.68 In addition, a regulated fever also intensifies the killing activity of the natural killer cells. Saunas, as preventive measures, have the potential to mobilize some of the immune defenses and reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, hyperthermia can inhibit some viruses and promote the proliferation of others. 69

Hyperthermia is contraindicated in cases of low blood pressure, very high blood pressure, anemia, acute infections (lung, liver, kidneys, and other), congestive heart failure, existing or impending thrombosis, and blood vessel disorders (to name just a few complications). Yes, hyperthermia by sauna, hot water, or steam baths may be useful in the prevention of viral infections and treating a few diseases but it can prove dangerous for many who have certain medical conditions.

In cases of serious illness, a patient’s medical history should be considered carefully before administering hydrotherapy. The trend of progress (or lack thereof) and the often rapid changes in a patient’s current status must also be weighed. These three factors (medical history, progress, and current status) help in determining the type of treatment to prescribe. (Of course, proper disinfecting of all surfaces and equipment is essential.)

Hydrotherapy and COVID 19

Since individuals who are elderly or have chronic diseases (lung diseases, immune disorders, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, or heart problems) have a significantly greater risk for pneumonia, pulmonary edema, sepsis, and abnormal clotting from COVID 19, which hydrotherapy treatment to give must be carefully considered. A hydrotherapy treatment not properly prescribed and tailor-made to the individual patient could trigger one of these complications (i.e., non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema) in the case of COVID-19. On the other hand, a rightly prescribed hydro treatment with medical interventions could help to save lives. The authors think it is ill advised to recommend a specific hydrotherapy for treatment without a thorough medical history, a physical exam, lab work, and constant monitoring of a seriously ill patient or a patient with a complicated medical history. However, for mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19, home hydrotherapy such as hot foot baths, contrast showers, and a short hot bath (with a cold compress to the head) a gradual cool down can increase the effectiveness of the immune system. Just be sure that someone is there to monitor you when you do hydrotherapy.

Humidity and Flu Viruses

The effect of humidity needs evaluating when considering which kind of treatment to use. There is evidence to suggest that cold, dry, unventilated air may play an important role in the transmission of influenza viruses. When cold air from outside is warmed inside, the humidity drops 20 points. This change can enable an airborne virus to travel more easily. A drop from 50% humidity to 10% humidity impairs the ability of the lungs to clear influenza viruses. Dry air also impairs the immune system and the ability of the epithelial cells in the lungs to recover after an infection. On the other hand, too much humidity can also support the spread of viruses and enable the viruses to survive longer! A 40 to 60% humidity may be ideal for thwarting the transmission of viruses.70

Humidity & Hydrotherapy

A drop or elevation in humidity and a low or high humidity can increase the transmission of viruses.  Using a humidifier in the winter, when heat dries the air in our homes, appears to give some protection from influenza.  A regular vaporizer is not the best  for humidifying the air.  Heating water in plastic is probably not safe as it causes the plastic to release harmful chemicals to the water. Cool mist humidifiers are safer for humidifying in most cases.

The steam bath provides 100% humidity. In contrast, the sauna has only 10% humidity. However, a sanarium (a type of sauna) offers 40 to 55% humidity. It might be judicious to be inside the house for a couple hours before taking a sauna or steam bath for their immune-bolstering, preventive actions. In this way you avoid sudden changes in humidity. Staying inside after a treatment for an hour is important too. A sanarium treatment is safer than either a sauna or steam bath.

Disinfect a sauna or steam bath’s air after a treatment. Eucalyptus oil contains both anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is useful for that purpose. For the sick patient, a carefully prescribed and more focused hydrotherapy treatment  using fomentations and other modalities than steam or sauna is a safer option for combating viral illness.

Conclusions:

Frequent hand washing and appropriate physical distancing may help to protect us significantly and reduce the risk of transmission of super viruses.  Improving gut health, adequate sleep, exercise, a nutrient- dense diet, regularity, adjusting inside humidity, and rightly prescribed preventive hydrotherapy and botanical agents provide added protection.

For more information on Covid 19, see this article.

 

 

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