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Reducing COVID-19 Risk - Make a Plan Should You be Exposed or Infected (updated September 2021)

 UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2021

IT'S TIME TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR HEALTH.
REDUCE COVID-19 RISK USING LIFESTYLE FACTORS AND NATURAL AGENTS.
MAKE A PLAN SHOULD YOU BECOME EXPOSED OR INFECTED.

In my recent blog, Reducing COVID-19 Risk - Fundamentals of Immune System Support (updated August 2021), I outlined recommendations for reducing risk of COVID-19 complications prior to viral exposure for those at average risk, focusing on prevention of illness through immune system support.  Today I am switching gears to review steps you can take to reduce complications if you become exposed to the SARS-Cov-2 virus or develop symptoms of COVID-19 illness. 

This blog takes on a very different feel in Fall 2021 than it did a year ago, as we now have three approved COVID-19 vaccines.  I remain steadfast in my support for these vaccines and feel vaccination is important not only in reducing individual risk, but also to reduce risk of serious illness in those most vulnerable. Nevertheless, breakthrough infection is possible for those vaccinated, and many are still opting not to get a vaccine, which makes having a plan should you become exposed to or infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus of continued importance.


THE TIMELINE OF COVID-19 INFECTION
While variations exist, below is a general time-frame of COVID-19 infection, from exposure to illness.

DAY 0= EXPOSED TO SARS-Cov-2 VIRUS
We consider the day you are exposed to the virus Day Zero.

DAYS 2-3 THROUGH DAYS 10-12 = VIRAL SHEDDING
With or without symptoms, most become contagious on days 2-3, and continue to be contagious through day 12. Most are contagious before they develop symptoms.

DAY 5 = SYMPTOMS BEGIN
A vast majority will develop symptoms of COVID-19 between days 2-7 of exposure to the virus (day 5 on average). View list of possible COVID-19 symptoms HERE.

DAYS 5-12 = MILD TO MODERATE SYMPTOMS
Most who develop symptoms will have only mild to moderate symptoms during the first two weeks.

DAY 12 = RECOVERY vs HOSPITALIZATION
Moving from weeks 2 to 3 of illness is a critical time. On average, 12 days after exposure is when symptoms either begin to resolve or become significantly worse - potentially requiring hospitalization.
Keep day 12 in mind as a critical point in the course of infection, as a point where symptoms may rapidly worsen.

 

IF YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THE SARS-Cov-2 VIRUS, BUT HAVE NO SYMPTOMS
If you have been exposed to the SARS-Cov-2 virus, or if you have been in a situation where exposure is likely, the first important step is to ISOLATE yourself from others. Remember, you can be highly contagious without any symptoms at all!  Isolation is especially important for those unvaccinated. You may also want to arrange for a COVID test, ideally 5-8 days after exposure. A COVID test in the first 4 days after exposure will have a much higher false-negative rate, meaning you may get a negative test result and still be contagious and/or develop COVID-19 illness.

If exposed, there are a number of botanicals and natural agents that may be introduced as part of your plan to reduce risk of complications. 

INCREASE DOSES OF ELDERBERRY AND MELATONIN. 
Melatonin: increase to 10-20mg at night.
Elderberry: dose varies per preparation, follow instructions on product and increase to higher range of recommended dosages.

Add or increase agents with potential to directly interrupt the ability of the virus to enter cells and replicate:
• Curcumin -increase to 1000mg twice daily
Resveratrol - increase to 100-150mg twice daily
Zinc - up to 60mg daily, ideally in the form of lozenges spread throughout the day.
• Quercetin - regular 1gram twice daily, phytosome 500mg twice daily
• EGCG - 4 cups green tea or approx 225mg EGCG daily
• Astragalus - dose varies per preparation, follow instructions on product and increase to higher range of recommended dosages.

 

IF YOU DEVELOP SYMPTOMS
If you have had known or likely exposure to the SARS-Cov-2 virus and develop symptoms of COVID-19 (with or without a positive test):
• continued isolation/quarantine is critical to reduce risk of spreading the virus to others.
• closely monitor your symptoms, designate a friend or family member to check in on you.
• consider purchasing a home blood oxygen saturation monitor to use in case of illness, especially for those unvaccinated or at elevated risk.
• treat your symptoms, and seek medical care if necessary.

Targeted natural agents may be continued during active infection. Care should be individualized for each patient, and I recommend that you work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to determine what is appropriate for you.

The Institute for Functional Medicine recommendations for the use of botanicals and natural agents with active symptoms of COVID-19.*

STOP zinc and echinacea as they are not felt to be helpful during the symptomatic phase.

If you haven’t already done so, increase melatonin to 10-20mg at night.

Add or continue curcumin, resveratrol, quercetin, and EGCG at higher dose ranges (see above).

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Consider adding additional anti-inflammatory agents - PEA and SPMs.
Consider adding additional anti-inflammatory agents to reduce the “cytokine storm” of inflammation responsible for many COVID-19 complications. I recommend these agents especially for my patients who already have chronic medical conditions associated with chronic inflammation and for those unvaccinated.

Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA)
PEA is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent that has been shown to improve outcomes in acute respiratory disease and influenza.
I follow the recommendation of Functional Medicine specialist Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, ND:
Metagenics Hemp Advantage (with PEA) or PEA Relief: 2 caps three times per day with first symptoms. Continue for six weeks.

Specialized Pro-resolving Lipid Mediators (SPMs)
SPMs are part of the omega-3 fatty acid spectrum that has a powerful effect on reducing inflammation. SPMs help to signal the immune system to shut down the immune response and resolve inflammation (I think of them like a hose putting out a fire).
While SPMs are synthesized naturally in the body, many with chronic medical conditions that place them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications do not effectively make SPMs on their own.
Dose: During active infection, 1 gram SPM formula three times daily.  Continue at least 4 weeks.

Please note: Due to the novelty of COVID-19, minimal peer-reviewed research has been published regarding the effectiveness of dietary or lifestyle interventions for its prevention or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your healthcare provider prior to use of any botanical or nutraceutical.

RESOURCES
Evidence Supporting a Phased Immuno-physiological Approach to COVID-19 From Prevention Through Recovery Yanuck S, Pizzorno J, Messier H, Fitzgerald K. 

The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Virus-Specific Nutraceutical and Botanical Agents 

Resistance, Resilience, and Recovery: Patient Care in a Pandemic. (IFM Continuing Education Course)



Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. Physicians specializing in Functional Medicine are trained and experienced in providing personalized guidance to patients in the use of nutrition, nutraceuticals, and lifestyle to prevent, reverse, and decrease the burden of complex, often chronic medical conditions.  I continue to see new and returning clients using our secure, easy video-visit format.  If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.

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Reducing COVID-19 Risk - Foundations of Immune System Support (updated August 2021)

 UPDATED AUGUST 2021

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR HEALTH.
REDUCE RISK OF COVID-19 COMPLICATIONS USING LIFESTYLE FACTORS AND NATURAL AGENTS.

Like you, I was hoping we would be beyond this by now, but we are not.  Given the low rate of both worldwide and United States COVID vaccinations, the SARS-Cov-2 virus and COVID-19 infection are likely here to stay.  While those who are vaccinated are at significantly lower risk from COVID-19 complications than those unvaccinated (yes, I do recommend you get a COVID vaccine), even those vaccinated are not entirely without risk.  Immune system support is important for all.  As we move toward the Fall/Winter season - let's revisit the basics.

Foundations of Immune System Support - Using lifestyle factors and natural agents to reduce COVID-19 complications.

When it comes to reducing risk of COVID-19 complications, the best time to start is long before exposure to the SARS-Cov-2 virus.  The data on lifestyle interventions and natural agents to impact the viral life cycle is compelling, and as we enter cold, flu and COVID season there are a number of steps you can take to prime your immune system and reduce your risk of illness.

Your innate immune system is your first line of defense against any type of infection, so it’s important to have it primed and ready to recognize and attack a virus should you become exposed. The innate immune system is often described like an army. You want healthy, well-educated troops ready to respond quickly and efficiently to any situation they encounter.

LIFESTYLE FACTORS
SLEEP • DIET • STRESS • EXERCISE

Before you even think about taking vitamins or supplements, there are four key lifestyle factors that can have a powerful impact on your immune system:

SLEEP 
Studies show that people who don't get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Even one night of reduced sleep can lead to immune dysfunction, and better quality sleep is associated with less inflammation. How well are you sleeping?

• Aim for 7‐9 hours of quality sleep each night
• There are many fitness/biometric trackers that can provide sleep feedback (I use an Oura Ring).
• If you are not getting enough quality sleep, consider working with a psychologist or physician that specialize in sleep (such as Dr. Rebecca Roth in Northern Michigan). You can also consider melatonin, CBD, or other herbals.
• Check out these resources for better sleep on my website.

DIET 
Significant evidence suggests that fruit and vegetable intake can reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

  • Instead of processed foods, choose more plant‐based foods high in phytonutrients and fiber, which can help improve functioning of the immune system. Can you get close to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day? How many different colors of plants can you add?
  • Limit added sugar, salt and saturated fats which can all negatively impact your immune system.
  • Check out these resources on a phytonutrient-rich diet on my website


STRESS
Chronic stress can suppress your immune system and is associated with increased risk of viral infection.  Stress raises levels of Cortisol in your body, and those with higher cortisol levels have been shown to have greater mortality from COVID‐19.

  • Pay attention to your stress levels. Biometric trackers can measure heart rate variability as an objective measure of your stress.
  • Practice stress‐modifying techniques on a daily basis, including breathing, gratitude, time with family/pets, exercise and/or meditation. Check out these resources on my website to learn more about meditation.
  • If you are not able to get your stress response under control, consider working with a professional. Most therapists are now offering virtual video sessions. You can also work with your Integrative practitioner to incorporate herbal blends to help in protecting your body from the effects of stress.


EXERCISE
While a single bout of physical activity can stimulate immune function, regular exercise is most important for consistent effects.

  • Engage in moderate, regular physical activity. I encourage my patients to work up to 150 minutes weekly of cardiovascular exercise (30 minutes, 5 days per week).
  • If you are just starting an exercise program, start slow and gradually increase your activity.
  • There are MANY online exercise-at-home platforms. Some of my favorites are HASfit.com, FitOn.com and Peloton on-demand classes (meditations too).
  • Consider using a heart-rate monitor with exercise to ensure you are getting your heart rate into a safe fitness zone.

 

BOTANICALS & NUTRACEUTICALS
There are a number of botanicals and nutraceuticals with immune-modulating effects. The choice of which and how many natural agents to incorporate into your prevention plan will be different for each person. Factors to consider include vaccination status, cost, underlying chronic medical conditions, and the degree of possible virus exposure.  Combination products, liquids, chewable and powders can lessen the burden of daily capsules.

Start with a quality Multivitamin/Multimineral, or a Comprehensive Micronutrient Test.
There are many nutrients that work together to support and enhance mucosal immunity (which lines the passageways of your nose, mouth, throat and lungs). Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, folic acid, zinc, copper and selenium all work together to support the immune system, and all are essential for the production of mucosal antibodies.  Given this, it makes sense to start with a high-quality multivitamin.  Alternatively, you can use a micronutrient test panel to see if you are meeting your needs with your current diet.

Additional nutrient foundations to prime immunity and prevent illness or complications:

  • Vitamins D, C and Zinc
  • Elderberry
  • Astragalus
  • Medicinal Mushrooms containing Beta-glucan
  • Echinacea


VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is an immune system powerhouse. This antioxidant reduces inflammation, increases the production of white blood cells, and helps to strengthen blood vessels. Vitamin C is essential in the formation of collagen, which promotes healthy skin and muscle tissue. A lack of Vitamin C makes you more prone to illness, and should you develop a respiratory illness, Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity, and reduce complications by protecting your own tissues from damage.

Vitamin C has been used in many hospital ICUs for the treatment of COVID-19.

  • For prevention, 500-1000mg daily
  • Choose a buffered form of Vitamin C for less stomach upset

 

VITAMIN D

OPTIMIZE YOUR VITAMIN D! Vitamin D is known to activate and modulate many key aspects of the immune system involved in fighting viral and bacterial infection. Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory, and in many viruses Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the progression from exposure to illness and reduce the severity and duration of acute symptoms and complications. Evidence suggests Vitamin D supplementation may prevent upper respiratory infections.

Research has demonstrated a significant crude relationship between Vitamin D levels and both the number and mortality of COVID-19 cases. A small study in Spain of 76 patients showed that giving Vitamin D to hospitalized COVID-19 patients, otherwise given similar treatments, reduced ICU admissions from 50% to 2%.

  • For prevention, 2000-5000 IU Vitamin D3 daily with food
  • I routinely check 25,OH Vitamin D levels on my patients and aim for 50-80ng/mL

 

ZINC (acetate, citrate, picolinate, or glycinate)

Zinc has a large body of research showing its strong anti-viral properties against many viruses, and zinc supplementation has been found to reduce the duration of symptoms of the common cold.

Zinc promotes antibody and white blood cell production and reduces oxidative stress. In addition, zinc has properties that fight infection directly, and zinc lozenges may reduce the risk of developing a respiratory illness.

  • For prevention (zinc acetate, citrate, picolinate, or glycinate), 30-60mg daily in divided doses for three months, then reduce to 15-30mg daily.
  • For acute respiratory illness, begin zinc lozenges at the first sign of symptoms.


ELDERBERRY

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has widespread historical use as an anti-viral herb and has been used extensively in the prevention of influenza.

Elderberry is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Research suggests that elderberry is most effective when used for prevention, or when taken early on in the course of a respiratory virus.

  • For prevention, consider 500mg orally, daily (of USP standard of 17% anthocyanosides).  Follow the instruction on your product.
  • Caution should be used in those with autoimmune conditions.

 

ASTRAGALUS

Astragalus membranaceus has many immune-boosting benefits with low risk of harm. Astragalus primes the innate immune system and reduces inflammation.

Astragalus has shown direct antiviral activity against SARS-Cov-2 virus by inhibiting a process necessary for viral binding.

  • Astragalus dose varies per preparation, follow instructions on product.


MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS (containing beta-glucan)
Shitake • Lion’s Mane • Reishi • Maitake

Various mushroom species have been shown to have a broad range of immune-modulating and immune-supporting mechanisms. Medicinal mushrooms also contain Beta-glucans which aid in priming the immune system and reducing inflammation. Numerous human trials have shown that beta-glucans reduce the symptoms of cold and flu and reduce upper respiratory tract infections.

  • Mushroom dose varies per preparation, follow instructions on product.
  • Dose of Beta-glucans: 250-500mg daily


ECHINACEA

Echinacea is a wildflower native to North America. Many species of Echinacea can stimulate the immune system. Echinacea preparations have been shown to reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of upper respiratory tract symptoms in several trials.

  • Echinacea dose varies per species and preparation, follow instructions on product.
  • Echinacea should be stopped if one develops symptoms of COVID-19

  

Please note: Due to the novelty of COVID-19, minimal peer-reviewed research has been published regarding the effectiveness of dietary or lifestyle interventions for its prevention or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your healthcare provider prior to use of any botanical or nutraceutical.

 



Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. Physicians specializing in Functional Medicine are trained and experienced in providing personalized guidance to patients in the use of nutrition, nutraceuticals, and lifestyle to prevent, reverse, and decrease the burden of complex, often chronic medical conditions.  I continue to see new and returning clients using our secure, easy video-visit format.  If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.

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Cold, Flu, and COVID Season - Immune-Boosting Basics

Winter is just around the corner, and this year cold and flu season has been taken to a new level - cold, flu, and COVID season.

In addition to frequent hand washing, not touching your face, and proper social distancing, nutrient supplementation may provide an extra measure this winter to boost immune system function and reduce the risk of illness.

VITAMIN D
We absorb Vitamin D through direct sunlight, which is why vitamin D deficiency is common in northern climates.

Vitamin D reduces inflammation and supports a healthy gut microbiome. Vitamin D also boosts our cells’ ability to fight off microbes, including the cells lining our mouth, throat, and lungs.

Supplementing with Vitamin D has been shown to reduce your risk of developing an acute respiratory infection, and should you become ill, Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce the severity and duration of illness, and reduce complications.

• For prevention, consider 2000-5000IU Vitamin D3 daily with food.
• I routinely check Vitamin D levels in many patients and aim for a 25, OH Vitamin D level of 60-70.

 

     


VITAMIN C
Vitamin C is an immune system powerhouse. This antioxidant reduces inflammation, increases the production of white blood cells, and helps to strengthen blood vessels. Vitamin C is essential in the formation of collagen, which promotes healthy skin and muscle tissue. A lack of Vitamin C makes you more prone to illness, and should you develop a respiratory illness, Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity, and reduce complications by protecting your own tissues from damage.

Vitamin C has been used in many hospital ICUs for the treatment of COVID-19.

• For prevention, 500-1000mg daily
• Choose a buffered form of Vitamin C for less stomach upset

 

     


ELDERBERRY
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has widespread historical use as an anti-viral herb and has been used extensively in the prevention of influenza.

Elderberry is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Research suggests that elderberry is most effective when used for prevention, or when taken early on in the course of a respiratory virus.

• For prevention, consider 500mg orally, daily (of USP standard of 17% anthocyanosides).
• Caution should be used in those with autoimmune conditions.

 

      


ZINC
Zinc has a large body of research showing its strong anti-viral properties against many viruses, and zinc supplementation has been found to reduce the duration of symptoms of the common cold.

Zinc promotes antibody and white blood cell production and reduces oxidative stress. In addition, zinc has properties that fight infection directly, and zinc lozenges may reduce the risk of developing a respiratory illness.

For prevention (zinc acetate, citrate, picolinate, or glycinate), 30-60mg daily in divided doses for three months, then reduce to 15-30mg daily.

• For acute respiratory illness, begin zinc lozenges at the first sign of symptoms.

 

     

There are a number of nutraceuticals that have demonstrated immune-boosting properties. The choice of which and how many nutraceuticals to incorporate into your prevention plan will be different for each person. Factors to consider include cost, underlying chronic medical conditions, and the degree of possible virus exposure.

Subscribe to my blog for future posts highlighting other immune-boosting nutraceuticals.

Please note: Due to the novelty of COVID-19, no peer-reviewed research has been published regarding the effectiveness of dietary or lifestyle interventions for its prevention or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your healthcare provider prior to use of any nutraceutical.



Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I continue to see patients from all over the state of Michigan using our secure, video-visit format. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.

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