As of the time I am writing this article the novel coronavirus aka COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. A pandemic is a global outbreak of a serious new illness that requires “sustained transmission throughout the world," says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. You may be worried about contracting the disease yourself or you may be concerned over the health of loved one. COVID-19 is surely a cause for concern especially for the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, people with lung issues and for people who are already in poor health.
There are definitely things you can do to prevent getting sick. The CDC recommends people avoid large public gatherings, wash hands with soap and water frequently and to avoid touching their faces. Aside from those commonly known actions there are other things you can do to prevent infection or, at least, reduce the severity of infection.
Your immune system is your ultimate line of defense for any illness. A strong and healthy immune system is the difference between mild or not noticeable symptoms and severe or even fatal symptoms. There are clear things you can do to ensure your immune system is at its best. Nothing you do will make as big of a positive impact on your immune systems function like maintaining good general health. Regular and appropriate exercise, good consistent sleep patterns and a healthy diet will help ensure your immune system is fully operational and vigilant.
Let’s say you already take good care of yourself and you are already in good health. Is there anything else you can do to “boost” your immune system? Are there supplements or herbs that can potentially lower your risk of getting infected with viruses like COVID-19 or, at the least, reduce the severity and length of symptoms? The short answer is yes. Although COVID-19 is a new type of the common coronavirus it’s not out of the question to consider it may react to anti-viral compounds like most other viruses. Below are three of the top natural herbs or supplements that have been scientifically proven to reduce infection rates and symptom severity or length of illness by common viruses like the common cold or seasonal influenza. I only picked compounds that had the best evidence of efficacy and that are readily available over the counter.
Sambucus (elderberry) is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world. Traditionally, Native Americans used it to treat infections, while the ancient Egyptians used it to improve their complexions and heal burns. It’s still gathered and used in folk medicine across many parts of Europe. Studies consistently demonstrate the anti-viral power of elderberry. One study on 60 people with influenza showed recovery in 2 days versus 7-8 days for the control group (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016). Another study of 312 air travelers taking capsules containing 300mg of elderberry extract three times per day found that those who got sick experienced a shorter duration of illness and less severe symptoms (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651/). Scientists believe elderberry works by preventing viruses from both attaching to cells and slowing down their replication.
Garlic has been heralded for its anti-sickness properties for thousands of years. Animal and test tube studies show that supplementing with garlic may help ward off illness by stimulating the production of immune system protector cells which theoretically would make your immune system stronger (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417560/). Other test tube studies have demonstrated garlics potent anti-viral ability with a multitude of viruses including inlfuenza, rhinovirus, HIV, HSV-1 and even HPV (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/). These studies suggest that garlic can help with many types of viruses.
Using up to 75mg of zinc in the form of lozenges has been shown in studies to reduce symptoms of the common cold by over 24 hours to as much as 7 days (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6367635). It is thought to work by preventing the adhering of viruses to the back of the throat (where many viruses thrive) and by hampering their ability to replicate. Having low zinc levels is also connected to a weaker more susceptible immune system. One word of caution, you can take too much zinc and using zinc for too long can cause zinc toxicity or depletion of other key nutrients. Many health practitioners recommend using zinc lozenges at the first sign of illness rather than taking it daily as a preventative.
The bottom line
Plants and herbs like elderberry and garlic have been used for centuries to strengthen the immune system or to fight off infections. They are relatively safe to use and can be used daily on a relatively consistent basis with little cause for negative side effects. Regardless its always best to check with your professional health practitioner for dosages, frequency of use and duration of use.
Zinc’s ability to reduce symptoms and shorten sickness time is relatively well established but it does build up in the body. Take it if you start to feel sick rather than as a daily supplement. Of course check with your professional health practitioner before using.