Keeping Healthy Amidst the Pandemic

Immune system and keeping healthy during the pandemic

Life as we know it has been completely and utterly disruptedby the coronavirus pandemic. The very landscapes of New York and surroundingareas have become stark unfamiliar ghost towns. It is a confusing time for everyone,and the collective anxiety is palpable. At this time of uncertainty, it mayfeel like there is nothing one can do to feel less vulnerable. But let’s take astep back from reading the news and review some facts and look at things withinour control.


What Is the New Coronavirus and How Does It Afflict?


The disease known as Covid-19 is caused by SARS-Cov2 virus,which most likely jumped from an animal source and infected a human at a wetmarket in Wuhan, China. From there, it spread and continues to infect throughoutthe world, as we have experienced. It is an RNA virus whose image is all overthe internet: a sphere with spikes around it. These spikes are proteins thatattach to receptors in the lung and then infiltrate by taking over the hostcells. It spreads easily, primarily though droplets transported through coughsand sneezes, but now there is concern about its airborne potential. There are afew stages before, during and after disease that are important to know. In the preventionphase (which applies to most of us at home), supporting the immune system isessential. Poor diet, high stress levels, insufficient sleep all affectimmunity, so counteracting these is imperative. The early phase of the disease andmild cases do not require hospitalization and may be treated at home. The symptomsare cold and flu-like with fever, dry cough, aches, chills, and so on. If itprogresses to a pneumonia phase, infiltrate in the deeper parts of the lung mayoccur, with deep phlegm like congestion that causes shortness of breath or dyspnea.Many complications may arise from this: an autoimmune-like reaction may occurwhen the distressed lungs send more immune cells to the infected area, furthercongesting them. Inflammation causes more injury to the lung tissue, breathingassistance is required with a ventilator and eventually, in the worst cases, alack of oxygen causes multi-organ failure and ultimately mortality. For patientswho recover after this serious phase, it is a long slow process and fatigue andbreathing difficulties might persist for some time. The elderly and those withunderlying conditions are at highest risk of severe stage illness, complications,and death.


As we know, the projections forecast that the majority ofcitizens will contract the virus at some point, but the vast number of thosewill have very mild symptoms. Many patients carry the virus and spread itwithout ever knowing or showing symptoms, and tests are not given to everyonewho has mild symptoms, so the tally is probably very inaccurate. It is importantto follow all recommendations from the CDC about social distancing and taking precautions,if and when you do leave home. It sounds extremely grim, but the positive sideof this is that these measures are beginning to affect the rates of infection. This,and continued personal vigilance, are the ways to stay healthy and not spreadthe disease to others.


Chinese Medicine and the New Coronavirus


In Chinese Medicine, the phases of the coronavirus can manifestas different syndromes, depending upon which way the body deteriorates. In the earlyphase of the disease (and with minor cases), patients have, for example, a wind-heator wind-cold invasion syndrome, much like the cold or flu, but then the diseasemight morph into a damp, stagnation or toxic invasion-type condition and ultimatelylead to a major deficiency of the lung and spleen and qi and yin. In Chinese medicinetheory, the immune system involves a coalescing of different aspects of the bodyto withstand disease: free abundant flowing qi, blood, and body fluids, healthyorgans, strong inherited constitution, calm shen (or spirit), and so forth. Specifically,the lungs control wei qi, or defensive qi, which circulates to protect the bodyfrom invading pathogens. Once this is attacked and inhibited, a virus canpenetrate deeper, which is why those with pre-existing conditions are so vulnerable.This coronavirus pathogen is aggressive and can easily overtake a weakened body.For this reason, it is wise to keep your immunity in tip top shape for the foreseeablefuture.


Traditional Chinese Medicine was apparently used in over60,000 patients with coronavirus in China. It was also given to healthcareworkers to support their defenses while they worked the hospital front lines. Asmany of you know, acupuncture supports immune function and specific points areindicated for prevention and treatment of respiratory illnesses. Treatments arefocused on supporting the wei qi and dispelling toxic heat and pathogens,according to the stage the patient is in. For the new coronavirus, the mostappropriate and safe application are specific point combinations used with moxaand or cupping for prevention and recovery phases.  In China, patients who were hospitalized weregiven strong herbal infusions in addition to western medications. Here in theUS, some of these herbs are now completely unavailable and our culture does notallow for such complementary services in hospital settings.  


What Can We Do to Arm Ourselves in the Prevention Phase?


Other than the CDC guidelines, here are a few helpful ideas:


Diet: Do not underestimate the power of food! Indulgingin rich foods and alcohol can be comforting during isolation- but considermoderating this with healthy meals that pack a punch with fresh vegetables andfruits, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Think of foods that containvitamin C and zinc (red meat, pumpkin seeds, ginger for instance) as well asanti-inflammatory properties (cold water fish, turmeric). Refined sugar andwhite flour are not the best choices, as they promote inflammation.


The lungs dislike dryness, and they are soft and spongy intexture when healthy. So, keep drinking fluids and staying hydrated. Immuneboosting teas like peppermint, eucalyptus, turmeric and ginger are great forthe lungs and inflammation.


Supplements and Herbs: There is no cure or official treatmentfor the coronavirus and there are no supplements or herbs sanctioned to preventit. I am not a believer in excessive supplementation, but vitamin D and anyother remedial vitamins should be continued (like magnesium or osteoporosistherapies, etc). There are Chinese herbal remedies that tonify immunity andthese require prescription if you qualify- please ask me if interested.


Exercise: moderate exercise is great for immunehealth. Excessive exercise is not. Brisk walking, jogging outdoors, exercisevideos at home, yoga classes online, etc., are helpful for body and mind, so dothem regularly. It reduces stress, moves qi and blood.  


Emotional/mental health: I am concerned with thenumber of people who feel lonely, anxious and depressed at the present time. Itis important to keep perspective and stay positive, and I understand howchallenging this is. Here are some suggestions if you haven’t tried them yet:

-schedule regular calls with friends, family and neighborsto check in and to connect. This is good for all. Every person needs contact!

-face time with loved ones- seeing people’s faces in realtime enhances the experience of connectedness.

-get outside every day, rain or shine. Go to a park, explorea new neighborhood. Get out there and move, and breath fresh air!

-write down one thing every day that you are sincerely gratefulfor. This will help keep perspective

-do something daily that brings you a deep sense of joy- whetherit’s a hobby or a bubble bath, or whatever- do what brings you satisfaction. Itwill counter negative feelings.

-meditation: creating space for yourself to be in a momentof silence- it brings awareness in everyday life, with everyday challenges,even now.


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