10 Ways to Protect Yourself—and Prevent Spreading of Respiratory Viruses
When it comes to viruses, including the current coronavirus (COVID-19), the best defense is a good offense. Click here to understand the basics about COVID-19—what it is, who is at risk, how it spreads and current status.
Below are 10 tips for reducing your risk of getting—and spreading—respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. 1, 2
- Remain calm. The #1 thing you can do to protect yourself? Do not surrender to fear, panic and mass hysteria. Stress makes us more vulnerable to infections. Stress elevates cortisol levels, increasing inflammation in the body. Stress also decreases lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection—viruses, bacteria and toxins. The lower your level of lymphocytes, the more susceptible you are to viruses.3
- Stay home if sick. Do NOT be shy about this. STAY HOME if you are sick. Schedule meetings via video or conference call. You are not doing anyone any favors coming into work, socializing with friends, or dating when you are unwell—least of all, you.
- Keep social distance. Maintain at least 3 feet between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Refrain from shaking hands (and don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t shake yours!).
- No touching! Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, common entry points for viruses. Avoid direct contact with surfaces that are frequently touched—for example: door knobs or door handles of public restrooms, gyms or offices. Use a paper towel or some other form of “barrier” before touching a public surface, like a door handle.
- Practice good respiratory hygiene. Cough into a bent elbow. Sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it immediately.
- Wash your hands with soap and hot water frequently. Wash hands after going to the bathroom; before you eat; and, after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands—for at least 20 seconds. Lather soap and thoroughly wash your palms, down and between your fingers, backs of your hands and underneath fingernails. The soap that I use is this highly concentrated, liquid peppermint soap, which consists of organic oils and 90% organic ingredients. Studies show that peppermint oil has anti-viral properties when applied topically.4
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. I favor this 100% organic hand sanitizer. Or, you can make your own. This recipe for a homemade hand sanitizer contains tea tree essential oil, which can help fight viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that tea tree essential oil has an strong antiviral effect against recurrent herpes simplex virus infections, like HSV-1 (cold sores) and HSV-2 (genital herpes).5 **Keep in mind that the World Health Organization recommends that alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain at least 60% alcohol to properly kill the coronavirus; they even have their own WHO-recommended hand rub recipe. While all-natural homemade hand sanitizers are non-toxic (my personal preference), they often do not contain the WHO-recommended amount of alcohol needed to specifically kill the coronavirus (COVID-19).
- Should you wear a mask? The World Health Organization (WHO) only recommends wearing a mask if you are healthy, and you are taking care of someone with a suspected or known COVID-19 infection. Or, if you are sneezing or coughing.6 Click here to follow the WHO’s protocol for properly using and disposing of a mask.
- Better safe than sorry. Even with warmer weather potentially on the horizon, the CDC still recommends exercising caution. Because this virus is so new, it is not known at this time whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease as the weather gets warmer.7
- Use alcohol-based wipes for your phone and computer. Use an alcohol-based cleaner to wipe ALL surfaces, with which you have constant contact, especially your phone and/or computer, which are magnets for pathogenic bacteria. I use a microfiber cloth and 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol ($3 to $4 at any drug store) to wipe down surfaces.
Studies have shown that contaminated surfaces of inanimate objects, like mobile phones and computer keyboards, can transmit infectious pathogens to humans via the hands and/or mouth. In a 2018 study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, pathogenic bacteria were found on 92% of mobile phones and 96% of computer keyboards; the presence of potentially harmful bacteria can increase risk of infection for immunocompromised people. The good news? Disinfecting phones and computers significantly reduced bacterial accumulation.8
6 Tips for Supporting a Strong Immune System
We seldom think about our supporting immune system—until we get sick. Unfortunately, that may be too little, too late.
Prevention is key. Pay attention to your gut health: 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract.4 This is why the foods you eat can help or hinder your immune system. An imbalance in gut bacteria (e.g., more bad bacteria than good bacteria), or an inability to properly break down and digest nutrients, can wreak havoc on your immune system. We can eat more immune-boosting foods (e.g., carrots or sweet potatoes for Vitamin A). But it is just as important to remove foods that cause inflammation (e.g., gluten, dairy, soy, sugar) and overtax the immune system in the first place.
- Make sleep a no-excuses top priority. Aim for 7 to 9 hours a sleep. Yes, this may mean “lights off” by 9:00PM or 10:00PM. Without adequate sleep, the body is ill-equipped to handle any kind of stress, including fighting off infection. Read more here on the importance of sleep.
- Limit (as much as possible): Caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods. In addition to being addictive, all of these substances increase your stress hormones, deplete your vitamin and mineral stores, and interfere with sleep—this combination sets you up for a weakened immune system. Instead: switch to herbal tea or green smoothie in the morning. If you hit an energy slump mid-afternoon, try a green marathon (kale-banana) smoothie; green juice (mostly greens, less fruit!); or other whole food snacks (eg, olives, avocado, coconut yogurt) for an energy boost.
- Eat foods rich in immune-boosting vitamins and minerals, including:
Vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a critical role in supporting immune function and is associated with having a therapeutic effect in the treatment of infectious diseases.1
The top food sources are beef liver and cod liver oil, which contain Vitamin A that can be directly used by the body. Plant-based sources of Vitamin A (from beta-carotene), such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrot and collards, must first be converted by the body into a usable form.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and plays a significant supporting role in supporting immune health. Vitamin C deficiency is associated with greater susceptibility to infections.2 Studies have shown that Vitamin C is beneficial in shortening the duration and severity of upper respiratory infections, like the common cold.3
Foods that are high in Vitamin C include bell peppers and chili peppers; citrus (lemon, oranges, grapefruit); komatsuma (Japanese mustard spinach), kale, broccoli, kiwi and parsley. As I regularly review my own labwork, I know that am highly susceptible to viral infections; hence, I regularly supplement with this form of Vitamin C.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D profoundly affects your immune system—it “turns on” anti-inflammatory mechanisms and anti-cancer genes. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to respiratory tract infections, ranging from the common cold, to pneumonia and bronchitis. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that, among nearly 11,000 study participants, Vitamin D supplementation contributed significantly to the prevention of an acute respiratory tract infection; those who were most deficient in Vitamin D experienced significant benefit.4
While a few foods, such as fatty fish (e.g., salmon and sardines), beef liver and egg yolks, contain Vitamin D, the amount is small. Since Vitamin D deficiency is so prevalent, most people benefit from supplementation. That said, do not start supplementing until you know your Vitamin D status. I monitor my Vitamin D levels regularly, and I take 5,000 IU daily to keep myself in an optimal range. I favor this brand of liquid Vitamin D3/K2.
The top food-based sources of zinc include:
- Meats. Pasture-raised lamb and grass-fed beef are both excellent sources of zinc.
- Shellfish. Oysters, in particular, are high in zinc.
- Legumes. Chickpeas, lentils and beans. Although legumes contain a modest amount of zinc, they are not as well absorbed as animal sources of zinc.
- Seeds. Pumpkin and hemp seeds contain a fair amount of zinc.
- Nuts. Cashews and almonds contain a small amount of zinc and serve as a good supplement source to other zinc-rich foods.
- Add more green. A poop a day keeps the doctor away—and prevents toxin build up in the body. To get your bowels moving, eat more greens, rich in insoluble fiber (aka “roughage”). Dark leafy greens, including kale, bok choy, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens and romaine, also contain an abundance of hard-to-get minerals, like magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. Minerals are important building blocks for health. Eating mineral-rich leafy greens at every meal supports healthy cell function, reduces inflammation and promotes detoxification (fiber helps move toxins and waste out of your body)—all of which bolsters the immune system.
- Hydrate well. This is a basic tenet of good immune health. Read more about hydration here.
- Eat organic fermented foods (if your body is able to tolerate). Fermented foods, like kimchi; lacto-fermented (or wild-fermented) sauerkraut; cultured vegetables; and miso (made with fermented soybeans) are natural probiotics that can help good bacteria to grow in your gut.