I didn’t quite get the Christmas present I hoped for this year. On the night of December 19th 2021 my wife started to exhibit the symptoms of a flu; fever, body ache, sore throat and congestion. The next morning, with a reserved anxiety behind a lackadaisical demeanour, I administered a COVID-19 rapid antigen test like I had done for her a dozen times before. However, this time was a bit different. Instead of the red dye settling on the negative C line, two lines appeared…positive! Uh oh, is what I anxiously muttered from the other room. Thats when the gears of my brain went into overdrive, trying to figure out the intricacies of the Ontario isolation policy back in December 2021. After confirming her status with a PCR test, my wife was to be quarantined to our bedroom and I would be taking care of her and the kids in isolation from the rest of the world for 10 days.
As the fast spreading Omicron variant swept through the house, hitting me second and my daughter third, 10 days quickly turned into a full 2-weeks of isolation. Having received a booster vaccine a week earlier, my symptoms were mild and I knew that my body was busy preparing antibodies that would help me fight off the virus rather quietly. It became my mission to do my best to help my wife (who had not yet received a booster) and daughter (3 years old and therefore not vaccinated) get through the infection swiftly, and to do my best to prevent my son (aged 7 with a single dose of vaccine) from contracting it.
Although a COVID-19 infection was something I hadn’t treated the before, the symptoms painted a picture of something I had treated hundreds of times. Fever, congestion, sore throat and body aches are all hallmarks of an activated immune system fighting off an infection, no matter what that infection may be. The most effective tool in destroying a viral infection is our immune system. It’s our job to support the immune system in its fight against the virus. Aside from getting good quality sleep and keeping hydrated, these are my recommended supplements to help support the immune response:
Probiotics – Studies have shown that probiotics affect immune cells throughout the body. When certain strains of probiotics are introduced into our intestine they help to repair intestinal cells and they boost production of antimicrobial substances. One of the most effective and well studied strain for immune support is Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is very important for optimal immune system functioning. Vitamin C helps immune cells get to where they need to be, kill pathogens effectively, protect the body from damage and clean up after battling infections. Studies have shown that adequate vitamin C in the blood helps prevent infections, is necessary to fight infections and helps with recovery. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 100-200mg/day; however during active infection, the metabolic demand increases and therefore the requirement for vitamin C is likely to be higher. Even in this day and age, vitamin C is the fourth leading nutrient deficiency in North America. Poor diet and increases in free radical exposure due to an unhealthy lifestyle may be contributing factors. Excellent sources of vitamin C are Broccoli, Citrus Fruits and Berries.
Zinc – The importance of zinc for proper immune function has been well established. Zinc deficiency undoubtedly causes immune system malfunction. The cells of our body are in constant communication. During infection there is a need for effective communication between immune cells in order to get rid of the “bad guys”. Communication happens in the form of chemical messengers and enzymes. Zinc is an essential component of these chemicals and enzymes. As with vitamin C, during active infection our requirement for zinc is likely to increase. Studies have shown that Zinc supplementation during infection can shorten the duration of the illness. Excellent dietary sources of zinc include: Meat, Shellfish, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds. Supplementation may be important with a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Vitamin D –Vitamin D has many functions in the body, and receptors for vitamin D can be found on many different tissues. One important function for vitamin D is in the modulation of our immune system. Studies have suggested that vitamin D is able to both calm down and rev-up the immune system according to what our body needs it to do. This is why Vitamin D is thought to be as important in autoimmune disorders as it is in infections.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause the immune system to behave erratically. Unfortunately in Canada we have one of the highest incidences of vitamin D deficiency in the world. Our primary source of vitamin D is from sunlight and therefore supplementation becomes important especially during the winter months. Studies have shown that there is a higher incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes who are deficient in the vitamin and who train in the wintertime. Supplementation had preventative and symptom reducing effects. Aside from sunlight, some dietary sources of vitamin D are: fortified foods, fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks and cheese.
Elderberry – Not only does elderberry syrup taste great, studies have shown that it inhibits the bacteria and viruses associated with common colds and the flu. One study demonstrated that an elderberry liquid extract possesses antimicrobial activity against both streptococci bacteria and influenza viruses. Another study looked at 312 air travellers flying from Australia to an overseas destination. Those travellers who took an elderberry extract before, during and after travel had fewer colds, less sick days and less symptoms.
Although supplements can offer a much needed support, sleep, hydration and diet are fundamental for a healthy immune response. Using a humidifier at home will also help keep the respiratory membranes moist supporting mucus production (our natural defence mechanism). As for diet, when I’m sick I like to incorporate intermittent fasting into my “get well” regime. Intermittent fasting (IF) is the practice of splitting the day into an eating time (usually 8-10 hours) and a fasting period (14-16 hours). There are many health benefits associated with IF including regeneration of immune cells and modulation of the intestinal microbial environment. If intermittent fasting is not your thing, stick to a healthy balanced diet, like a mediterranean style diet.
I am happy to say that my daughter, my wife and I have fully recovered. My son never contracted the infection, despite being in isolation with three active cases for 2-weeks! Everyone responds to COVID-19 infection differently and so I hope that these tools may help guide some of you through your recovery too.