Emerging Well from COVID-19: You Can Build a Healthier Body Post Pandemic

There are so many ways that COVID-19 made and is still making us sick. For those who did not start out healthy when the pandemic caught us all by surprise, now is the time to adopt life-long habits that lead to better health. To borrow a line from the current administration, we can all Build Back Better. By taking a greater interest in self-care and finding the right doctor, we can work in emerging well from COVID-19 and build a healthier body and mind post pandemic.

As we reflect on the past and look toward our new futures, this is the time to take a serious assessment of our health and to make needed changes. Whether you avoided viral infection or are a survivor, many are suffering from numerous physical, emotional and cognitive complaints. The solution lies in whole-person, natural medicine approaches that shift the body’s healing toward essential lifestyle factors that encourage our inborn capacity for healing.

It’s paramount to reverse the remarkably common and largely preventable chronic diseases. But, where should you start? Finding a medical partner who can educate and inspire self-agency toward better health habits, while also recommending an individualized, natural, whole-person medicine plan, is just the ticket.

Finding the right doctor while emerging well from COVID-19
  • You need a provider who takes the time to understand all your complaints and who appreciates your symptoms in context with the rest of your health.
  • A doctor should recognize that your underlying ailments and comorbidities can be modified so that you are less susceptible the next time you are exposed to an infectious disease.
  • You should have  a practitioner who will partner with you, as guide and teacher and who has a science-based medical education and behavioral-medicine expertise.

A licensed naturopathic physician fits the bill for all these wants and needs. If you have never considered adding a licensed naturopathic physician to your health care team, this article outlines why such a person would be a valuable addition to your medical and health team.

The four main areas where a naturopathic physician can help:
  1. Addressing the role of stress and how it creates and maintains emotional and physical illness,
  2. Treating underlying chronic disease,
  3. Tending to the immune system so that it operates optimally,
  4. Bringing new ideas for the treatment of long-hauler COVID-19 syndrome.

Chronic Stress: The Universal Symptom of the Pandemic

For many people, both those who have had COVID-19 and those who have not, negative health impacts from the overarching, far-reaching stress of the pandemic continue. Grief over lost loved ones, the inability to be with family and friends, the defeating news cycle, ongoing political unrest, the impact of varying degrees of COVID-19 restrictions, loss of work, school routines and income, as well as social isolation, all play out over the landscape of physical, emotional and cognitive health challenges.

With unrelenting stress, our capacity for adaptation is compromised. We’re not bouncing back because we have not had the chance to heal.

It’s a biological reality that chronic stress leads the hypothalamus gland to stimulate the adrenal glands, which in turn generate and release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones raise heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and glucose levels and, sadly, also lower immune function, all of which create risk factors for numerous symptoms and medical diagnoses.

Beyond the physical ailments, we know that COVID-19 has had a big impact on psycho-emotional health. Naturopathic doctors have tried-and-true approaches to treat anxiety, depression, irritability, and insomnia, all part of the fallout from unmitigated and ongoing stress.

Naturopathic doctors can help you raise your threshold for feeling stress and dissipate existing stress, which are worthwhile goals all the time.

The main approaches that help include: exercise, mindfulness, hobbies and creative expression, an attitude of gratitude, a good cry, a good laugh, time with loved ones, and feeling connected to other people in community settings.

Getting out in nature – a park or greenspace – yields substantial health benefits starting with melting away stress. We have an entire nature podcast series coming up on this topic.

How Lifestyle Changes Can Help with Emerging Well from COVID-19

We’ve learned a great deal in the past year about how chronic disease and underlying comorbidities, like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma and obesity, can put one at higher risk for damaging COVID-19 outcomes. This is an important part of your health care because COVID-19 is not gone yet, and in fact, we will likely continue to see this and related viruses for years to come.

All of the mentioned conditions place individuals at greater risk for worse outcomes from COVID-19, as well as many other ailments. Research shows that conditions such as diabetes are preventable and treatable with naturopathic medicine. If there was a time to address prediabetes and diabetes, it is now through diet and exercise, and other natural-medicine approaches.

Similarly, nutritional deficiencies may lead to various chronic ailments. This can and should be corrected with dietary modifications.

In the last six months, studies have confirmed that vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher risks of contracting COVID-19 and greater risks of complications if infected. There are many other illnesses connected to vitamin D deficiencies, including higher mortality risk from certain cancers.  More than half the world’s population is vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D supplementation is inexpensive and carries few side effects. However, not all physicians regularly test for vitamin D deficiency. Ask your doctor to do so.

Enhancing Immunity with Lifestyle Changes

There are many other integrative and naturopathic medicine approaches that make good sense based on our better understanding of susceptibility and how this virus spreads. Stress reduction, ensuring adequate sleep and dietary recommendations related to food and supplementation all play a role.

Tending the immune system always makes good sense. When you address underlying medical diagnoses and maximize lifestyle approaches, you will support enhanced immunity.

Even as COVID-19 becomes less of a threat, a well-functioning immune system serves us well. The immune system is a marvelous, complex, agile, elegant, and essential part of the human body. It performs amazing feats, including fighting off infection, mounting brave attacks on foreign entities and recalling previous biological insults to prevent reinfection. With the clarity of a sharpshooter, the immune system distinguishes between pathogens and a myriad of our healthy cells.

And sometimes it goes sideways. If the immune system is not working well enough, one suffers from more frequent or more serious infectious diseases. When the immune system is overworking, allergies or autoimmunity may develop.

If this happens, a licensed naturopathic doctor can help you create a more balanced immune system by working to remove allergens, by enhancing the robustness and diversity of your microbiome, and by applying natural medicines that support digestive and endocrine function, which also impact immunity. Naturopathic physicians also work to help decrease your stress response, which when overtaxed, wreaks havoc on immune capacity.

What about COVID Long Haulers?

Among those who contracted COVID-19, as many as 34% of COVID survivors report having neurological and psychological symptoms. Studies also point to post-infection cardiovascular complications even in young adults.

Naturopathic doctors are seeing positive results with long-haul COVID patients by working to rejuvenate immune function, decrease overall inflammation, support a robust and diverse microbiome, and reverse autonomic nervous system dysfunction due to ongoing stress.

By calling on the underlying principles of naturopathic medicine, prescriptions may be individualized to a patient‘s unique needs. They may include a healing, anti-inflammatory, appropriate-for-you diet, while addressing any nutritional deficiencies or potential food sensitivities. Adequate hydration, sufficient, regular and restful sleep and exercise as tolerable are keys to healing. You may also be sent for a consultation with cardiologists and pulmonologists, as indicated.

Individualized nutritional supplementation or botanical medicines may be called for to address specific or synergistic biochemical issues. Self-prescribed supplements are not advised as the immune system is not functioning properly and the wrong botanical or supplement may only complicate matters.

Body-mind approaches to help normalize one’s activated stress response from the infection are a part of the important science of psychoneuroimmunology. For post COVID patients, treatments may include physical therapy, respiratory therapy, and talk therapy. Depending on the severity of the situation, a physician may also prescribe pharmaceutical medications as appropriate when other options have been exhausted.

It will be a long unwinding road for many. However, there’s no better time to start than now to find health as we are emerging from COVID-19.

How do we Build Back Better?

  • We take a good look at the stresses in our lives and our stress response.
  • We create plans to reduce stress as much as possible, or at the very least to shift our response to it.
  • We address underlying chronic disease states and with the help of an expert, do our best to mitigate or reverse those ailments.
  • We tend to our immune system’s function and work, and if necessary, get help to treat long-hauler COVID-19. 

It’s a perfect time to assess where we are and adopt a course of action to help us achieve our health goals. If we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with clear action steps to come back better, our health and vitality will restore to levels better than ever.

Looking for good tasting ways to support your immune system as you re-enter daily life, download INM’s Food As Medicine, Immune Support eBook.

This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg's writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition's Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

Get Involved!

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.