If it seems that your mind is in a constant state of worry about getting sick, you are not alone. As COVID restrictions loosen, it’s leaving many feeling vulnerable. However, you can be proactive to reduce your risk of contracting any sort of respiratory virus – cold, flu, COVID, or a combination of flu and COVID – as naturopathic doctor, Amy Rothenberg, ND explains. There are ways to avoid getting a respiratory virus if you follow these common sense guidelines.
In the world of public health, understanding the timeline of infectious illness is paramount to saving lives and minimizing suffering. In other words, there is an evolution of illness, from exposure, then the incubation period before symptoms, followed by symptom development and resolution. This process does not take place in a vacuum. Some of the ways we fall ill are somewhat predictable and there are things you can do to reduce your risk and keep your loved ones as healthy as possible.
Ways to avoid getting a respiratory virus
First, please recognize that we could be exposed to a respiratory virus at any given day. This is why it’s important to not ignore the risk factors for exposure, understand each of our own susceptibility risks, act swiftly and adopt supportive treatments when illness occurs. Each one of these steps can favorably impact the course of infectious disease. As a naturopathic doctor, here my top level advice is to follow common sense health guidelines:
Though there will always be skeptics, following public health guidelines will reduce your risk of infection. To reiterate: 1. Wear face coverings in public where mandated, 2. Avoiding large gatherings, 3. Wash your hands often, 4. Get tested or self test if you suspect you’ve been exposed, 5. Get vaccinated.
Beyond that, there are many places along this timeline, both pre- and post-exposure, that are modifiable. Research points to the fact that key risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection, severity of illness, and even death are modifiable. It is the same for the flu and other respiratory viruses. It’s important to appreciate that our bodies are built to fight infection when given the right circumstances and time for healing.
- Get control of pre-existing illnesses. Diabetes and/or having heart disease, are risk factors for severity and recovery. Those with diabetes are both more at risk for acquiring COVID-19 and worse outcomes when they do become sick. Type II diabetes and pre-diabetes is preventable and treatable with diet and lifestyle modification. This is the perfect time to get your blood sugars into a healthier range, through diet, exercise, and other natural medicine approaches. Hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases are also predictive of worse outcomes. Natural medicine offers many treatment choices for those with heart disease.
- Pay attention to nutrient deficiencies. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, like for so many areas of disease prevention, is essential. More specifically, studies confirm that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher risks. More than half the world’s population is vitamin D deficient. Supplementation is inexpensive and carries few side effects. We can impact prevalence of COVID-19 by ensuring optimal vitamin D status across populations. There is significant research on vitamin D for both the flu and COVID-19.
Other integrative and naturopathic medicine approaches make sense based on understanding of susceptibility and how this virus spreads. Probiotics may improve the efficacy of some vaccines and also help create a robust and diverse microbiome, which is associated with enhanced overall immunity. Fish oil as a preventive measure can also impact cardiovascular health and immunity. The supplement quercetin, which is an anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid, binds to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and helps reduce viral replication.
Be aware of air quality and air pollution. Not surprisingly, air pollution can lead to influenza-like health issues. Poor air quality also has a negative impact on COVID-19 outcomes. A Harvard study showed an 11% increase in mortality from COVID-19 infection for every 1 microgram/cubic meter increase in air pollution. Many Americans breathe air with 8 micrograms/cubic meter of particulate matter. Consider using air filtration in your home. Here’s one easy-to-make effective air purifier that is affordable, with readily available materials. Smoking will make any viral-symptoms worse and second-hand smoke places anyone around you at greater risk.
Stress reduction. It’s easier said than done, especially during these times, but any efforts toward stress reduction can help. As stress levels increase, cortisol levels go up, which negatively impacts your immune function. Likewise, ensuring adequate sleep will help play a key role in your immune system function. Look here for naturopathic approaches to help with sleep challenges.
Get moving. Lastly, it’s important to pay attention to how your behaviors, since COVID restrictions were put into place, can negatively impact long-term health. The more we are cloistered indoors, the worse off our health may become. In other words, the choices we make now impact our future susceptibility to ailments in the future. To stay healthy, we must adapt. If you and your children are too sedentary, walk away from the screens and get outside for a walk or have some fun and dance in the living room. There are trades off for all risk factors, which means be aware of how your once healthy behaviors may be changing. Try to compensate by being creative about how to stay healthy and reduce your risk of exposure as best you can.
Lastly, how do you know if you have a cold, allergies or a respiratory virus, Dr. Rothenberg explains.
Naturopathic doctors have important tools to reduce susceptibility to illness and restore your health if you fall ill. When you work with a licensed naturopathic doctor on day-to-day health and effective strategies to reduce your risk, your chances of staying as healthy as possible will go up. For more, see INM’s Find an ND tool.
This article is provided 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
Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP 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.