Updated: Sep 2, 2021
No integrative measures have been validated in human trials as effective specifically for COVID-19.
As an integrative medicine family practice provider, I am frequently asked about "alternative options" for treating or preventing covid. I love to incorporate natural options into my medical care and love helping folks sort through the weeds of what is safe and scientifically sound vs unsafe.
The following integrative and functional medicine pearls are in no way a substitution for vaccination and masking. Let me be clear that the leading organizations of integrative and functional medicine fully support vaccination as a principle line of defense. Myself and my family (those who are old enough) are all vaccinated. I encourage my patients to vaccinate as well. These are supplemental considerations to the current recommendations that emphasize vaccination, masking, regular hand washing, physical distancing, stopping non-essential travel, and obtaining testing in the presence of symptoms or possible exposure.
Clinical data in the context of human trials, alternative medicine, and covid is lacking. However, the potential benefit of many herbs/supplements is high based on existing and emerging data, and the risk of the treatments when used appropriately is low.
For questions on vaccine ingredients, safety, side effects, covid infection complications, covid symptoms, variants, covid & pregnancy, vaccine effectiveness, ivermectin, monoclonal antibody therapy, prescription options, and more, please check out my infoblog: https://www.hearthsidemedicine.com/post/integrative-medicine-updates-on-covid-care
There are 4 big risks when following a natural approach to not only COVID-19 prevention, but any potentially serious illness:
Foregoing practices that are known to be preventative, like those on the CDC website – including wearing a face covering (i.e. mask) – that we should all be diligently observing.
Not getting necessary medical treatment.
Taking harmful substances, or taking possibly harmful doses of otherwise generally safe substances.
Ignoring side-effects of supplements or contraindications that might be unique to your situation.
Below are summaries of integrative and functional medicine approaches that can be used to combat inflammation, repair lung injury or dysfunction, replete nutritional deficiencies, reduce chronic stress, and mitigate fatigue. This information is sourced from University of Arizona Integrative Medicine and Institute for Functional Medicine.
1. Food As Medicine
A low-glycemic, low-saturated fat diet can be used to modulate inflammation generally. At least 5–7 servings of vegetables and 2–3 servings of fruit daily provide a repository of flavonoids and are considered a cornerstone of an anti-inflammatory diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet combines traditional Mediterranean and Asian eating patterns and is characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish, lean protein, whole grains, spices, nuts and seeds and low consumption of both refined grains and processed foods. Various nutrient components of an anti-inflammatory diet, such as monosaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and a diet high in plants. With any prolonged illness, COVID-19 included, mental health can be compromised. In a period as short as 10 days, a Mediterranean style diet may result in improved mood and cognition.
2. Nutritional deficiencies and Infection
Infection can lead to transient nutrient deficiencies, particularly of protein, B vitamins, vitamin C, copper, zinc, and iron. Likewise, nutrient deficiencies can make one more vulnerable to viral illnesses. Patients with COVID-19 are likely to have nutrient deficiencies, with one study reporting 76% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 deficient in vitamin D, 42% deficient in selenium. Further, among patients with respiratory distress, 91.7% were deficient in at least one nutrient while 78.9% without respiratory distress had a deficiency of at least one nutrient. It takes up to 3 times as long to replete nutrients than it took to become depleted.
3 Supplementation--please discuss all these with your provider, as some of these suggestions are contraindicated in the context of certain health problems or if taken with certain medications. Please note that I do not go into dosages or safety for pregnant or pediatric patients or those with specific health conditions. The recommendations are highly generalized and ALL patients should discuss the safety of these recommendations with their health provider.
Initial prevention--not allowing the virus entry into the cells/preventing ACE2 Receptor Binding
Vit D--anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and immune enhancing actions in the lungs.
*Elderberry--most effective in the prevention or early stage of corona virus infections. Significantly increases inflammatory cytokines, including IL-B1 so should be discontinued with symptoms of infection (or positive test). Typical dosing of 2:1 elderberry extract is 10 mL–60 mL daily for adults and 5mL–30 mL daily for children. 500 mg po qd (of USP standard of 17% anthocyanosides) for up to 12 weeks
Prevent Viral Replication
Zinc (as a supplement but also by eating zinc-rich foods)--Coronavirus appear to be susceptible to the viral inhibitory actions of zinc. Zinc may prevent coronavirus entry into cells and appears to reduce coronavirus virulence. Typical daily dosing of zinc is 15 mg–30 mg (note: can cause nausea)
Quercetin (helps with zinc transport/absorption)-found in apples/onions--Regular: 1 gm po bid; phytosome: 500 mg, bid Suggested Duration: Up to 12 weeks
Green Tea (helps with zinc transport)--4 cups daily or 225 mg po qd
Vitamin C-shortens the frequency, duration and severity of the common cold and the incidence of pneumonia. Typical daily dosing of vitamin C ranges from 500 mg to 3000 mg daily with even higher doses utilized during times of acute infection.
Vitamin D (too much can actually cause inflammation)--we advise getting baseline blood levels checked and checking intermittently to prevent toxicity; 1,000- 5,000 IU po qd; Children's doses are typically 400 to 800 iu daily
If infected, the goal is to reduce inflammatory process
Vitamin C (can help prevent progression to pneumonia)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Melatonin (may prevent inflammation in the lungs)--Typical doses of 1–10 mg/day melatonin appear to be safe for short-term use
Plant Flavonoids (7-10 cups of veggies a day!)
Garlic-Clinically studied daily doses of garlic supplements range from 600 to 900 mg dried garlic powder tablet, standardized to 1.3% alliin or 0.6% allicin) or 7.2 g of aged garlic extract
Green Tea (can decrease cytokines)
Curcumin (Also inhibits viral replication and may inhibit cytokine storm) 500-1,000 mg