by Donna Easto C.H., H.C., M.H., Certified Herbal Educator
I do not advocate purchasing off-the-shelf or online products touting benefits against the coronavirus. Coronavirus is a potentially life-threatening virus. It’s best to consult with a physician familiar with herbs and their properties or a naturopathic doctor before taking any herbal product. Countless natural remedies for coronavirus have circulated on social media, including various immune system boosters and a “miracle mineral solution,” a mixture of sodium chlorite that the Food and Drug Administration has warned is more or less drinking bleach.
Stimulating the immune system sounds like a positive approach. However, the basic tenet of botanical medicine is that all people are treated individually. How a botanical works in your body may be completely different from how it behaves in another. Some people’s immune systems don’t fight hard enough, but others are overreacting to COVID-19. When this happens, the immune system produces too many inflammatory signals (a cytokine* storm) that can lead to organ failure and death. Misused, certain herbs could boost the immune system and precipitate the cytokine storm.
What makes COVID-19 different from and the usual cold and flu virus? All viruses use a particular protein called a spike to attach to your cells. The flu virus spike attaches to something known as sialic acid. The new coronavirus binds to the cellular receptor ACE-2. You may be familiar with ACE-2 because it is associated with hypertension. So the reason current antivirals don’t work on Covid-19 is that it attaches to a “novel” receptor.
Many antiviral herbs are proven to work against multiple viruses; however, there’s no hard evidence to date that they will work against the coronavirus. The best thing you can do for your immune system is to maintain a healthy gut. A healthy microbiome is paramount to reducing inflammation. Restful sleep and managing stress are also critically important to a healthy immune system. Practice meditation every day. No time? Try Dr. Aviva Romm’s “Quickie.” “Wherever you are, sitting or standing, get comfortable and take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you are sitting, close your eyes. On the next inhalation, which you will do to the count of 4, say to yourself “I am” and on the exhale to the count of 4 say to yourself, “at peace.” Repeat this cycle of inhalations and exhalations, each to the count of 4, 3-4 times… it can be done anywhere – even while driving (with your eyes open, of course!). It cuts stress and irritability in a flash!”
*(Cytokines, small proteins released by cells in the body, including the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation.)