My Research on Viral Respiratory Tract Infections

Please note, this blog is designed to educate the basics of viral respiratory tract infection and is not offered as a treatment recommendation.  Pandemics are not within a naturopath’s scope of practice. Please do not try to treat your condition on your own. 

If you suspect you have COVID 19, please contact local public health at 1-877-464-9675.  If you experience respiratory distress, call 911 right away.  Public Health has the most up to date info on this virus. 

A number of recent viral infections have been medical paradoxes.  On one hand it can be so benign; some carriers of the diseases do not even know they are “sick”.  On the other hand, 20% of those afflicted with the infection suffer greatly.

Based on limited clinical data, it appears individuals with pre-existing health issues are most at risk.  That is comforting to know, if you are among the healthy.  But is there something you can do if you are among the higher risk groups? What if you are one of the individuals with lung disease, heart conditions, cancer, kidney disease, liver disorder, and those with lower white blood cell count?

With time, a vaccine or an effective treatment may be created.  Social distancing and hand washing are extremely important in the meanwhile.  However, the following is might be helpful while you practice distancing:

  1. Strengthen your body’s innate immunity so it can respond to the virus rapidly, not giving it a chance to replicate in large quantity
  2. Moderate your immune response, so your immune system does not cause too much collateral damage to your body.

What is Innate Immunity? Why is it important?

Your immune system has 2 different sets of responses to foreign invaders:

  1. Innate immunity is something you are born with.  This type of immunity responds quickly to all foreign invaders.  Cells called neutrophils gobble up everything in their path like Pac-man.  If the response is fast and effectively enough, the virus will not have a chance to replicate in large quantity.  You may not even know you are sick before the virus is destroyed.  A strong innate immunity may be one of the reasons why some individual barely noticed they were sick with a virus.
  • Adaptive immunity is the second type of response.  This type of immunity is memory based.  It takes more time to develop adaptive immunity, but once you develop this type of immunity you are less likely to get sick again from the same germ.  Adaptive immunity can be acquired from direct exposure to the germ or through vaccination. 

What are Some Useful Ways to Improve Innate Immunity?

  1. Anything to stimulate lymphatic flow will bring virus and germs to the attention of immune cells within lymph nodes.  Whole body physical exercise is a good way to stimulate lymphatic flow.  The Scandinavians also have a great idea of hot tub/sauna alternating with snow/lake water dip.  You can read my other blogs for more info on alternating hot and cold showers. Please moderate the hot and cold to your physical constitution.
  • Vitamin D.  There is a reason there are less colds and flus during the warmer months.  No, it is not really because viruses die in the heat.  It is more likely due to the fact that we spend more time outdoors and make more vitamin D by the UV exposure.  Vitamin D deficiency is a common health issue among Canadians in the winter months.  Correcting vitamin D deficiency may improve your immune strength

Would you benefit from vitamin D supplement if your blood levels are normal?  That is actually up to debate right now.  Some new research suggests too much Vitamin D, in theory, may indirectly make you more vulnerable to the current COVID 19 virus.  Perhaps the safest route of obtaining vitamin D, if you are not sure of your storage level, is to enjoy a 30- 45 minute walk outside and get some UVs.  Don’t forget to stay away from crowded locations.

  • Sleep and lower stress level.  I have written other blogs on this topic.  In short, sleep and melatonin strengthens innate immune activity.  Stress raises cortisol level, which will suppress/delay innate immune response, allowing viruses to replicate unchecked for a while. 
  • Vitamin C, even at oral doses has been shown to increase the neutrophil’s ability to find foreign invaders.  Vitamin C appears to enhance neutrophile’s ability to effectively ingest and break down foreign materials.  Once the job was complete, Vitamin C also facilitates neutrophils’ own quick removal so there is less tissue damage and fibrosis.  We know during period of physical or emotional stress, our need for vitamin C increases. 

A few Chinese hospitals have started using IV vitamin C as part of the treatment for some of their most vulnerable patients.  Preliminary results show promise.  Some New York hospitals have also adopted vitamin C regiment as part of their treatment plan. 

  • Quercetin is a bioflavonoid antioxidant found in many different types of colorful fruits and vegetables.  Aside from being a great moderator of immune reaction, which we will talk about next, it has also been found to have multiple anti-viral properties.  There are a number of research articles on quercetin being a treatment option for the SARS virus of 2003.  Quercetin appears to blocked viral replication and interferes with viral entrance into animal cells.  So it might be more prudent to buy more fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables instead of toilet paper during the cold and flu season.    

Why Do We Want a Moderate Immune Response?

Isn’t it better to always have a strong immune response? 

Did you know viruses are not responsible for the discomforts you feel when you are ill?  All that headache, body ache, fever, chills, coughing and sneezing are actually inflammation created by your own immune system, in response to the viruses.  However, sometimes instead of a reasonable response, the immune system can over react and cause more inflammation than it is necessary.  Too much inflammation then leads to tissue damage, septic shock, and even death. 

Remember that at-risk group of people with pre-existing medical conditions?  All those medical conditions are highly inflammatory.  Viral infection just adds to the inflammation load.  Perhaps, if we can lower our body’s inflammation level, we would have a more normal immune response, in case we catch a virus.

What are Some Useful Ways to Moderate Immune Response? 

1.  Glutathione. Low level of glutathione is associated with a variety of pulmonary diseases including asthma, emphysema, and fibrosis.  Glutathione is known to be an important modulator lung inflammation.  Unfortunately, it is not easy to sustain a high level of glutathione level.

2.  Quercetin and other bioflavonoids seem to be able to moderate immune reaction to minimize inflammation related tissue damage.  Quercetin is a commercially available supplement, but it is also abundant in onions, broccoli, berries, oranages, etc.

3.  Curcumin prevents inflammation induced pain and tissue scarring, including lung scarring. 

So does this mean other over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen, acetylsalicyclic acid) would also help with viral respiratory tract infection?

Not necessarily.  Every virus is unique. What we do know is that use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and antipyretics (e.g. acetaminophen) is associated with more complications in viral diseases.  We also know that children who takes acetaminophen or ibuprofen post vaccine generally have a weaker vaccine response rate.  These medications are very useful if fever or pain is interfering with sleep and/or appetite.  However, it may not be wise to use them too liberally, should they interferes with immune reaction.

Please send me your question. A lot of the fear out there is from lack of information. I will attempt to get you a well researched reply. Sorry it took me so long to put together this write up. I wanted to provide you with some scientific references. Click on any of the coloured words for a link to relevant articles.

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