Your Immune System and Limiting Your Risk to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Because of my experience, frankness, and extensive history researching and treating individuals with HIV infection, I have been asked by many friends and patients about the Coronavirus and how one may improve their immune system’s capacity to fight off infections.

The best way to avoid infection with coronavirus (COVID-19) and minimize the virus’s impact if infected is by taking a two-step approach.

The first step is to avoid exposure to the virus, and the second step is to maintain a normal functioning immune system.

Limiting Exposure

Limiting your exposure to this coronavirus is first and foremost, and it is the most important aspect to not getting sick. This virus offers an unusual challenge in that an individual may be actively infected for up to two weeks without any symptoms but are capable of infecting others.

The other factor in exposure is understanding that we contract viral infections from both breathing in viral particles as well as by touching viral particles that have landed on a surface and then later touching the mucous membranes of our nose, eyes, or lips.

In the last few days it has been reported that this coronavirus can remain viable and potentially infectious in free-floating aerosols from coughing or sneezing for one to two hours and on surfaces up to a couple days. Now that we know how long the virus hangs around in the air and on surfaces the directives to stay home and away from others is not an overreaction but critical, potentially lifesaving advice.

Because of these factors, you cannot avoid contracting coronavirus infection if your strategy is simply to “not be around someone” who acts or looks ill.

Avoiding exposure to the coronavirus requires frequent hand washing (rubbing your hands in warm/hot soapy water for 20 seconds) and limiting exposure to others by self-isolating in your home, limiting your proximity to others by 6 feet or more, and wearing a medical grade mask at all times when in close contact with others. If you do not have a mask, avoid close contact to other people as much as possible.

An excellent review of issues surrounding COVID-19 published 2 days ago by the distinguished HIV virologist David Ho. David and I were acquaintances during the early years of the HIV epidemic, and he has always been a sound, well-reasoned source of information.

There is a little good news in here. It seems macaque monkeys developed protective immunity after recovering from Covid-19 infection. This bodes well for humans because what happens in macaques often happens in humans.

“Boosting Immune Function”

There is a common misperception that an individual is capable of “boosting their immune system”. The human body has a wonderful immune system designed to fight off infections and if one’s immune system is functioning normally, there is no known method to boost its performance.

In other words, one cannot make a normally functioning immune system function better than normal.

The real approach is to try to normalize your immune function should it be weakened in some manner. Some of the more common conditions that are associated with a weakened immune system are as follows:

1. Chronic inflammation.
2. Excessive and prolonged emotional distress.
3. Severe malnutrition (advanced cancer, intestinal disorders, starvation).
4. Pregnancy (especially 3rd trimester).
5. Excessive consumption of particular nutrition (overnutrition).
6. Exposure to immunosuppressive medications (cancer, autoimmune disorders, etc).

Start with Reducing Inflammation

Chronic metabolic (chemical inflammation) is by far the most common cause of immune suppression worldwide. Increasingly referred to as inflamm-aging, chronic metabolic inflammation not only weakens the body in a wide variety of ways it also has a direct negative effect on immune system function.

Studies show that chronic inflammation is associated with worse outcomes from influenza and bacterial pneumonia, longer healing time after surgery, as well as a higher rate of metastatic disease after treatment for breast cancer.

Reducing inflammation can greatly improve immune function to a great degree because lowering inflammation helps restore your immune response to a normal level. The damage viruses cause to the body are often due to the strong immune response they trigger in the infected individual.  An immune system that is over-reacting (i.e., chronically inflamed) will result in more damage than one than is regulated appropriately.

 

A reduction in inflammation has even been shown to reduce the incidence in cancers, and improve recovery after surgery.

Combining the beginning and core ingredients of The Nemechek Protocol® (fish oil, olive oil, and balancing the intestinal bacteria with rifaximin or inulin) along with 5 minutes of vagus nerve stimulation can dramatically reduce inflammation and therefore improve immune function.

The Nemechek Protocol® is a patented treatment program detailing methods to reverse autonomic nervous system damage (Patent No 10, 335,396) and lowering inflammation is a key component of the program.

Many of my patients report marked improvements in their ability to quickly fight off common viral and bacterial infections once they start on The Nemechek Protocol ®. This has been my experience with both children and adults who do not get sick as often or who report a faster recovery time after an illness.

A close relative almost halved his recovery time by instituting the protocol prior to surgery (i.e., he went home in 4 days instead of the typical 7 days after open heart surgery).

The Nemechek Protocol® for children can be found in our book which can be purchased inexpensively online or on Amazon. If non-pregnant, otherwise healthy adults wish to lower their inflammation with the beginning steps of The Nemechek Protocol ®, they can do the following:

1. Take 3,000 mg of the omega-3 DHA per day. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that comes from fish oil. Because of the high rate of supplement fraud, I prefer NOW Foods or Nordic Natural fish oil brands. These are available from the manufacturer through an arrangement we have made through this fulfillment service.
2. Consume 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of COOC-certified extra virgin olive oil per day. This can be swallowed directly or poured over foods and then consumed.
3. Rebalance intestinal bacteria with a 10-day course of Xifaxan (rifaximin) and requires a prescription from a physician (do not use if pregnant). This is the best approach to balancing gut bacteria but if this is not available, people may try taking ¼-1/2 a teaspoon of the OTC prebiotic powder inulin (safe to use if pregnant). I also prefer the NOW Foods brand of inulin. This is also available from the manufacturer.
4. Another potentially powerful thing one can do to lower inflammation is to stimulate the vagus nerve with 5-minutes of electrical neuromodulation once daily (do not use if pregnant). A device called Vitality Neuromodulator is available online without a prescription and can lower inflammation throughout the body for 24 hours with just a 5-minute treatment session.

[In the interests of full disclosure, this wellness device is sold through a company I own but it is not associated with my medical practice. It does not diagnose or treat any medical conditions, and it is not sold or serviced through my medical practice.]

Other Sources of Immune Suppression

While not as common as chronic inflammation, addressing the other sources of immune suppression can have an equally potent effect.

While avoiding excessive and chronic levels of stress is not always possible, elimination of chronic and excessive stress can greatly improve the body’s resilience against infections.

Extreme malnutrition that might occur with chronic intestinal disorders, cachexia associated with cancer, failure to thrive in children, eating disorders, or extreme impoverishment can lead to a significant level of immune suppression. This level of malnutrition often shows up on laboratory tests as decreased levels of the serum proteins albumin and prealbumin.

Pregnancy is associated with immune suppression as well. An unborn child genetically represents half of the mother and half of the father. Because of this, a pregnant woman’s immune system increasing becomes more and more immunosuppressed throughout the pregnancy so she will not “reject” the developing child just as she might if she was given a kidney transplant from her husband that wasn’t a perfect genetic match.

The immune suppression of pregnancy is an important reason why pregnant women have a higher complication and mortality rate from influenza and other infections as compared to a non-pregnant woman.

Obviously during pregnancy there is nothing to do to lessen this immune suppression except limiting exposure. The immune system rather quickly regains normal function over a few weeks after childbirth.

Many people believe that supplementation with high doses of antioxidants such as vitamin C will boost immune function when the opposite is what more commonly occurs. This is referred to as overnutrition. Supplementation with excessive antioxidants may actually worsen immune function.

Antioxidants neutralize a toxic chemical process that is referred to as oxidative stress. Complete neutralizing this is not necessarily a good thing to do because oxidative stress is what your immune system needs to produce in order to neutralize and kill invading bacteria or viruses.

Taking additional doses of antioxidants can actually worsen otherwise normal immune function and many studies have shown it will not improve immune function at all. The minute amounts of antioxidants present in the average diet are quite sufficient to meet your needs without impairing immune function.

The chronic oxidative stress being addressed with antioxidants is often the consequence of chronic metabolic inflammation and normalizes when the chronic inflammation is reduced as discussed above.

Supplementation with zinc can also have positive or negative effects depending upon if one is deficient. In developing countries, zinc deficiency rates may run as high as 20% of the population and supplementation can improve immune function.

In industrialized countries zinc deficiency is generally uncommon except in the elderly and supplementation in those with normal zinc levels may actually impair normal immune function.

And finally, some medications are design suppress immune function to prevent organ transplant rejection, destroy cancer or control disorders. I do not recommend altering the dosage of these medications during the present pandemic.

A flare in the underlying medical condition being treated may lead to more serious complications on its own and worsen the outcome with coronavirus if one is infected.

Summary

These are unusual and frightening times but your actions, now more than ever, can make a great difference in your health and those you care about. This responsibility must be taken seriously.

Making the decision to practice social distancing for a several weeks may prevent the death of others as the virus enters its peak phase. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is not going away in just a few months.

There is the potential that the virus may ebb and flow across the globe for 12-18 months before fully dissipating. We must begin mentally planning for the long game by taking action today.

The 2 simplest and most effective things you can do to limit your risk to the present coronavirus epidemic are avoidance of others for the next several weeks and maintaining a high level of immune function by keeping your level of chronic inflammation as low as possible by following the Nemechek Protocol.

This post is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, and it does not create any patient-physician relationship.

© 2020. Nemechek Consultative Medicine, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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