As I’m writing this on the 7th of May 2020, there’s still so much we don’t know about COVID-19 and Coronavirus but I wanted to write down some of the research I’ve been doing on the various methods of protecting against the virus’ transmission and reducing viral load.
Given that much of the research on how it’s transmitted is still underway — although we know that it is active in airborne particulate from breathing, speech, coughing, and sneezing, as well as that it can live outside the body for several days depending on the material — the suggested methods of preventing infection are simply avoidance. Given quarantine is unsustainable for most people and we’re currently experiencing the highest unemployment in generations, we need to look into other aspects of prevention that start internally.
While very little research has been done on lifestyle and environmental impacts of the following to prevent the COVID-19 Coronavirus, much of it has been done on Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTIs) and on similar Coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS – viruses that have significantly worse symptoms and mortality rates, so I feel comfortable recommending them here.
Food and Supplements
An incredibly safe hormone that is produced naturally by the body and synthetically has been studied extensively for almost a century with an almost insignificant rate of side-effects or intolerance.
While there have been mixed results on whether Vitamin D is effective in preventing RTIs, the largest meta-analysis has shown that there is indeed a benefit to taking Vitamin D daily without a bolus and that it seems to increase resistance to contracting a URTI as well as reducing the severity of symptoms. Not by a large degree, but enough that the conclusion of the study was that governments should consider requesting certain foods be fortified with Vitamin D to help prevent infections.
Given that there is such a low risk to taking Vitamin D daily and it costs approx. £10/year, and since many of us haven’t left our houses since quarantine began we’re probably deficient in a hormone our bodies produce from sunlight, it’s a cost effective and worthwhile addition.
We’ve known for at least 50 years that increased levels of Vitamin C protect against virus-induced RTIs like colds and flus, but Harri Hemilä’s reviews of studies with Vitamin C affecting URTIs shows incidence approximately halved while taking just 1g of Vitamin C per day.
Doses of 1g every hour for six hours per day has been shown to effectively halve the severity and duration of virus symptoms.
There is also a preprint paper suggesting that Vitamin C be used intravenously in very small doses to reduce symptoms and aid epithelial cells’ function.
(Coronavirus in birds has been prevented from taking hold with Vitamin C in vitro so carryover to human subject may be minuscule)
Zinc demonstrably improves immune function, but specifically, zinc acetate lozenges have been shown to reduce cold and flu instances, reduce URTI symptoms and duration by up to 30% and prevent viral replication in the throat when taken every 3 hours after the onset of symptoms.
These are relatively expensive and hard to find, but I’ve found Life Extension has reasonably cost-effective and not-horrible-tasting lozenges.
Quercetin, ECGC, and GCG
Quercetin has less research on its effects on Coronaviruses but right now they seem plausible and have been shown to inhibit SARS protease expression and increase Zinc’s effectiveness in stopping viral replication.
While EpiCor hasn’t been studied well for Coronaviruses, it’s effects on colds and flus are solid, and anecdotally it’s certainly decreased the number of illnesses I’ve had over the past several years (even in instances where I should very well have become sick), and those of everyone I’ve recommended it to.
EpiCor itself has high levels of antioxidants and activates natural killer cells in the body in vivo in just two hours, but it seems to do significantly more than that. The yeast derivative has even been shown to increase immune response after just one dose. It also increases salivary sIgA which might help reduce the viral load of any particulate that makes it into the mouth and throat.
While supplementing with Echinacea has shown mixed results, there are also many different preparations, some standardised to high Echinacoside concentrations and generally shows very beneficial results, others in the form of pressed Echinacea juice which is the most prevalent form studied, and seems completely ineffective.
Standardised alcohol-extracted Echinacea reduced viral infections in the studied ground substantially with a sevenfold decrease in symptoms compared to the control group.
Further meta-analyses have shown as much as a 60% reduction in the number of colds in the studied population, as well as an approx 24% decrease in the number of days with symptoms of those who did get sick.
While commonly performed in many East-Asian countries, gargling as a method of cleaning the mouth and throat isn’t commonly done in the West, but after looking at the studies I was incredibly surprised just how effective it is in reducing viral load and in preventing upper Respiratory Tract Infections.
In fact, just gargling with water is effective, showing a 30% reduction in the incidence of URTIs in a randomised trial.
This is a free method (water only gargling) that costs nothing but 20 seconds for a potential 30% decrease in viral infections. It’s astonishing, and it only gets better with antibacterial mouthwashes, mainly those that include Povidone-Iodine which eliminate 99% of all coronaviruses tested. Even common alcohol-based Listerine eliminated 100% of some viruses after 30s contact.
It’s certainly an interesting defence vector, and while Iodine-based mouthwashes are very rare outside the East, Listerine and other alcohol and anti-septic mouthwashes are common and readily available.
I’ve linked several down below that are worth checking out.
The CDC and WHO have this so wrong it’s hard to fathom just how dangerous their advice has been. While advising everyone that only those medical professionals on the front lines will benefit from masks was likely in service of preserving enough protective equipment for healthcare workers, it didn’t pass the sniff test for even laypeople. “If masks protect doctors who are around the virus all day, why wouldn’t it protect me when I pop to Waitrose?”
It’s important to remember that while there are many different types of masks available, manufactured to many different specifications for permeability, the most studies have been done on ‘Surgical Masks’ for the exact reason that they’re mostly fit for purpose and good enough at reducing droplets and aerosol particles from surgeons operating on patients so that they don’t pass any bacteria or viruses on.
Surgical masks have been shown to not only reduce the amount of virus escaping into the air by 56%, but also dramatically reduced the viral load and incidence of transmission (since only smaller aerosol droplets were escaping, and their velocity was reduced).
While the (fairly common — at least before the pandemic) N95 respirator masks seem to stop up to 99% of virus particles moving through the mask, studies show that even doctors trained to wear them properly rarely manage to do so with a complete seal and therefore at that point (while all logic dictates they’d still be substantially more effective) they’re just expensive and fancy surgical masks.
Homemade face masks (including those made from just cotton to those made using vacuum cleaner bags as a filter) help reduce transmission substantially mostly just by reducing the velocity and therefore spread of coronavirus particulate in the air.
Lastly, even if we were to assume that wearing N95 masks improperly only reduced 30% of the virus from crossing the mask’s barrier, we’ve seen that what remains are smaller aerosol particles travelling at lower speeds and with lower viral load. Although hard to model, we can safely assume that reducing 30% of the virus that crosses through your mask into the air you breathe reduces your chance of infection by more than 30% due to convexity (it’s the same reason driving at 70mph is not simply 30% less dangerous than driving at 100mph — it might be 70% less dangerous). That effect is compounded when two people in an interaction are wearing masks
The greatest co-morbidity and predictor of bad outcomes when Coronavirus is contracted is whether the patient is overweight or not. In the UK, 72.7% of the first 2204 patients admitted to the ICU and put on a ventilator were obese.
Diabetics and those with Metabolic Syndrome may also have a ten times greater risk of succumbing to the virus than otherwise healthy people.
This all points to the fact that while we’re all hunkered down comfort eating might actually be doing us measurable damage once we emerge from quarantine.
It’s not just medicines and supplements that can improve how the immune system functions, but also psychological interventions such as meditation, journaling, relaxation techniques, and massage, all have a marked effect on immune response. We always seem to get sick when we’re most stressed or anxious
For example, just one guided meditation session was enough to increase natural killer cell activity in tested healthy patients (p<0.05), and an 8-week meditation course reduced the number of days a population had respiratory tract infection symptoms by 76%.
Journalling — at least written emotional expression — also seems to have a positive effect on immune function, with HIV patients who were assigned journalling increased their CD4 count and instantly dropped their viral load.
Therapy also seems to help to a lesser degree (but presumably only because the correlation hasn’t been studied).
Swedish full-body massage also seems to increase the number of lymphocytes, and a month of daily massages increases natural killer cell activity.
Relaxation and Guided Imagery for Immune Function | Sci-Hub
Meditation or Exercise for Preventing RTIs | Sci-Hub
Meta Analysis: Mindful Meditation and Immune System
Disclosing Traumas and Immune Function | Sci-Hub
Massage Therapy and Immune Function | Sci-Hub
Swedish Massage and Immune Function | Sci-Hub
Although a little more difficult under quarantine, moderate exercise seems to not only improve immune functioning but also decrease the number and severity of URTIs.
While I’m not a doctor and this doesn’t constitute medical advice (read: for entertainment purposes only), this is what I would like to see more healthcare advocates recommending:
- Gargling with water (every two hours for 30 seconds)
- Moderate exercise (even a brisk walk for 30 minutes)
- Meditation (10 minutes daily)
- Journalling daily
- Tracking calories and eating under maintenance
- Vitamin D (5,000 ui every day)
- Vitamin C (1g every day)
- Drinking at least one cup of green tea per day
- Gargling with an alcohol-based mouthwash after returning home
- Wearing masks or making your own
More expensive (but worth it)
- Zinc Acetate lozenges
- Epicor (500mg daily)
- FFP3 masks where available
- Alcohol-based hand Sanitiser
Got cash to burn
- Echinacea (alcohol extraction and standardised)
- Massages every day
- Quercetin and NAC
The above is not an exhaustive list, but a great place to start, especially with several months of the ‘Cheap’ list clocking in under £20, and when combined with everything in the ‘Free’ section will greatly help to reduce incidence to a significant degree, and lesson the symptoms and severity should one develop Coronavirus.