January 27 2020 update Part 1
Paul Herscu ND, MPH
In writing about epidemics over the past 3 decades, my first goal has been to create information scaffolding for readers so that you have sound context to receive and understand the bombardment of information about any epidemic. If you want a broad and deep understanding of the concept of epidemics, which I strongly suggest,
First Things First. The Immune System with Relation to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
In understanding a patient’s reaction to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), it helps to think of the challenges it presents as twofold. First there is the damage that the virus causes by itself upon the body. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is the damage, which may be lethal, which is caused inadvertently by one’s own immune system responding to the virus.
This is a very important point to highlight. Though the virus is particularly virulent at this moment, not everyone dies. It is thankfully, only a very small fraction of those exposed who perish. There is an additional small fraction that become quite ill, and the rest become ill in a usual flu manner. And for some people, the damage that the immune system causes upon the individual, is perhaps worse than the insult caused by the bug itself.
There are different professions that have focused, since their inception, on supporting the immune system, and helping patients develop an appropriate immune response. Naturopathic physicians form one such profession. To be clear, this is not to claim that we have experience with the killing of this virus. What we do have, for over a 100 years, is a great deal of experience with helping the immune system respond appropriately, read: not over-respond or under-respond, to certain situations. And while the germ has its own virulence, which I discuss below, what I want to highlight is that helping the immune system develop an appropriate response is paramount. This is something we can support our patients doing and do for ourselves. While on the one hand this is a lifelong exercise for everyone, there are some things to do right now.
The simplest one is to make sure that your immune system is not being stressed by other illnesses. In other words, try to get other chronic ailments under good control. In most years, those with prior chronic illnesses are more at risk of a lethal form of any influenza or virus than those that were previously healthy.on how to help here, including diet, botanical, nutritional supplements, sleep, etc. By so doing, if exposed to this virus you will hopefully suffer a lesser course of the disease rather than the lethal course. This part is within our control. To be sure this will not be enough by itself, absolutely not enough, but it will help! It’s not nothing!
While this has been the main domain of naturopathic physicians, most other medical professions have also taken up this call. Homeopaths since the time of Hahnemann, osteopathic physicians, chiropractic doctors and increasingly medical doctors are offering whole-person, natural medicine modalities as non-pharmaceutical interventions for some of our most troubling chronic conditions, focusing on appropriate immune response. This is important work overall and becomes even more important during times of epidemics.