Many people will have a mild case of coronavirus and be nursing themselves or members of their family at home. The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a high temperature and dry cough and government advice are to seek prompt medical help by ringing NHS 111 online coronavirus service or phoning 111 if you are experiencing shortness of breath or worsening symptoms. For medical emergencies, of course, you should ring 999.
For the majority of people, however, the virus will cause a milder infection, which can be managed at home. I have therefore created this blog by researching the most current information available on self-help and natural remedies which are the most effective in easing symptoms, building natural resistance and speeding up recovery. These are not a substitute for seeking professional medical care but from my 15 years of clinical experience I have seen how effective herbal medicine and high-grade supplements can be and believe strongly they have a place in assisting the body in fighting off infection.
The evidence from the frontlines in China and Italy indicates that the most risk is for people with a combination of two or more of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease or cancer, who are also usually older. This makes COVID-19 different from flu. The science is rapidly helping us understand why people in these categories are getting harmed by this virus, particularly why so many risk factors involve the cardiovascular system. We can now see 6 specific ways to increase protection against COVID-19. A key frontline in the defence against this coronavirus appears to be the cells lining the blood vessels (the endothelium): most of the recommendations below will help here. There is also new evidence emerging from Chinese clinicians that COVID-19 dangerously disrupts healthy bowel flora and so weakens the response to the infection: they recommend probiotics to reduce this impact.
These are all generally accepted health measures. However, if you are in one of the risk groups above, now is the time to be more proactive. The good news is that many of the benefits are seen in a few days.
- Cut back hard on refined carbohydrates and sugars, fats and alcohol. This will reduce the stress on the endothelial frontline caused by higher blood sugar levels.
- Make sure your diet is dominated by vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, green, black and herbal teas, and other plant foods . They contain polyphenols and other constituents that protect the frontline. For more of these you can reward yourself with chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa !
- For similar benefits take more spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon (use these in cooking, herbal teas or supplements).
- Step up your exercise, if possible in fresh air.
- Vitamin D will add to your protection especially if you have high blood pressure, so take in some sunshine too if you can, and a good supplement.
- Take probiotics to help maintain your normal gut defences.
Fruit and vegetables – Polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanidins, are very common constituents of plants, fruit and vegetables, especially those that are coloured. Supplementation with polyphenols has been shown to reduce the incidence and shorten the duration of colds and viral infections. They are also likely to protect against one of the main weaknesses exploited by COVID-19, weakened blood vessel wall lining.
High natural sources of polyphenols are red grapes (and red wine), cocoa (as in 70% + chocolate!), blueberries, any other coloured fruit, and pomegranate.
Recent Chinese reports from the most detailed review of COVID-19 indicate that some patients have gastro-intestinal complications that upset the beneficial bowel flora or microbiome. In research studies various probiotic supplements, especially containing strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, have been shown to reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of respiratory infections, especially in children.
All these benefits were seen after at least several weeks consumption of these probiotics and it is less likely that short term use will have much impact. Probiotics may, therefore, best be seen as preventative rather than as treatments.
You can also add fermented foods into your diet- kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, live yoghurt and kombucha all help to build immune function through keeping gut bacteria healthy. Almost 80% of your immune system is in your gut and keeping your gut flora healthy is a really important way of supporting immunity.
There is good quality evidence that vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of catching colds or other respiratory infections. Regular dosing is more effective than taking the vitamin intermittently and benefits will be felt most by people who are depleted in the vitamin. However, in Britain where there is less exposure to sunlight, vitamin D deficiency is quite common.
Fever and COVID-19 Management
It is essential that you drink plenty of water and herbal teas. You should drink enough during the day so your urine (pee) is a pale clear colour. An excellent choice for drinks is herbal teas such as elderflower or thyme.
If there is no fever take plenty of nourishing food, like vegetable soups, casseroles, stews and porridges as these are highly nutritious foods which are easy for the body to absorb nutrition from and help build strength. If you are lucky enough to live with access to nature and can go outside into the country, look for nettles emerging, wild garlic and cleavers, these are great as food and medicine.
Consistent advice in managing feverish infections like flu is to keep you or the sufferer warm at the start. At the first onset of chills, it is natural and useful to take hot baths, have hot drinks and tuck into warm clothes or bed. It is also possible to add internal heating in other ways. The hot or warming spices such as cayenne, ginger and cinnamon are known to increase heat generation (‘thermogenesis’) and have long been used in fever management from ancient times.
There is a simple home remedy that provides all the benefits of spices in colds and flu. It is ginger and cinnamon tea. This tea will immediately counteract any symptom made worse by cold or improved by heat. It could be an actual cold or a headache or pain that improves with a hot water bottle or a hot bath. The tea triggers a reflex increase in blood flow to the mucous membranes of the mouth, airways and gut, and then elsewhere around the body.
As soon as you feel cold or the chills of a feverish infection coming on, take
- one knob of fresh ginger (about the size of your thumb) freshly grated
- a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon (best if freshly ground)
Add to a large mug and pour on boiling water. Stir, steep for 5 minutes or so, strain and sip. If this is helpful you may wish to make more and keep it in a vacuum flask for sipping through the day.
Once you have a high temperature these measures can be stopped, and then it is best to fast (reduce all food) and focus on hydrating. Using herb teas is ideal, the classic ones for reducing fever are elderflower, peppermint, yarrow, lime flower and boneset. If there is coughing you can add marshmallow leaf or root, plantain, mullein, thyme or hyssop (see below). You can also add honey to taste.
Below are some other remedies with evidence generally for improving defences to respiratory virus infections in general. Although COVID-19 is a lower respiratory infection and different in other ways, the principle of improving resistance always applies and these approaches should be considered with anyone who is at higher risk.
Eating fresh raw garlic has long been a favoured remedy for colds and coughs. The case for this is supported by the antiseptic properties of the odorous component of garlic, and the fact that this is excreted from the body part through the airways.
The best way to proceed is to take one glove off a head of garlic, peel it, crush it and swallow with a little water (no need for chewing). Half an hour later, when it is clear your stomach is happy with this, repeat with another clove, and then again until you have taken many more. Some people cannot take much garlic in this way but any discomfort will be temporary only and will be limited by this slow pace of dosing. If however, you do feel discomfort it is best not to proceed – the stomach is the boss here. Many can happily take eight or more cloves at a time.
Common experience that a day or so later there is a significant reduction in many symptoms of colds and coughing.
Elderberry syrup and tincture is useful as a preventative especially, there has been some discussion about whether elderberry can cause a cytokine storm, which can worsen the condition, but this is not possible and is not accurate information. Elderberry syrup or tinctures are high in Vitamin C, and have anti-viral properties so are a helpful choice. In one clinical research study flu, symptoms were relieved earlier in subjects taking elderberry syrup than those taking placebo syrup. It is advised to choose products from reputable suppliers rather than indiscriminately over the internet. It is also possible to make your own elderberry syrup at home by wildcrafting the berries from hedgerows in the autumn.
There is increasing clinical trial evidence that mushroom supplements, especially Reishi and Maitake (containing β-glucans and other immunoactive constituents) reduce the incidence and severity of respiratory tract infections. In theory, some of the benefits of supplements may be obtained by eating a range of mushrooms in the diet, however, there is no direct evidence for this.
Echinacea continues to be a good choice, especially for prevention and there is some evidence it can shorten the duration of respiratory infections.
Essential oils can be helpful. Try a blend with eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme, lavender and pine which is a blend of antiviral, mucolytic and expectorant oils. This done twice a day would be particularly useful for people with congestion. Use essential oils in burners or on a tissue to inhale regularly: some good ones are Ravensara, Eucalyptus Radiata(or smithii or globulus) and Thyme, which have strong antiviral actions.
Herbs for coughs
To loosen phlegm and mucus, in a tight chesty cough- Hyssop, Thyme, Angelica, Mullein and White Horehound is very effective
To soothe dry and irritable coughs – Marshmallow, Licorice, Mullein, Plantain and Wild cherry bark are the best choice.
These can be taken as herbal teas or tinctures.
Quercetin supplement – there is some very interesting work coming out of America that this may be the most helpful supplement as it inhibits viral docking on the cell surface. Foods rich in isoquercitrin include red onions, (#1 highest food), leafy green vegetables, broccoli, peppers, apples, grapes, black tea, green tea, red wine, and some fruit juices. You can also take it as a supplement.
When sourcing supplements, it is VERY important to buy high-grade pharmaceutical grade products. At Orchard Barn, we are very strict about the suppliers and brands we use and chose the most effective and high grade we can. Where I state a brand it is because these are a trusted source, if you buy another brand I cannot guarantee the quality or efficacy of it.
The most up to date guidelines from the College of Medicine are to take:
- Probiotics – especially useful as a preventative – I would recommend Biocare Bioacidophilus Forte – 1/ day. Or for children Biocare Bioaciophilus powder ¼-1/2 tsp/day or Baby BioFlora for infants.
- Better You D-Lux Vitamin D 3-6000/ iu daily for adults.
For children: Better You Junior Vitamin D – 400-800iu/ day depending on age.
- Elderberry Syrup or Tincture – available from the Orchard Barn dispensary
- MycoNutri Maitake/ Reishi or IS Complex Medicinal Mushrooms – as directed
- Echinacea tincture – available from the Orchard Barn dispensary
- Cytoplan Immunovite ( with zinc, beta-glucans and selenium) – take 1-2 capsules a day.
Lamberts Quercitin could also be very beneficial – 1-2 tablets a day.
We do stock all of these supplements in the online Orchard Barn shop, and also hold a full dispensary of herbs and herbal medicine including dried herbs and tinctures. Some of these can be bought as over the counter ready-made remedies, or you can consult with myself or Jules for a tailored herbal prescription.