Updated: Mar 9
My son was born during the height of SARS in 2003. In fact, they closed the hospital a couple days after we left the maternity ward. It was a scary time for us, wondering if my newborn would fall ill.
Now Covid-19 (the Coronavirus) has arrived and I have a child with an auto-inflammatory disease.
Like you, I'm nervous. For those with autoimmune or taking immune-modulating or suppressing drugs, there is a lot of uncertainty and messages are confusing.
How do you protect yourself or your family? Is it ok to take immune-boosting supplements when you're also on medications? Which foods matter? What should you avoid or be cautious with?
Start with the basics.
I know this sounds oversimplified, but it is extremely important.
Hands down, good hand hygiene and overall healthy habits are your first line of defence to reducing your risk of illness. Good nutrition can also help your immune system fight off illness. Imagine your germ-fighting immune cells all hungry and tired, versus them being nourished and full of energy.
That said, I am not a medical doctor and official recommendations are changing daily. Nor am I qualified to explain the specifics of this virus.
If you have autoimmune disease in the family, please connect with your primary health provider so you understand recommendations that are specific to your disease, medication, overall health history, age and other unique factors. Do not disregard medical advice for something you read here. The intention of this blog is to enhance your current treatment plan and recommendations, not replace it.
Under no circumstances, do not ignore shortness of breath.
1 - Wash your hands.
A lot. All experts are saying that this virus is transmitted through contact, meaning you touch droplets that have landed on a surface area, and then you touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Your hands can trap and transport all kinds of microbes that cause sickness. And I’m not just talking about just the Corona virus, but lots of different germs. It is still cold/flu season in North America, and there is lots going round.
The CDC recommends this hand washing technique to help prevent the spread of germs:
Wet your hands and lather soap all over hands, in-between fingers, wrists, under nails.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds ("Happy Birthday" is a 20-second song you can hum TWICE to get to the 20 second mark).
Rinse and dry using a clean towel or air dry.
Don't have soap? Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a second line of defence. However, it does not get rid of all germs and washing hands should be your go-to action whenever possible.
2 - Take precautions in public
You or your child may benefit from wearing a mask - ask your doctor if that is your situation. Here are instructions from the World Health Organization on how to properly wear and dispose of a mask.
An additional concern - eczema or psoriasis on the hands can have open wounds. You may want to consider gloves in public spaces if this is your situation.
Some other tips:
Avoid shaking hands - try a toe tap or elbow pump as a way of greeting.
Wipe down grocery carts, baskets or other public-use items before touching.
Use your elbow to press buttons in the elevator, at cross walks, etc.
Use gloves to open doors, use the gas pump or touch other public items.
Avoid close contact with people who have a respiratory illness.
If you have a cold/flu, stay at home as much as possible. Don't spread. Sharing is not caring. Cough into a kleenex and dispose when possible or your elbow, if need be.
3 - Up your nutrition at home.
Every cell in your body, including your immune cells, need enough of all the essential nutrients. The more nutrition you have, the better and stronger you will be, especially with vitamins A, C, E, selenium, zinc and Omega 3s.
Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potato, and organ meats. I get it - organ meats can be tricky with kids (and adults). Try adding small amounts of liver or kidney to homemade hamburgers or ground beef skillets. This is a great way to increase this superfood without overwhelming taste buds.
Vitamin C-rich foods include papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, citrus and pineapple! Bonus - pineapple is also good for digestion and helps break down protein.
Vitamin E-rich foods include sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard and avocado.
Zinc is found in red meats, seeds, nuts and even legumes.
The foods that are highest in selenium (an anti-oxidant) are fish, shrimp, Brazil nuts and turkey.
And the best sources of Omega 3s? Flax seeds, walnuts, fish, seafood and sea vegetables.
Medicinal mushrooms are another source of nutritional immune support. There is some discussion over whether they are immuno-stimulating or modulating. If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms for your particular situation, you can read more HERE with this article by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.
4 - Probiotic foods.
Another thing to consider is support for your health-promoting gut microbes in order to help keep the immune system strong.
Some doctors do not allow probiotic supplements with certain medications - you must ask about your unique situation. However, probiotic-rich foods are a great option for everyone.
Try 1-2 servings/day of fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir, or kombucha.
If you HATE the taste of sauerkraut (many do), try blending into a smoothie, adding to a stir fry or putting on a burger. It helps hides the taste. Here is a recipe I like that that strategically hides the kraut! It sounds gross, but it works. Trust me.
5 - Prebiotic foods.
Feeding those friendly gut microbes their favourite foods can help them to grow and flourish. They love fibrous foods like onions, asparagus, berries, bananas, sweet potatoes, whole grains, and seeds.
Aim for 2 - 3 servings/day. This is an easy one you don't need any tips on!
6 - Additional micronutrients.
Certain supplements like vitamin D, zinc, antioxidants, herbs and even garlic can help support your immune system.
When it comes to autoimmune, supplements must be approached VERY carefully as some can overstimulate the immune system (i.e., elderberry) or are contraindicated with your current medical plan.
Every person is unique in their situation, so you must work with a healthcare provider to ensure supplements are appropriate for you, your child, your medication. Each doctor is also different in their approach because each patient is unique in their situation.
Some basic supplements to inquire about: vitamin D, zinc, probiotics, vitamin C, quercetin.
Common "cold and flu prevention" or immune support supplements that can be contraindicated with autoimmune conditions and medications because they over stimulate include (but not limited to): echinacea, elderberry, elderflower, astragalus, st. john's wort.
7 - Water and Bone Broth
It's important to drink BEFORE you get ill.
Fluids like water, chicken soup, and green tea are warm, hydrating comfort drinks.
Chicken soup is a source of electrolytes, especially if homemade from a real chicken with lots of vegetables. In fact, a cup of bone broth a day is an excellent goal and will not only support the immune system, it will help support overall gut health.
Here is a simple recipe for bone broth you can make at home. I save my bones from whole-roasted chickens, and make this once every two weeks. My kids will often have a cup in the morning for breakfast, or after school. I also have a simple, healthy chicken soup recipe.
8 - Get enough sleep.
Did you know that your immune system cycles with your circadian system? When you sleep, your immune cells produce antibodies to fight infections.
The recommended guidelines can be anywhere from 9 - 12 or more hours daily for children and 7 - 9 hours for adults every single night, even when you're feeling great. Those with autoimmune often have increased need to rest or sleep. Listen to your body.
Natural tips to recover from that sickness
When you do get an infection, not only do you need more nutrients to fight it off, but your body also has a harder time absorbing and using the nutrients you take in. Sometimes this is because of reduced hunger, sometimes due to gastrointestinal reasons.
Either way, nourishing your body is even more important. When you do get sick, make sure you are implementing tips 1 - 8 plus giving yourself enough time to rest and recover.
When your body is fighting an infection, it’s busy working hard for your health. Give it a break and relax while you’re feeling under the weather.
There are lots of things we can do to stay healthy and reduce infections naturally. Washing your hands is a proven way to reduce your risk. And staying healthy in all other ways helps a lot. Getting enough nutrition, eating probiotic and prebiotic foods, and getting enough sleep are key year round.
If you do get sick, keep up all of your good habits above, and make sure to add some warm, healthy fluids, and extra rest.
Recipe (Throat soothing): Honey Lemon Ginger Cough Drops
½ cup honey 2 tbsp lemon juice 1 tsp freshly grated ginger root
Put ingredients into a small saucepan.
Stir frequently until it becomes foamy. Be careful because the honey can burn easily.
Remove from heat and continue to stir until the foam reduces.
Put the saucepan back on the heat.
Repeat this until a candy thermometer reads 300F.
Drop a bit into a glass of ice water. If the mixture forms a hard, crunchy ball, it's ready! If not, keep stirring and heating for another minute or two and try with the ice water again.
Once a hard ball forms from a drop into the ice water, let the saucepan cool until the foam has reduced.
Drizzle the candy into a candy mold or onto oiled parchment paper.
Let cool at room temperature until the cough drops are hard.
Pop out of the mold or break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.
Tip: You can sprinkle them with vitamin C powder to keep them from sticking together.