by Dr. Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc for the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors on 7.10.20
As you are aware, in only a few months, a coronavirus never seen before has impacted every person on Earth. It has halted life as we know it by infecting more than eight million including 2,700 Mainers so far. Sadly, the COVID-19 has taken the lives of 423,000 of our loved ones – one quarter were Americans.
You are likely experiencing information overload related to COVID-19 and are more than ready to return to ‘normal’ life. As licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) in Maine, we feel it important, however, to let you know that we are there for you in this troubling time with constitutional and evidence-based, individualized holistic healthcare covered by most insurance companies.
While scientists are still searching for cures for COVID-19, from medical, Naturopathic & Chinese medicines, you won’t find us making claims that are unsupported by data. There are currently no well-designed studies assessing whether natural medicines can help prevent or treat COVID-19. That hasn’t stopped us from using our tried and true system of medicine or our many holistic tools to support those whose goals include prevention, reduction of symptoms, duration and severity of illness and recovery from COVID-19.
Just as all healthcare providers in our local communities, we take this illness very seriously. We understand the lack of evidence that we all wish we had in the pursuit of prevention and treatment methods. We are here doing our best with little information to test and treat you and help you recover to the best of our abilities using the tools and treatments we have used for previous viral illnesses and immune-related illness.
PREVENTION IS KEY
Members of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors would like to reiterate the CDC’s guidelines for protecting others in the case that you may have been unknowingly infected by coronavirus.[i] A person can spread the virus even without having any symptoms. We encourage each of you when in public, to cover your nose and mouth, maintain social distance, regularly wash or sanitize your hands and frequently touched surfaces. If you are exposed to someone who has COVID-19, quarantine from others and contact your doctor for testing and support.
While we do not claim that healthy lifestyle choices prevent you from getting COVID-19, some studies show those with underlying health conditions such as lung and heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure have more severe symptoms upon contraction of the novel coronavirus.[ii] So, it makes sense to follow the World Health Organization’s recommendations to make healthy choices, especially at this time. We all agree in recommending that you consider getting regular physical activity, avoid tobacco, monitor the mental and emotional well-being of yourself and your loved ones.[iii] Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate, get plenty of sleep and eat a well-balanced diet.
As experts in nutrition, licensed ND’s encourage people to eat their own personal ‘healthiest’ diet or seek our counsel to figure out what that is for you. In general, we encourage people to eat whole food, plant-based diet rich in fruit and vegetables, unrefined whole grains if you tolerate them, a variety of healthy proteins and fats while reducing the consumption of sugar, alcohol, deep-fried foods, simple carbohydrates like white flour and processed ‘junk’ foods. Drink plenty of water instead of sweetened soda and juices.
The novel coronavirus is reported to usurp the body’s immune response resulting in people experiencing a great variety of signs and symptoms. Naturopathic doctors have many holistic, evidence-based tools for supporting patients’ unique constitution, tailored to their individual needs through each phase of the body’s reaction to the virus.
When we are called upon to help support the health and well-being of a person with any health challenge, including COVID-19, in addition to following CDC guidelines for reporting and referral, we are devoted to our principles: call upon the healing power of nature, treat the underlying cause of illness, remove obstacles to the cure, treat the whole person, doctor as teacher.[iv]
The Naturopathic approach to disease prevention and management and the naturopathic tools available to the well-trained physician/doctor are well studied in the viral setting. With disclosure to our patients regarding the lack of study on such a new and serious illness, we have been applying our approach for our patients who wish to use all resources available to them in serving their goals including prevention, limiting severity and duration of the disease, recovering from COVID-19 and restoring health afterward.
In the absence of effective vaccination or proven therapeutics, we offer what has been effective in other viral illnesses, cytokine storm situations and recovery from other severe life-threatening health challenges. There are no data to prove which if any botanical, homeopathic, lifestyle, nutraceutical or treatment will be powerful enough against contracting and managing COVID-19. But, we can propose natural medicines based on their known mechanism of action and historical data against other viral illness that, first do no harm and may, and in the future, may be found to help in the following ways:
· Modulate immune function to stimulate antiviral immunity in the prevention phase
· Modulate the production of inflammasomes, NFkb and other inflammatory cytokines
· Modulate immune function to calm the cytokine storm
· Activate healing and repair mechanisms after the severe phase of illness to restore proper function to systems negatively affected
· Restore proper nutrient status to facilitate return to normal function
· Enhance neurotransmitter, microbiome and adrenal function to improve mental, emotional health and energy
SARS-CoV-2 stimulates a part of the innate immune response called the inflammasome that seems to trigger the immune response in an overactive manner called a cytokine storm that can cause severe damage to the lining of the organs, especially the lungs.[v] One mechanism that functional or Naturopathic doctors have called upon in their treatment of the cytokine storm are natural agents found in other illness to dampen the inflammasome function such as ECGC from green tea and a bioflavonoid called quercetin.[vi]
Other types of natural medicines that have been used in viral illnesses that activate inflammasomes, cytokine storms, flu, etc. that are in the toolbox of many licensed ND’s and Functional MD’s/DO’s that are being studied to determine if they will be helpful with COVID-19 with minimal risk of harm include vitamin D, melatonin, curcumin, resveratrol, green tea, quercetin, zinc, Elderberry and many more.[vii]
As COVID-19 was first experienced in China, the use of Chinese herbs has been a staple in the prevention and management of COVID-19 since the third state guidelines published in December, 2019. Most recent hospital surveys found that 85% of people with COVID-19 are now being given a combination of modern western medicine and traditional Chinese herbal therapy.[viii]
The experience of doctors in hotspots in China, who used a combined approach, observed that the Chinese herbal therapies were successful at preventing those with mild symptoms from getting worse and to be particularly effective at treating the febrile and respiratory symptoms.[ix] Herbs that Naturopathic doctor’s borrow from a huge bounty of Chinese botanical research since the 2002 SARS epidemic include the use of Scutellaria and Houttuynia cordata and many others that block viral replication of earlier SARS virus.[x]
Using similar herbs used in the previous SARS epidemic, frontline workers in China, in 2019, found a dramatic reduction in the contraction of the novel coronavirus.[xi], [xii]
A registry of Naturopathic physicians’ management of COVID-19 has been created by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.[xiii] Together, scientists from the fields of naturopathic medicine, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, immunology and nutrition apply their expertise to the study of natural medicine are putting their resources together to help identify what natural methods are most supportive to those with COVID-19.
In conclusion, members of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors wish for you to know that if you are inclined to take a constitutional & evidence-based holistic approach to your healthcare for any health challenge, including COVID-19, we are here for you from testing to treatment.
To find an ND near you, please visit our website.
A final note during this troubling time.
The right to free speech and honoring our freedom to express our different belief systems seems to have divided us, resulting in more judgement, anger, and fear in a time where we must call for unity. It is up to each of us to commit to being supportive of one another in spite of our varying beliefs in this most difficult of times. In response to this division, Maine Licensed Naturopathic Doctors call upon each of you to promote kindness, respect and tolerance.
[v] Conti P, Ronconi G, Caraffa A, et al. Induction of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1 and IL-6) and lung inflammation by Coronavirus-19 (COVI-19 or SARS-CoV-2): anti-inflammatory strategies. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2020;34(2):1.
[vi] Tozsér J, Benko S. Natural compounds as regulators of NLRP3 inflammasome-mediated IL-1? production. Mediators Inflamm. 2016;2016:5460302.
[vii] https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/the-functional-medicine-approach-to-covid-19-virus-specific-nutraceutical-and-botanical-agents/ accessed on 6.14.20.
[x] For more information on Chinese herbal therapy for SARS: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7098036/#B45
[xi][xi] Lau TF, Leung PC, Wong EL, Fong C, Cheng KF, Zhang SC, Lam CW, Wong V, Choy KM, Ko WM
Am J Chin Med. 2005; 33(3):345-56.
[xii] World Health Organization. WHO Director-General’s remarks at the media briefing on 2019-nCoV on 11 February 2020. https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-2019-ncov-on-11-february-2020. 2020.