Getting enough sleep is important for many aspects of health, including susceptibility to infectious diseases like Coronavirus. People such as shiftworkers, who have disrupted sleep patterns are more susceptible to viral illness, as discussed in this paper.
In the podcast I discuss the paper by Dr Cohen and colleagues about how having less than seven hours sleep a night leads to a three fold ( yes that's right three hundred percent! ) increase is susceptibility to Rhinovirus. Now we dont have any definite evidence about coronavirus, but it is a reasonable guess to make that sleep may be important in this condition as well.
And, if you are having trouble sleeping go and revisit episode 2 of soothing science, for some tips about sleep.
Vitamin D has a role in many bodily processes. Its main claim to fame is in bone health, but it also effects the immune system and in doing so may have an effect on our susceptibility to infections, and maybe even our ability to see off cancer cells. This paper, by Dr Martineau and colleagues, looks at the effect of vitamin D levels on susceptibility to viral infections, and concludes that regular low/moderate vitamin D supplements seem to help, especially if you are low in vitamin D. Personally I try to keep my vitamin D levels in the upper normal range - you can get a blood tests and do this too. It is possible to have too much vitamin D, and in people with severe kidney disease or conditions where calcium metabolism is abnormal, we have to be careful. But for a generally healthy person 1000 units vitamin D daily is safe, simple and relatively cheap.
Hydrothermal therapy - hot baths/showers and saunas
This intriguing area of research draws on historical and modern research about the nature of fever and its application in medicine.
This paper describes the effect of temperature on the immune system and describes the lizard experiment I discussed in the podcast.
Here is a paper about the benefits of saunas in Finland.
This paper describes the nobel prize winning research into the treatment of syphilis with fever.
Here we have a link to traditional hydrothermotherapy practices and a protocol for covid 19.
And here a discussion on the risks of bathing in Japan.
Because of the risks of hot water bathing I am stopping short of making a blanket suggestion - but if you are healthy, relatively young and know that you can tolerate it well, then increasing the number of hot baths may well help. Watch this space for Emmas research, and if you want specific information about this then email me.
Meditation/relaxation exercises, and physical exercise.
There is abundant evidence about the effect of relaxation/meditation and physical exercise on the immune system. This article describes a greater than 50% reduction in respiratory illness symptoms in people assigned to either a meditation or an exercise group, compared to control.
Have a look back at soothing science episode 1 for a general discussion about the benefits of meditation.
Just remember that extreme exercise - regularly pushing yourself to the limit like ultramarathon runners do - will suppress your immune system - it is too much stress on the body at this time - keep your exercise within reasonable limits.
Avoid zinc deficiency.
Zinc has an important role to play in our innate immunity. Here is an article about this. ( Note this is quite different to the way zinc blocks rhinovirus as we discussed in a previous episode. Now too much zinc can be harmful, so if you are going ot take a long term supplement I think it is important to get a blood test to know where you are. Foods that are high in zinc, on the other hand, are here - and I dont think we will run into any trouble with too much zinc if we stick to it in food form. Note that a small amount of animal protein will give you plenty of zinc - if your diet is mainly plants then you will need cashews and beans to get enough.
Plant based low inflammation diet.
I couldn't find any really good specific papers related specifically to respiratory illness here. However, we do know that people from areas of high longevity ( the so called blue zones) tend to have diets rich in plants and simple unprocessed foods.
N- Acetyl Cysteine
N- Acertylcysteine is a drug that has been around a long time and is used in cases of paracetamol overdose to replnish the bodies supply of glutathione. Now glutathione is an amino acid ( protein building block) that is very important in mopping up damaging oxides - these are substances produced when tissue is damaghed such as by viruses. Here is an article that found symptoms of influenza were reduced in people taking N-acetylcysteine as a prventer during the flu season. However it is from 1997 and this has certainly not translated into normal medical practice. It is now being reconsidered in the light of Covid 19, but it is way too early to tell if it is going to help. So, is it worth taking? - Well, we re getting into the territory of real drugs here - it is not like vitamin D which our body produces anyway or zinc that we may well be low in, so to my mind this is a different proposition. However, it has been around for a long time and doesnt seem to have a lot of side effects. So if I was working in a high risk area - if I was dealing with people in say New York, or London, or anywhere else where there is a real risk of contracting the Covid illness, then I would take it regularly while there are active cases around. But bear in mind anti oxidant are not necessarily always good - oxidation is one of the ways our immune system kills invading cells and our own cells that have gone bad - so we have to be mindful that there could be unintended consequences. One for you to research yourself before deciding I think.