Can we prevent COVID-19 the natural way?

'There is no magic bullet that can stave off coronavirus, says Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.

Anna Sharratt 3 minute read March 4, 2020

As coronavirus continues to spread with no vaccine in sight, people are looking at natural medicine. Stock/ Getty Images

With cases of COVID-19 cropping up across Canada, Canadians are understandably looking for ways of boosting their immunity. With a vaccine at least a year away, they’re researching immune-boosting remedies offered by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and naturopaths.

TCM recently made headlines when China announced it is treating coronavirus patients with TCM therapies in tandem with conventional ones.

One popular remedy, Shuang Huang Lian was touted as reducing the severity of the virus, causing it to sell out across China in days. It has not undergone clinical trials but has shown promise in mouse models in lessening airway hyperresponsiveness during respiratory infections and reducing the flu’s severity.

“It’s a patented formula with four ingredients,” says Dr. Jane Cheung, a TCM Practitioner based in Oshawa, Ont. The herbs are Lonicerae Japonicae Flos (honeysuckle), Scutellariae Radix, (skullcap) and Fructus Forsythiae (forsythia).

“It has an antimicrobial effect,” she says. “The herbs detoxify and get rid of inflammation.”

Shuang Huang Lian’s effectiveness in fighting the coronavirus is unknown. But for desperate people, it’s a glimmer of hope in what has been a frightening month.

Cheung says another TCM remedy, astragalus, can also boost immunity. Used for centuries by Chinese practitioners, its active compounds may help strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation.

But as TCM is customized to the patient, there is no magic bullet that can stave off coronavirus, cautions Dr. Cheung.

Astragalus, used for centuries by Chinese practitioners, may help strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation

Naturopathic doctors are also fielding questions from worried patients. While none of their recommendations are specific to COVID-19, they advise that patients boost their immunity.

“Vitamin C may support certain aspects of the immune system and some data indicates that it may reduce the severity and duration of an upper respiratory infection,” says Jill Kerr, a naturopathic doctor with Toronto-based Insight Naturopathic Clinic.

She says if you have low Vitamin D, which helps support the immune system, you might be at increased risk of an upper respiratory infection. A deficiency can easily be checked with a blood test.

Zinc supplementation also appears to help reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections. The best immune-boosting dose is 15mg-25 mg per day, according to Harvard Medical School researchers.

And then there are probiotics, says Kerr, which may also help boost overall immunity by providing bacteria that is good for your gut. While you can easily get probiotics in capsules, you can also get them in sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, pickles and miso.

Kerr recommends anyone considering any supplementation check in with a doctor. “All supplement recommendations should always be reviewed by a licensed healthcare provider to ensure the patient’s safety and to ensure there are no drug-nutrient interactions,” she says.