“You can’t control the virus, but you can control the host [that’s YOU!]”
— Robert Silverman, DC, CNC, author, Inside-Out Health
While these are unprecedented times with the new coronavirus (COVID-19), there is so much that you can do to create more certainty and control over your personal health outcomes.
This article is divided into two sections: First, it’s helpful to know you’re not alone; I’ll outline what we are facing collectively. Second, you’ll discover evidence-based prevention strategies, which I am personally embracing. As you will see, there is no time to waste to get your immune system in optimal fighting shape, especially if you’re already dealing with an autoimmune condition, which is an immune system problem.
The Big Potential COVID-19 Threat
At a recent meeting, top infectious disease researchers from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), the fourth largest medical research center in the US (based on research grants), estimated that 40-70% of the US population will become infected with COVID-19 within the next 12-18 months. Because the average mortality rate of COVID-19 is 10 times the flu, which only kills about 0.1% of those infected in the U.S. each year, they estimated that, if nothing was done to stop the spread of the virus (such as social distancing), 1% of infected Americans could die as a result of this beast. That’s 1.6 million possible deaths.1An Expert COVID-19 Panel from UCSF, Jordan Shlane, MD, Medium, https://medium.com/@Dr.Shlain/for-full-disclosure-this-message-was-intended-to-be-confidential-a4fea25d0a9c Thankfully, at this writing, 95% of the country is taking action to curtail the spread with shelter-in-place orders. Bill Gates, co-founder Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is investing billions to develop vaccines, recently said on the PBS Newshour, “strong social distancing allows you to level off cases.” But, he quickly added, that things will not get back to normal until we have “broad vaccination,” which he estimated might be “18 months away.”
However total numbers unfold, when you add comorbidities like chronic health conditions, the numbers get more dire. People with chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lung, liver or kidney problems, and any of the 150 autoimmune conditions including MS, lupus, RA, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac and IBD may be ten times more vulnerable to a severe form of COVID-19 illness, including the dreaded cytokine storm of a runaway immune response which leads to respiratory distress, pneumonia, and even death. It’s estimated that 50% of all Americans are suffering one or more chronic health conditions. For those 165 million people, you have to multiply the mortality rate by 10. So, instead of a 1% mortality rate, the rate increases to 10%. It’s hard to get your head around the math, but imperative to understand your risk.
Why I’m Extra Concerned
As a Functional Medicine health coach, I’m extra concerned about COVID-19. Why? Because I’ve been in the higher risk group and continue to deal with underlying immune system challenges. In 2010, I beat a 26-year course of MS by finding and removing my triggers and healing my gut. Yet, health is not static. You don’t beat an autoimmune condition and that’s the end of the story. No. Health takes daily work, proactive maintenance, a courageous commitment to oneself to stay on the healing and prevention path. I may be more vulnerable to infection than most, because I have the genes — the latent potential — for MS, along with persistent immune system burdens like chronic Lyme disease, reactivated Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), and ongoing food sensitivities. This means I need to step up my game and do what I can to safeguard my health and protect my loved ones — right now.
If you also struggle with autoimmune issues, you know how important it is to take good care of yourself. It’s why I founded Beat Autoimmune Academy (a caring, guided community with tools, resources, and support), and it’s why I offer private coaching (see bottom of post for more info).
How F.I.G.H.T.S. Can Help Safeguard Your Health
Immune system experts agree this is a time to help our immune systems function at their peak. We can do this by embracing healthy daily lifestyle choices. While doing research for my bestselling book, Beat Autoimmune, I created a simple way for people to remember the major root cause categories we can control with the abbreviation F.I.G.H.T.S,™ which stands for Food, Infections, Gut health, Hormone balance, Toxins and Stress. It turns out that you prevent COVID-19 much in the same way you reverse or prevent autoimmune conditions.
How I Can Help
My life’s mission is to help cut through the complexity and help you get to vibrant health as fast as possible. While it took me 26 years to beat the MS, it doesn’t need to take you a fraction of the time or the money. By the end of this article you will have a number of tools and strategies to be better prepared. My clients, readers, and students are beating autoimmune and are in a much better position to deal with this COVID-19 threat. There is no secret sauce, no mystery to their success. They are following a proven framework that works time and time again.
The strategies below focus on COVID-19 prevention, not what to do if you get COVID-19. This is not intended as medical advice. My own MS prevention strategies are specific to my healing journey. You may find many of the same tips apply to you, but remember that healing is individual.
To help you build a personalized defense strategy fast, I created a document you can download for FREE here: Coronavirus Defense Strategy for People with Autoimmune Conditions. For a customized plan, please consider one-on-one coaching.
Start with Food
Food is the number one root cause category of autoimmune conditions. On the flip side, people with autoimmune issues often heal 60% to 100% just by changing what they eat! When you eat inflammatory foods or foods you have developed sensitivities to, your immune system goes on high alert, creating antibodies (missiles) to attack foods (protein molecules) that have breached the gut barrier. When your immune system is distracted by fighting foods, it is not optimized to fight real infections like COVID-19. These are my top 3 immune-strengthening food strategies:
Heal Your Gut
The gut is ground zero for health and disease. It turns out 80% of the immune system is housed right there in the lining of the gut. A leaky gut and imbalanced microbiome are central to the development of autoimmune conditions, and if our immune systems are impaired, they are less able to fight nasty infections like COVID-19. I tend to my gut with these daily strategies:
Any number of infections can trigger autoimmune conditions; and having an autoimmune condition makes you more susceptible to further infections, especially if you’re taking immunosuppressive medication. Excess inflammation — caused by F.I.G.H.T.S.™ factors, and/or an existing autoimmune condition — puts your immune system in overdrive, which weakens immunity. This is what I’m doing to bolster my defenses against COVID-19 and deal with existing stealthy infections:
Just checking in with you. I know this is a lot to take in. By the end of this article you’ll have a number of tools to help you start protecting yourself in just days.
Each of us carries a “toxin bucket” into which go all the potential inflammatory factors — think F.I.G.H.T.S.™ — that enter or are created as byproducts within our bodies. When the bucket overflows, our bodies buckle under the burden, inflammation increases, our guts become leaky, and we become vulnerable to infections like COVID-19 and autoimmunity. We must proactively minimize what comes into our buckets now and reduce what’s already in there. Here are the top things I’m doing to keep my bucket as empty as possible:
Stress expert, Heidi Hanna, PhD, and the author of Stressoholic, describes 3 types of stress: tame, tolerable and toxic. Tame is the mild form you quickly get over, like taking a cold shower or doing something a little out of your comfort zone. Tolerable is the kind you may feel after a job loss, break up, or death of a loved one. You eventually get over it if you have the resources and support. Toxic stress is unrelenting, chronic, and includes buried emotional trauma from childhood. Ongoing stress is toxic and causes mega inflammation throughout the body, keeping your immune system weak. These are the top ways I address stress today:
Balance Your Hormones
Hang in there — almost done! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I get it. My job is to help you cut through the complexity and get to do-able strategies fast.
Hormones are tiny but have a massive impact on your health and immunity. Fortunately hormonal harmony naturally occurs by addressing other F.I.G.H.T.S.™ categories. As you optimize your diet, heal your gut, clear infections, minimize toxins, and address stress, your hormones should naturally fall into line. As I revealed in my book, Beat Autoimmune, I suffered from the 6 biggest hormonal imbalances in America: low vitamin D, low (hypo) thyroid, low DHEA, high estrogen, high insulin, and high cortisol, so continue to take a more assertive approach. These are my top hormone balancing strategies:
Prevent COVID-19 and Beat Autoimmune with F.I.G.H.T.S.™
These are uncertain and unprecedented times for us all. For those of us with underlying health conditions, the risk for worse outcomes with COVID-19 is real. The time to take proactive action to safeguard your health is right now.
All of this information and the situation itself may be overwhelming. It’s lots to take in and a lot to digest. My hope is that you remember to employ some of my favorite stress-melting strategies, like 10 slow, deep belly breaths, in through the nose, and out through the nose.
Once you feel centered, consider putting together your own COVID-19 defense plan. For help, you can download my Coronavirus Defense Strategy for People With Autoimmune Conditions HERE.
F.I.G.H.T.S. is a simple framework to help you get organized. Your specific strategies will likely look different than mine. And whether you address each category one at a time or all at once, doesn’t matter, as long as you get going. You will feel more empowered the moment you decide to take proactive steps to safeguard your health.
This is arguably one of the best times to prioritize your health and I invite you to use this time wisely. As you see positive results, you’ll find the motivation to try more until you’re living the life you deserve, one of vibrant health and wellbeing.
When you implement solid strategies to get your immune system in good fighting shape, you’ll also be protecting your loved ones and the broader community. In the hopeful words of CNN anchor, Chris Cuomo, who beat COVID-19, “the cure is in the collective.”
Take extra good care!
p.s. Want help reversing an autoimmune condition (or two)? I offer several ways to work with me:
You can do it. I can help. We are stronger together!