By Dietitian Jill Place
As The Good Gut Queen, (here’s my BRAND-NEW avatar … hope you like her) I’m a “Heal Your Gut and Change Your Life!” flag-waver. And keep wondering if healing leaky gut is the ultimate COVID-19 “cure”.
I put the word “cure” in quotes. because … even though it’s in the title … I don’t believe in ultimate cures. Instead, I believe in healing journeys. Journeys that include what I call “The Wellness Triad” … body, mind, AND spirit.
And was VERY heartened to read an article in the Integrative Medicine Journal by Functional Medicine MDs called Evidence Supporting a Phased Immuno-physiological Approach to COVID-19 From Prevention Through Recovery. Yes … a very long title and an even longer, very clinical article. But very significant.
Because it outlines a whole approach to 1) Prevention – supporting reduction of overall inflammation for everyone, 2) Infection – improving outcomes if the person actually becomes infected, 3) Escalating Inflammation – focusing on anti-inflammatory support, and …
4) Recovery – resolving any remaining inflammation, inhibiting damage and loss of function, and restoring function. Because people often relapse into the “Escalating Inflammation” phase, it’s also important to watch them closely well into the “Recovery” Phase.
It’s important to know that this whole approach is an Integrative/Functional one. And that there are actually MD’s who not only believe in it … they also practice it.
What IS Functional Medicine?
I’ve written about this extensively in my blogs … it’s in all of them asFunctional Medicine is my mantraClick To Tweet. But some of them … like Dysfunction vs. Disease … are totally about it. Pure and simple, Functional Medicine is about changing the paradigm of health from the absence of disease to the presence of wellness.
More complex … it’s about giving individualized, personalized medical care that focuses on finding out the root causes for symptoms that affect your health. Which means possibly figuring out what’s ailing not only the body but the mind and spirit of the person.
Here’s a wonderful infographic by Anita Sataday MD that explains it further.
A Focus on Inflammation …
The whole focus of the article I cited above … why am I not surprised … is putting the brakes on inflammation. And supporting the immune system.
And … as I’ve often said …your health begins in your gut.Click To Tweet. Because most of the immune system is one cell below the gut. And when it doesn’t work as it should the immune system doesn’t either.
Many things (stress, poor diet, antibiotics yadda yadda) can cause tears in the gut, and stuff begins to leak into it that shouldn’t be there.
What then happens to the immune system? It runs around trying to sop up this stuff. Which causes inflammation.
Think about it. You cut your finger … it gets red. That’s the immune system springing to action. Very simply, immune cells come to your aid and cause inflammation to begin healing.
But what happens when you have leaky gut plus other problems like toxic overload from the environment plus ongoing stress? You also have ongoing inflammation.
What Happens with COVID-19
The article states … “Emerging evidence in COVID-19 suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 virus employs pathogen evasion strategies against macrophages, including delaying macrophage activation and infecting and killing macrophages.” Macrophages are those immune cells (there are several different kinds) that first spring to your aid when foreign invaders are detected by the body.
Macrophages also surround and “eat” them (their name in Greek means “large eater”). In other words, they’re our first line of defense. And another thing they do is sound the alarm for the entire immune system. So a delayed response from macrophages can be a big problem for us.
Especially when we have leaky gut and inflammation in the first place. The article writers cite research that indicates that the higher the level of inflammation, the more severe the symptoms. As well as the possibility of dying from the virus.
Remember that I’m making this very simple for you. As the immune system and its reactions are no simple things.
But the bottom line IS … one way or another … that the main pathway to health here is the ongoing prevention of inflammation. As inflammation has been linked as the cause of all degenerative disease by scientists for many, many years. We also need to address other problems that walk side by side with it including nutrient deficiencies and leaky gut.
Finding A Solution
The researchers cite 383 studies in this article. But also explain that
Other than research to date cited here, clinical research on nutritional substances in COVID-19 has not yet been done. All nutritional supports listed here have shown efficacy in human trials in other conditions. Dosages recommended here reflect the well over 100 years of combined clinical experience and judgement of the authors.
I highlight the sentence above because I want to be transparent about something.The treatments we use as alternative practitioners HAVE a lot of research to back them up.Click To Tweet
But it takes viewing this research through a Functional Medicine instead of a have-a-symptom-take-a-pill lens. And asking the crucial question … “What is the root cause of this problem?”
So the supplements and other treatments proposed in this article are highly researched as inflammation-preventive. Andit's about time we included inflammation prevention along with masks and quarantines as a major way to put an end to this virus.Click To Tweet
The Solutions Themselves
Obvious recommendations such as getting enough sleep, exercising and getting enough nutrients through food and supplements were cited. The article also encouraged “Microbiome Balance” as there appears to be a “complex relationship between the microbiota of the lung and GI tract and its bidirectional influence with the immune system” and “Dysregulation of the balance of GI microbiome bacteria (AKA leaky gut) has been shown to be a source of systemic inflammation”.
The article also recommended specific supplements for each of the four phases of the “whole approach”. Foundational supplements include Vitamins D and C (there are promising COVID-19 studies for both these nutrients, some that have shown that lack of them in patients have much poorer outcomes), N-acetyl Cysteine, and Fish Oil.
Supporting the production of immune cells during infection include mushrooms (Stamets 7 … a tincture of 7 different mushrooms … is a particular favorite and daily dose of mine) and herbs like Berberine and Echinacea.
And anti-inflammatory support includes things like Curcumin (the active ingredient in the spice turmeric), Boswellia, and Bromelain. But these should only be used upon advice of a knowledgeable practitioner.
Take Care Here …
Remember that these ideas are a proposal based upon reviewing extensive research by doctors who think the Functional Medicine way. They are NOT a tried-and-true protocol for COVID-19 treatment … YET …
And using rigid protocols is not what we do anyway. Because each person is unique and each person requires an individualized plan depending upon where they’re at healthwise.
For example, one of my recent clients was so compromised that we had to start at the beginning supporting her gut and healing that up a bit as well as improving other health parameters like diet BEFORE we could even begin aggressive treatment. Or identify food sensitivities and nutrient deficiencies to also reduce inflammation.
So … please … don’t do this alone. Where the gut and immune system is concerned, you really need a professional to steer you on the right course for you.
The article closes with this piece of wise advice …
Though much is yet to be understood about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, substantial knowledge of the underlying immunology and clinical tools that apply to therapeutic targets in the underlying immunology provide a basis for clinical application, careful observation, and discernment of the needs of patients who seek support for favorable outcomes in the context of COVID-19. A phased functional approach, based on attention to the time course of the disease process, may provide a useful basis for engaging the clinical process with these patients.