Why Immune-Boosting Supplement Protocols Aren’t the Best Strategies for COVID19 and What to do Instead

Margaret Floyd Barry - Eat Naked Now

Margaret Floyd is a functional therapist, writer, and real food advocate. She's has been on the pursuit of the ideal, nutritious, and delicious way of eating for the better part of her adult life. Margaret is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), a Certified Restorative Wellness Specialist, a Certified GAPS Practitioner, a Certified Gluten Practitioner, and a Certified Healing Foods Specialist. She has a thriving private practice based out of Portland, Oregon through which she supports her clients to achieve true health and vitality through diet and lifestyle changes. Margaret believes firmly in the power of real, whole nutrient-dense foods and the body's ability to use them as foundational to all aspects of health and wellness. Margaret is the author of Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted, and Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You and coauthor of its follow-up cookbook, The Naked Foods Cookbook. She teaches other practitioners the tools that brought her such great results with her clients at Restorative Wellness Solutions, advanced continuing education for nutiriton professionals. She currently blogs at www.eatnakednow.com.

“What’s your anti-viral protocol?”

This is one of the most common questions I’m getting asked right now and it’s certainly what’s at the top of everyone’s mind. What are the supplements I can take to protect myself from this nasty coronavirus??

As any of my clients will tell you, I don’t shy away from using supplements. They have an invaluable role in therapeutic healing protocols and can provide high doses of targeted nutrients missing from our diet that will support our body’s ability to come back into balance and heal. You certainly can’t “supplement away” a problem – they have to be part of a bigger protocol that involves a clear dietary strategy and other lifestyle elements – but they are an important piece of the puzzle.

To that end, at the beginning of this outbreak, I was pulling together all my tools and coming up with my anti-viral protocol. In fact, if you subscribe to just about any mailing list from any natural health provider, you’ve probably got a whole list of protocols in your inbox as well. I certainly do.

But here’s the thing:

This coronavirus is very different from those that have come before it and the research does not yet exist to understand how high doses of individual nutrients influence this virus. In fact, there is some evidence that some of our go-to immune-supportive nutrients used in high doses such as vitamins A, C, and D can actually worsen the effects of the virus.

Let’s take vitamin C for example. One of vitamin C’s main roles with the immune system is to increase the production of interferon – an important component of the immune system that in most viruses is essential to the body’s anti-viral immune defense. So we should all be increasing our intake of vitamin C, right? Well, not so fast…

As Dr. Chris Masterjohn points out in an in-depth examination of the role of nutrients in this novel coronavirus, this virus behaves the closest to the coronavirus that caused SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) – or SARS-CoV – back in 2003. In fact, this coronavirus is technically called SARS-CoV2 because of the similarities of the two. And so, in the absence of in-depth research into the effects of certain nutrients on this novel coronavirus, we can look back to research into the “original” SARS-CoV and draw some conclusions.

As Dr. Masterjohn explains, SARS “evade[s], undermine[s], and hijack[s] our own natural antiviral defense, interferon. Given the similarity between the biology of the new coronavirus and SARS, and given the similarity in the lung diseases caused by all three viruses, it’s very likely that the new coronavirus has a very similar way of twisting our interferon response
towards its own evil ends.”

If there is a chance that high doses of a nutrient will up-regulate an aspect of the immune system that the virus is evading, undermining, and hijacking, then we need to proceed with caution.

Do all experts agree with Dr. Masterjohn? No. There are many well-respected health professionals who are making a variety of recommendations on what nutrients to actively increase right now to boost the body’s defense mechanisms.

But here’s the thing: if there’s a possibility that high-doses of a particular nutrient could make an infection with this novel coronavirus WORSE, then why risk it? The reality is we simply don’t know enough at this point in time to draw any formal conclusions.

Also, as anyone who’s struggled with an autoimmune condition can tell you, simply increasing the body’s immune defense isn’t always the best strategy as an over-engaged and overactive immune system can wreak its own kind of havoc. Indeed, as we’re seeing with this particular coronavirus, one of the causes of death is the “cytokine storm” that results from an over engaged immune system flooding the lungs.

What we want overall is a strong, healthy, and balanced immune system. And the safest and surest way to build such an immune system given the absence of information is to go back to the basics, as un-glamorous as they may feel:

margaret1) Eat a clean, nutrient-dense diet that is loaded with veggies, appropriate amounts of clean protein from healthy animals, good fats, and very minimal processed foods.


Strive for 6-9 cups of veggies every day (yes CUPS). Eat the rainbow! While many grocery stores are void of canned, frozen, and other shelf-stable foods, in many places veggies are in ample supply. For some odd reason they’re not in as great demand as toilet paper. So stock up and go crazy here!

Eat some clean protein with at least 1 meal or more per day. Wild fish, pasture-raised chicken or eggs, grass-fed/grass-finished beef / lamb / pork, and so on.

Make sure each meal contains 1-2 tablespoons or more of healthy fats: avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter/ghee, coconut oil, high-quality animal fats such as tallow from grass-fed beef, duck fat, lard from pasture-raised pigs, and so on.

Minimize starches overall, and prioritize those starches that come from vegetable sources like sweet potatoes, root veggies (carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips), winter squash, etc. or gluten-free grains if you tolerate them. A good benchmark is to keep starches to ⅓ to ½ cup per meal.

This is the time to absolutely avoid:

a)  Sugar! It suppresses important aspects of the immune system so even though it’s tempting to reach out for comfort foods, this is absolutely the time to avoid it. My well-intentioned husband brought home some chocolate for me the other day, and I’ve stashed it away until all of this is over. This isn’t the time to be eating sugar at all.

b) Gluten. It is very hard on the digestive tract even if you don’t have an allergy or formal sensitivity – and the digestive tract is home to 80% of your immune system, so anything that’s hard on the digestive tract is hard on the immune system. Just avoid it.

c) Dairy. It’s highly mucus producing and inflammatory for most people. The exceptions are butter and ghee from grass-fed cows which are far lower in the problematic proteins and milk sugars.

d) Processed and refined foods. They’re devoid of real nutrients, hard on the digestive tract, and provide empty calories. They’re usually chock-full of highly inflammatory oils and hidden sugars, not to mention the long list of preservatives, shelf-stabilizers, emulsifiers, coloring agents, and other non-nutritive chemicals used to make something that should be perishable, non-perishable.

e) Go easy on the alcohol and other “escape” substances. It’s tempting to hide from the world right now with all its craziness, but while alcohol will take off the edge in the moment, it breeds anxiety overall and will exacerbate your stress and deplete your system the next morning.

If this sounds like a bit of a reboot from how you’ve been eating, why not? No better time when you’re at home and in charge of all your own meals. Clients of mine who are mid-protocol are finding it far easier to stick to the program when they’re not tempted by restaurants and meals out and about.

And if you’re juggling time at home with kids, involving them with meal prep is a great activity. Our girls are highly involved in all meals right now and we’re taking this as an opportunity to tuck in with the diet for the whole household.

2) SLEEP. Lots of it.

Again, this might sound basic – and it is! – but getting sufficient sleep is one of the best things you can do for your immune system. We heal when we sleep, and if you’re saving time on your commute and social activities, let’s take advantage of that and extend your time for sleep! I was just chatting with a client the other day who normally gets up at 5am to go to the gym and then commute to work. She’s now sleeping in until 7am while still going to bed nice and early, doing a workout from home and skipping her commute. She’s using all that saved time to refresh and support her health. This is a brilliant strategy!

Most of us need more than we think. Strive for 8-9 hours. Give yourself as much “sleep opportunity” as possible and take advantage of the enforced downtime.

If you’re struggling with sleep right now due to stress (and I hear you – my monkey mind has been more active than ever in the middle of the night these days), here’s a link to an article with some strategies that can help.

3) Manage your stress.

This is a hard one right now. It’s a fine-balance between staying informed of what you need to know and falling down the rabbit-hole of panicky news stories and end-of-the-world-as-we-know it prophecies. Here’s how we’re handling things:
•Doubling down on mindfulness practices including daily meditation, breathwork, the one-minute meditation throughout my day, doing my grateful practice at the end of each day.
•Having very strict boundaries around incoming information: we are carefully curating our news feed to stay informed, but not obsess over coronavirus updates. Subscribing to The Daily Skimm which is a concise summary of key news events with links to dig deeper should you want to. I also prioritize podcasts and new sources that I trust, that aren’t inflammatory or hysteria-inducing, and that focus on practical things we can DO to help out.
•Focus on being of service. Every morning, James and I wake up and ask ourselves: how can we be of service today? Focusing on how we can be a force for good and positivity and support to others during this time helps us stay productive and engaged. There’s nothing worse than watching the news and feeling utterly powerless about what’s happening in the world. And so ask yourself: what can you do today to make someone else’s life a little brighter and easier in this crazy time? It can be as simple as reaching out to a friend who’s stuck home alone, offering to grocery shop for someone who can’t get outside safely, FaceTiming with some relatives… there are so many ways to help, and trust me it is a great way to shift your focus and reduce your stress.

Remember: stress suppresses your immune system’s ability to do its job. So this is a critically important – if difficult – piece of the health puzzle right now.

4) Move your body!

It’s tempting to abandon exercise and movement practices since so many venues we rely on for this like gyms and yoga studios are closed right now. And depending on where you live, your ability to get outside might also be curtailed. Here are some ideas for how to stay moving:

•Get outside for a run / walk / bike ride / hike **only if you can do so and easily maintain 6 feet of physical distancing!** I’ve been getting up early and doing my runs before 7am to minimize the physical proximity issue. Getting outside has great benefits above and beyond the physical movement: fresh air, a bit of sunlight, wind on your face… these are all immune-boosting, emotionally-healing and de-stressing. Exactly what we all need right now.
•If you have kids, set up fun physical challenges. We did a circuit training “bootcamp” the other day in our backyard which involved stations of jump rope, basketball bouncing, sprints, and jumping jacks. It’s a great way for the whole family to get out the wiggles.

5) Practice physical distancing but maintain social connection.

We need each other now more than ever. While we need to respect and maintain physical distance, that does not have to mean social isolation. The other day, I realized I was going to pass a friend’s house on the way home from my run. I sent her a quick text and she came out for a visit: me on the sidewalk while she stayed on her porch steps. We were a solid 10 feet away from each other but what a difference those few minutes together made!

I know we all crave physical intimacy – a hug, a cuddle, human touch is so essential. And while we have to limit that right now, we have the beautiful benefit of technology and so let’s use it!

We’ve been sharing videos with family and friends and the girls’ teachers on MarcoPolo, we’ve been FaceTiming with cousins and friends afar, we’ve been reaching out via text and phone and every day thinking of someone we’ve not been in touch with recently to reach out and send our love proactively and intentionally. Who can you reach out to that you’ve not connected with in a while? Who needs a little love and connection right now?

6) And what about supplements?

I’ve saved this for last because I am taking a very conservative approach on this based on what I shared to open this article. Here’s my approach:
•Stick with the basics of your core protocol: a good multi, a probiotic, some fish oil. Whatever you do as a day-to-day is likely fine.
•Avoid immune-boosting supports until we have more information. Don’t “super dose” with any individual nutrients in the name of immune-boosting. Doing what I recommended in points 1 through 5 above is far more important.
•If you’re mid-protocol, check in with your provider about your supplement regime. Is there anything they recommend you tweak? Any adjustments to make?
•Be extremely cautious of those who sell supplements and other health products peddling their wares as preventive or curative of the virus. The reality is that at this moment there is no cure. There are some encouraging developments of medications on trial right now, but no supplement is going to magically erase this virus. Also, no supplement is going to prevent you from getting it. Your best chances of preventing infection from the virus is to stay home, maintain 6-feet physical distance from others if you have to go out for unavoidable errands like grocery shopping, and diligently wash your hands for a full 20-seconds (and then apply cream afterwards to avoid dry, irritated skin).

The cool thing about all of this? The five things I’ve outlined above are basic things you can do for FREE at home.

If you have any questions or other resources you’d like to share with the community, please reach out to Us or Margaret at anytime.

WE CAN DO THIS. Please do your part, stay home, stay positive, stay productive, stay connected.

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