As the nation starts to prepare to reopen facilities and ease social distancing, patients have been wondering how to boost their own immune system in response to COVID-19.
We discussed this with friend and colleague Dr. Kevin Spelman Ph.D., a molecular biologist, and researcher on botanical medicines and cannabis.
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Nourish – Like any bodily system, the immune system must be nourished. Our immune cells derive from our bone marrow and healthy bone marrow is key to having the right immune cells that are ready to respond. Whether we need to decrease an immune response or ramp it up to fight an infection, keeping the entire system well-nourished is like having an emergency plan prepared and ready to go.
Respond -- Plant meds offer a more complex modulation than pharmaceutical medications, which either stimulate or inhibit but not both. Certain phytonutrients can create entirely different responses in our bodies depending on our health and our illness. In the case of the immune system, this allows modulation of response, potentially increasing immune function when it is feeble or decreasing it when it is overly excited.
Adapt -- to different attackers. It’s important that our coping strategies for stressful situations (such as quarantines) don’t get the best of us. Our stress response is mainly run by the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis and there are herbs called adaptogens which can strongly support the HPA axis. This is key to a healthy immune response because too much of the frenetic energy of the HPA axis can suppress immune function.
Endocannabinoids are made on-demand, that is they respond to physiological shifts or changes in our lives to which we must adapt. This suggests that our ECS maintains homeostasis by nudging our internal environment to respond to the changes in our external environment. Exogenous cannabinoids such as CBD and THC plus other cannabinoids can support this ability to adapt to external threats such as neurological and immunological issues.
Echinacea. Using up to 3000 mg /day (raw root) or up to 500 mg/day of a powdered extract can help in mounting a robust immune response if infected.
While there was one NIH study on Echinacea that resulted in failure, a number of analyses of all available studies have shown a positive effect. Results from meta-analyses outweigh results from any one study.
With tinctures and soft gels in oils, I like 4:1 or 3:1, especially as they attenuate the side effects of THC and lessen the high.
With ingestibles less than 2 mgs of THC could have an effect.
Eat More…. plants, including full-spectrum foods such as berries, leafy greens, fresh veg, mushrooms (shitake, maitake and chaga, which can be used as part of a soup stock). Good quality meats and fish can also be a nice “spice” as a protein addition to stir-fries, soups, salads, etc.
Kevin Spelman, Ph.D., MCPP is a molecular biologist, researcher, clinician, educator, and industry consultant. He has advised the White House, the US Department of Defense and foreign governments on issues and policies concerning natural products. As a clinician, he practiced clinical phytotherapy for 20 years in the US and Latin America.