COVID-19 and your Immune System

COVID-19 Immune SystemHow Much Pressure is your Immune System Under Right Now?

With back-to-school upon us and the threat of another COVID-19 wave, I’m seeing many people perusing the internet for supplements and vitamins guaranteed to boost their immune system and keep them safe… All the while knowing that nothing is guaranteed and our vulnerability can not be resolved with a pill. Let’s discuss some measures you can take that will make a difference.

Our immune systems are incredibly complex and have evolved to effectively eradicate pathogens (harmful microbes). Your immune system has protected you and your direct ancestors from various types of influenza viruses and common coronaviruses. The problem isn’t in how much viruses have changed (they’ve always changed quickly), so much as how the environment that engenders an efficient and resilient immune system, no longer exists. So, before we discuss anti-virals and “immune boosting” products, let’s discuss what you can do to improve resiliency through efficient signaling mechanisms from your body to your immune system.


Microbiome Signalling:

You may have heard this a few times from me before: Our bodies are made up of 10 times more bacteria than human cells. Those bacteria have about 100 times more genetic material than we do. This partially explains why humans can exist with about 24,000 genes, when tomatoes need 31,000. Our lives entirely depend on these bugs and we tend to ignore them. Most of these bugs reside in our gut alongside our immune system tissues and I can’t underscore enough how critical their health is to a balanced and efficient immune system. You can’t have an optimal immune system without a healthy gut. A diverse whole-foods diet that is low in sugar, high in green leafy veggies and berries, definitely helps. Non-GMO and organic foods free of glyphosate and other microbiome-damaging toxins, helps. Some people also do well with a little bit of fermented food such as kombucha, or sauerkraut and kimchi added as a condiment to a meal.


Toxic Burden:

A “toxin” in the broadest sense is something with biological impact that can interfere with normal body processes. When parts of our immune system are tied up defending us against indoor and outdoor air pollutants, ingested chemicals (such as herbicides and food preservatives), and toxins absorbed through the skin, it’s no wonder many of us experience inflammation and chronic illness that increases our risk of viral infection. 70 to 90% of all chronic illnesses are due to environmental exposure and how our environment interacts with our genes. Cleaning up our environment is non-negotiable for a healthy immune system. Efforts to ensure cleaner air, cleaner food, and cleaner water, are a great place to start. Well designed and individualized “detox” programs with your health provider are also be helpful for some people. (For more information, explore the Exposome program associated with the National Institutes of Health.)


Responsible Sun Exposure:

Isn’t it amazing that we make a very essential hormone from the sunshine, much like plants do? Many of us are familiar with optimal vitamin D levels as a way to reduce risk of acquiring a viral infection. 30 minutes in the sunshine can generate between 8,000IU (for dark skin) and 50,000IU (light skin tones) of vitamin D. (Compare this to a typical supplement regime of 1000IU to 2000IU a day in the wintertime.) But sunshine does far more than that! It’s a primary regulator of our circadian rhythm – our internal pacemaker that coordinates metabolic activities inside our bodies. For example, early morning exposure to sunshine leads to higher amounts of melatonin at night, which enables deep, regenerative sleep. Sunshine also stimulates a variety of hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate pain and pain perception, including Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (aMSH), Substance-P, and endorphins. Optimal health requires striking a healthy balance between sun avoidance and sun exposure. (Mead, 2008)


Daily Detox Habits Support your Immune System

Why not consider each of these three concepts and form a daily habit that supports your immune system? For example, each day choose foods that feed your good bacteria and which are free of pesticides and chemical additives. Enjoy a short walk outside. Explore “daily detox habits” that reduce your overall toxic burden, such as contrast showers, hot lemon water, and the odd Epsom salt bath. If it helps, commit to finishing 3 of 5 habits each day and keep track on this daily habit tracker. (Speak with your Naturopath or other healthcare provider if you’re unsure which habits could work well for you.)



And then your immune system will be freer to address viruses and respond to well-chosen supplements. The World Naturopathic Federation has published some rapid reviews of Natural Health Products and their potential to support us through the pandemic. (NO supplements have been proven to treat COVID-19 – this is a different virus, after all.) The most well-researched supplements include:


Vitamin D and COVID-19:

If you can’t get outside a few minutes each morning or as winter settles on us, consider supplementing with a bit of vitamin D. There are currently 45 clinical trials exploring the impact of vitamin D on COVID-19, and 36 reviews (more than 100 articles) published on pubmed. People who are deficient in vitamin D may benefit from supplementation to blood levels in the optimal range (between 75 and 125 nmol/L). Your ND or MD can order this blood test for you from Life Labs. Vitamin D doses above 1000IU are currently considered a prescription (i.e. you should have your MD or ND sign-off on this), but Health Canada expects to increase this limit to 2500IU by February.


Probiotics for prevention:

If you experience frequent digestive discomfort, it’s very likely that your microbiome is unwell. Identifying and addressing the underlying concern is critical to enabling optimal immune function. Fermented foods and probiotics (high quality and strain-specific ones!) sometimes help. We have some clinical data supporting the use of probiotics and ongoing clinical trials specifically related to COVID-19 too.


Vitamin C when feeling unwell:

There are 33 clinical trials in progress evaluating the impact of vitamin C and COVID-19. Urinary vitamin C levels are frequently low in my patients and I consider this to generally reflect higher levels of inflammation in the body and a greater need for anti-oxidant support. Vitamin C for other “typical” cold viruses is frequently recommended at first signs of illness, somewhere between 2g (2000mg) and 10g, or to bowel tolerance (i.e. until your body stops absorbing it and it causes loose stool), for a few days (not weeks), depending on the person and the symptom. A cup of chopped bell peppers, broccoli, or strawberries contain more vitamin C than an orange, which is also equivalent to about 2 to 3 glasses of freshly squeezed lemon in water.


Zinc deficiency:

Zinc may be helpful for people who are deficient in zinc. This can include people who consume less dietary zinc (e.g. people who don’t eat meat), people with an increased need for zinc (as occurs in many chronic illnesses), and elderly individuals. High alcohol consumption can also create a zinc deficiency. An important symptom of zinc deficiency includes loss of sense of taste and smell (which is also a possible symptom of COVID-19). Food sources include grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, and lentils.


Other promising supplements being researched include melatonin, curcumin, and glutathione or N-Acetyl Cysteine. However, please keep in mind that your Naturopathic Doctor is treating you, before any disease or diagnosis. That some people experience extreme symptoms and others none at all, with the same virus, says much more about the person than the virus. Also keep in mind that any and all supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately.

Please be cautious in your health choices this season, be mindful of Public Health guidelines, and be in touch with your health provider for extra support if underlying health concerns or stress obscure your way.





Mead MN. Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008 May;116(4):A160-A167. doi:10.1289/ehp.116-a160.

Rappaport SM, Smith MT. Epidemiology. Environment and disease risks. Science. 2010 Oct;330(6003):460–1.

immune system

Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Dr. Sonya Nobbe is a Naturopathic Doctor and Director of Kingston Integrated Healthcare Inc. She has been practicing in the Kingston area since 2007. Dr. Sonya maintains a family practice, with a clinical focus on complex chronic disease, including Lyme disease and Fibromyalgia.


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We respectfully acknowledge that Kingston Integrated Healthcare is situated on ancestral Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory. Since time immemorial they have cared for these lands and waters, and we are grateful. We recognize that a healthy environment is essential to the wellbeing of all people and all life.

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