COVID-19: What Are We Missing?

COVID and Immune SystemWhen I sit with a patient who has complex symptoms, especially if they’ve worked with other skilled practitioners with no obvious success, I ask myself: “What piece of the puzzle is still hiding?” “What am I unable to see clearly?” Answers often lie in exploring the illness from a completely different or old-world perspective, such as the more interconnected concept of yin and yang that contrasts with traditional Western linear approaches. We can apply the same concept of balance to this pandemic too, with eye-opening results that I hope we can all take comfort in.


What Is the Underlying Problem? 

It’s natural to have identified the virus as the most pressing problem and then to look no further. From this perspective, the absence of a vaccine easily incites fear and people who refuse to socially isolate are targeted with anger. But these are symptoms of deeper concerns already afflicting many of our community members, every day.

We’re already susceptible to many mysterious infections. We don’t have easy answers for chronic symptoms of Lyme disease or other infections passed by ticks and mosquitoes. Our region is endemic with Lyme disease and rates of infection increase each year. Also consider that approximately 20% of cancers are associated with infections (12% with viruses in particular).[i][ii] [1]How do we more effectively protect ourselves from these infections too?

Our body is already home to trillions of bacteria and viruses. Our lives absolutely depend on this microbial community and one of their major services is support for our immune system. How do we protect ourselves from harmful microbes (pathogens), without harming the friendlies that contribute to our quality of life and survival?

Over-focusing on the virus as the “enemy” can have serious repercussions. We can (and should!) protect ourselves and our community with hand-washing, physical distancing, and optimal hygiene practices. And when infections are severe, intense efforts to dominate the infection are life-saving. But for every enemy we conquer a new one takes its place. And we naturally become more fearful. Not only can fear suppress our immune systems (think prednisone – a synthetic stress hormone used to block immune function), but if we’re deeply honest with ourselves, we acknowledge that fear that can drive us to compromise our emotional or spiritual values in exchange for feeling physically safe and secure.

Are we compromising our values right now? Tricky question… I value community, and I admit that at this challenging time I’m concerned that efforts to protect our vulnerable members are in fact more reflective of fear that our neighbours will pass the infection to us. And where this virus could be teaching us that we’re each inextricably part of a global community (i.e. what I do affects you and vice versa), many people instead are targeting other countries as the adversary or threat.

Each conflict, no matter whether personal, political, or internal, is an invitation to examine our beliefs, habits, and hidden motivations. It can take a lot of courage to sincerely explore our own role in any traumatic situation, for the purpose of moving forward with grace and wisdom. What I see, lying beneath the trauma of this pandemic, is an opportunity to replace conflict with balance, and fear with more respect (for self, others, and our environment).


Gratitude for our Immune System

Many of my patients with “mysterious” chronic illness feel that their body has betrayed them. In fact, many of us have given up on this thing called the “immune system” – the part of our body that’s evolved and protected us over thousands of years from infection – in favour of pharmaceutical science and barricading ourselves against the virus or bacteria. But another one of my values is collaboration, which includes choosing healing methods that align with nature rather than stand against her. Maybe we’re the ones who’ve betrayed our immune systems… And it’s feeling the strain of being taken for granted.

Many of our readers are now quite familiar with ways to support and protect their immune systems. A tailored plan might include optimal vitamin D and insulin levels, more efficient sleep, stress-mitigation, and a cleaner diet. Do you know what ties most of these immune-supportive approaches together? What underlies each one and makes them so effective? A healthy environment.


A Healthy Environment is Crucial for a Balanced Immune System

Old-world and natural medical approaches generally perceive the body as an interconnected ecosystem rather than a collection of isolated parts. From an ecosystem perspective, it’s easy to see how our immune system relies on a healthy microbiome, circadian rhythm, epigenetic potential, sun exposure, and so on. It also becomes harder to believe that health is possible when living in a polluted environment or one responding with climate change. This is why I became a supportive member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness. (Read more about this by following links on our Environmental Health webpage.)

As we slow down, Earth heals. Air pollution over China is shockingly reduced and waterways in Italy have aquatic life not seen in decades.[iii] If there’s any grace in this global trauma, it’s the potential for increased biodiversity and renewal of so many ecosystems on our planet, which not only holds promise for fewer epidemics, but offers genuine potential for healing our immune system, and saving lives. Do we have the courage to make the lasting changes required to see this opportunity through?

The longer we engage in a certain lifestyle, the more embedded our habits become, our beliefs harden, and change is difficult. But this pandemic is like a sort of identity crisis for many of us. Our lives are being reshaped and our roles redefined, outside of our control. Change is forced on us and it might just be the opportunity society needed to launch a new way of doing things, with renewed connection and awareness of how to live life to the fullest. I wish I knew who it was that wrote: “It will never be easy. But it might never be easier than right now.”


What you can do now:

1. Actively and consciously take care of your immune system. This means feeding your microbiome good food, appreciating how your hormones fluctuate alongside the sun and moon cycle, and allowing time in nature to reduce your stress and boost immune function. Explore our blog for more information.

2. Take immediate, simple steps to clean up your internal environment: Switch to natural cleaners, healthy toothpaste, organic local foods, and glass storage containers (instead of plastic). Keep in mind that the steps you take to reduce your body’s burden of environmental toxins, also benefits the toxic burden in our external environment.

3. Clean up your external environment: Reuse and recycle old items, cycle or walk to work if you can, and make efforts to conserve water and electricity. (Can you see how these approaches also benefit your internal environment?)

4. Lead by example. Help others understand that their health relies on a healthy environment. It’s a challenging concept to truly grasp, and one best learned through experience.


[1] Most of us have been exposed to coronaviruses before (one of many viruses that cause the common cold). This particular strain, called SARS-CoV-2, which causes an infection called COVID-19, is newly introduced to the human population, presumably from an animal, which means that we don’t have immunity built up against it. For more background information on how human-caused ecosystem damage is correlated to human epidemics, please read this interesting 2012 article in the New York Times.

[i] Tashiro H, Brenner M. Immunotherapy against cancer-related viruses. Cell Res. 2017;27:59–73.

[ii] Fernandez A, Esteller M. Viral epigenomes in human tumorigenesis. Oncogene. 2010;29:1405–1420.

[iii] Callaway et al. The coronavirus pandemic in five powerful charts. Nature. 2020;579:482-483. doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00758-2.



environment, 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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