UPDATED: CORONAVIRUS—What You Can Do To Reduce Your Risk Of Complications

 In Blog, Health

Original post published on March 10, 2020 and updated on March 15, 2020:

The two biggest risks right now are the mistaken belief that there is nothing you can do to reduce your risk of infection and fear that if you get the virus, your recovery is out of your control. There is much we can do to reduce the spread of the infection and improve the probability of having a mild case if you are infected.

I want to reassure you that though we do have to take this very seriously, there is a lot each of us can do to help protect ourselves and our family.   

It is critical that we listen to our local public health officials.  The coronavirus is placing a severe strain on healthcare systems in Europe. We do not want that severe strain here as well. We all must change how we conduct our daily lives.  

Persons at greatest risk for severe disease, requiring hospitalization, oxygen and intensive care support are the following: 

  1. Over the age of 60, 
  2. Chronic health problems (diabetes, heart disease, severe obesity, lung disease) 
  3. Chronic autoimmune condition 
  4. Taking immune-suppressing medications. 

Young adults are more likely to have mild symptoms and pass the virus to others, leading to a rapid spread of the disease in the community.  This rapid spread of the virus has created severe strain for the health care systems across the world.  

The state and local government officials are monitoring the number of new cases diagnosed each day. If community spread is observed, the local public health experts will use increasingly severe restrictions to stop the spread. This is to reduce the strain on hospitals. 

In other countries the demand for intensive care units and ventilators exceeds supplies.

The hospitals are overwhelmed, leading to severe disruption of the health care systems.

Many have noticed that it has become difficult to purchase toilet paper because of the increased demand.  Store shelves are empty. Now imagine this happening to our hospitals. What happens when the increased demand for intensive care beds and ventilators have exceeded what is available?  This is what is happening in Italy. We do not want to have these types of shortages in our communities. I urge you to follow the guidance of your local health experts! We need to protect our hospitals and our communities. 

As always, there are many actions we can control and take immediately that can have a major impact on our health. Here are several that will improve your resilience and increase the probability of an infection being mild. Remember to work with your personal medical team to reduce your risk contracting COVID-19.   

  1. Avoid all non-essential travel and non-essential meetings. 
  2. Improve the quality of your diet by removing added sugars, white flours, and pastas. A high–glycemic index diet dumps a lot of glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream, which decreases your immune cells’ effectiveness at protecting you from illness. Avoid paleo-approved treats, which still have too many high-glycemic ingredients. Focus on vegetables and meat (legumes and gluten-free grains for vegetarians and vegans) and get rid of sweet desserts. 
  3. Get enough sleep, preferably 7 to 9 hours. Sleep is vital to keeping immune cells ready to fight viral infections. Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system’s innate ability to act as the first line of defense.  
  4. Wash your hands with soap and water vigorously for 20 seconds and avoid shaking hands to minimize the spread of the virus. I recently saw a great infographic that said “Wash your hands like you have just chopped hot peppers and are about to put in your contacts.”
  5. Wash your nose and sinuses twice a day with a Netipot®. This cleans your nasal tissue and reduces the virus’s ability to take hold. 
  6. Monitor your temperature. If it is above 100 degrees F. (37.7 Celsius) self quarantine for 14 days.  
  7. Stay home if you become ill. If you develop a cough, sore throat, and runny nose, do not go to work or frequent public places, which will spread the disease, perhaps to an at-risk individual for whom an infection could be deadly.
  8. Check your vitamin D level. If your vitamin D level is below 20 ng/ml, you are at increased risk for infection. Even at levels below 40 ng/ml, the risk for a wide variety of poor health outcomes goes up. If your levels are low, work with your personal medical team to increase your vitamin D level to get to the optimal range (top half of the lab’s reference range). See https://terrywahls.com/shop/ for tests you can order and obtain directly. 

Here are some natural remedies I use often in winter to help me and my family avoid and treat illness.  

  1. Eat raw garlic, which boosts your natural killer immune cells. Daily consumption of raw garlic can help prevent illness and reduce symptoms if you aren’t feeling well. When I develop symptoms, I eat raw garlic four times a day. 
  2. Drink fire cider, which is a combination of apple cider vinegar, garlic, peppers, horseradish, and other herbs that boost the natural killer cells. I take one tablespoon a day to prevent sickness and 1 tablespoon four times a day if I am already feeling ill. 
  3. Get more vitamin C. Daily doses of 250 to 500 mg can boost immune cell activity and strength. We can’t make our own vitamin C. When we become ill, our vitamin C needs to increase. Nutritional biochemist Linus Pauling famously recommended additional vitamin C at the onset of the common cold (another coronavirus).  
  4. Get more zinc. Zinc deficiency is very common in those with chronic disease. Adding a zinc lozenge (5 to 10 mg) during the winter may be a wise protective measure for anyone worried about COVID-19 risk. 
  5. Consume more fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.  The probiotics in these foods help modulate the immune response, lowering the risk of septic shock in response to serious viral infections.  In addition, sauerkraut is a good source of vitamin C. 
  6. Elderberry syrup has been shown to be helpful against the influenza virus. However, for  COVID-19 elderberry syrup may increase the risk of cytokine storm and more severe reaction. For that reason, I would NOT use elderberry syrup at this time. 

My good friend Elisa Song MD is a pediatrician who has written a detailed article about COVID-19. If you want a more thorough analysis of the risk and discussion of what you can do to protect yourself and your family, read her article. 


Here is a link to the CDC coronavirus site.  


Look for your local public health resources as well.  Here is the Iowa coronavirus site. 



Dr. Terry Wahls is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she conducts clinical trials.  In 2018 she was awarded the Institute for Functional Medicine’s Linus Pauling Award for her contributions in research, clinical care and patient advocacy. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, Learn more about her MS clinical trials by reaching out to her team: MSDietStudy@healthcare.uiowa.edu. Pick up a copies of her research papers at https://terrywahls.com/researchpapers/ and a one-page handout for the Wahls™ Diet at https://terrywahls.com/diet/

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