Preparing to Get Sick -- An Herbalist's View on COVID-19

Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 graphic or imagery

I am frequently asked, “Which herbs can I use for COVID-19?” There’s a two-part answer to that question. The first is what you can do to decrease your chances of getting seriously ill. The second part is what you can do during an active COVID-19 infection. This post will focus on steps you take to prepare your body specifically for the issues COVID-19 seems to be causing.

When COVID-19 first started causing serious illness, doctors were perplexed by its effects on the lungs. It didn’t behave like typical pneumonia. Ventilators were minimally effective and patients were needing them for a much longer period of time. Oxygen levels were low but patients had no idea. They weren’t in pain that would normally accompany such a severe lung condition. They were in a state called “happy hypoxia”.

As doctors began to further examine the effects of COVID-19, they discovered that blood clots were a significant issue. Autopsies began to show that what we initially thought was a flu-like respiratory illness may be more of a vascular infection affecting the endothelial cells, which are the cells that line the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. Damaged endothelial cells can lead to blood clots.

In some patients, COVID-19 is causing what’s called a “cytokine storm”. Cytokines are proteins used by the immune system to help regulate its response. In certain situations, the cytokine response can be excessive and cause more harm than good. Cytokine storms are a well-known phenomenon to herbalists that help clients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. They have become a near-household phrase in the age of COVID-19.

Here’s what we want to do from an herbal and supplement perspective. Modulating the immune system is essential. You want it working as well as possible so that it responds appropriately. We want to decrease the chances of an over-response or cytokine storm. We need something that minimizes blood clots. We want to address any current systemic inflammation so you’re starting less. Finally, we want to protect the endothelial cells.

With that in mind, here’s what I recommend to clients, in no particular order:

  • Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) - it has a powerful effect on inflammation, lymph flow, immune modulation, and protects and enhances the health of endothelial cells. Recommended dosage is 1:5 strength tincture is ½-¾ tsp 4x per day, or 1200 mg capsules 3x per day.
  • Nattokinase - an enzyme used to break up blood clots and increase the health of the blood vessels. Recommended dosage is 2000 FU 2x per day on an empty stomach.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) - one of my favorite herbs. It modulates the immune system and strengthens the lungs. It’s an adaptogen, which means it helps your body to deal with stress more appropriately, including the stress of infection. Recommended dosage is 1:5 strength tincture is ¼-½ 3x per day, or 1000 mg capsules 3x per day.
  • Vitamin D - modulates the immune system response and most of us have low levels of vitamin D. Note that vitamin D is fat soluble and needs to be taken with meals. Also, because it’s fat soluble, it can build up to toxic levels in your blood. If you take high doses, you need your blood levels checked periodically. A dose of 2000 iu (50 mcg) is a safe dose for nearly everyone to take regularly.
  • Malic acid - has anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Malic acid is needed for energy during an immune response. Recommended dosage is 600 mg per day.
  • Flaxseed oil - for healthier endothelial cells. Recommended dosage is 1 tbsp 2x per day, or 1500-2000 mg 2x per day.

None of this will protect you from actually getting COVID-19. This infection spans the entire spectrum - from zero symptoms to serious illness to death. The goal of this protocol is to help your body be as prepared as possible to mount an appropriate response.

This is a very basic, general protocol designed with herbs and supplements that are fairly easy to obtain in most health food stores. If you’d like to personalize it for your situation, or to discuss other health issues that herbalism can address, we can set up a time to meet.

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Larry Leach, Herbalist, Evergreen Health Clinics

Standard disclaimer: I don’t practice medicine as an herbalist. If you suspect you have COVID-19, contact your medical doctor. With a serious case, don’t avoid medical treatment in favor of herbs. Be sure to keep a list of supplements handy in case your doctor requests it.

(Many of these recommendations are based on the work of renowned herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner. Here is his full protocol and recommendations.)

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