Andrew Weil, Director, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Andrew Weil, Director, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine

Integrative Medicine Doctors Offer Approaches to Combat COVID-19

The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson offers several strategies to enhance the immune system and reduce the risk of viral infection.
March 30, 2020
Extra Info: 

For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.

For UANews coverage of COVID-19, visit https://uanews.arizona.edu/news/covid19.

Victoria Maizes, Executive Director, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Victoria Maizes, Executive Director, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Lise Alschuler, Assistant Director of Fellowship, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Lise Alschuler, Assistant Director of Fellowship, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Randy Horwitz, Medical Director of Integrative Medicine, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Randy Horwitz, Medical Director of Integrative Medicine, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the open-access journal Explore published an academic report in which doctors from the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, offer strategies to enhance the immune system to reduce the severity or duration of a viral infection. The report's authors include Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Victoria MaizesLise Alschuler and Dr. Randy Horwitz.

Although no integrative measures have been validated in human trials specifically for COVID-19, this is an opportune time to be proactive, Alschuler said.

The report's authors say the following supplemental suggestions should be considered in addition to the current recommendations that emphasize regular hand-washing, physical distancing and avoiding non-essential travel.

Reducing Risk

Get adequate sleep: Shorter sleep duration increases the risk of infectious illness. Adequate sleep also ensures the secretion of melatonin, a molecule that may play a role in reducing coronavirus virulence.

Stress management: Psychological stress disrupts immune regulation; various mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises and guided imagery, reduce stress.

Zinc: Coronaviruses appear susceptible to the viral inhibitory actions of zinc. Zinc may prevent coronavirus entry into cells and appears to reduce coronavirus virulence. Typical dosing of zinc is 15-30 milligrams daily, with lozenges potentially providing direct protective effects in the upper-respiratory tract.

Vegetables and fruitsVegetables and fruits provide a repository of flavonoids, considered a cornerstone of an anti-inflammatory diet. At least five to seven servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruits are recommended daily. Some foods or dietary supplements to consider include: tomatoes, apples, onions, oranges, nuts, parsley, celery, berries, licorice and Chinese skullcap.

Vitamin C: Clinical trials have found that vitamin C shortens the frequency, duration and severity of the common cold and the incidence of pneumonia. The typical daily dosing of vitamin C ranges from 500-3,000 mg daily, with even higher doses utilized during times of acute infection.

Melatonin: Melatonin has been shown to be anti-inflammatory; it also reduces oxidative lung injury and inflammatory cell recruitment during viral infections.

Curcumin: Curcumin, a key component of turmeric, has anti-inflammatory actions and antiviral effects against a variety of similar viruses.

People with symptoms of infection or a positive test for COVID-19 may want to avoid certain supplements, the report's authors say. In the absence of human clinical data, caution is warranted with the following immune-activating agents due to their possible stimulation of an inflammatory response:

  • Sambucus nigra (elderberry)
  • Polysaccharide extracts from medicinal mushrooms
  • Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea
  • Larch arabinogalactan
  • Vitamin D

Other commonly used natural immune-stimulating and antiviral agents are available, several of which may work to restore immune balance, or homeostasis, and these likely are safe to use both prior to and during COVID-19 virus infection, the report's authors say. Whether these agents mitigate the symptoms or severity of COVID-19 is unknown and, therefore, the benefit of these agents during COVID-19 infection is unknown.

  • Allium sativum (garlic)
  • Quercetin
  • Astragalus membranaceus
  • Full mycelium mushroom extracts
  • Mentha piperita (peppermint)
  • Andrographis paniculata
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine is offering two online integrative health courses free of charge from now until May 1.

An Introduction to Contemplative Care, developed with the co-founders of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, explores an approach to caregiving that incorporates mindfulness practice, compassionate action and moment-to-moment awareness of relationships. The first section features mediations to help people cope with stress. 

Nutrition Above the Neck focuses on opportunities available to alleviate stress and improve mental well-being in the face of coronavirus challenges. The video lecture course explores the role of nutrients in mental health and practical steps for reducing anxiety through food and supplements.

A version of this story originally appeared on the University of Arizona Health Sciences website: https://uahs.arizona.edu/news/integrative-medicine-approaches-may-combat-covid-19.