Medicine For People!

May 2020: Nature's Balancing Act

  • Nature's Laws
  • Zinc and Coronavirus
  • Turmeric and Coronavirus
  • The Head Bone's Attached to the Leg Bone
  • The World Will Never Be the Same
  • And It's Already Better

Nature's Laws

Epidemics are ancient. Animals have them, so we human animals have faced them along with all our other challenges such as escaping predators, finding enough food, and finding a quiet place to read the morning newspaper.

Epidemics are deadly.   We came to the New World with our measles and we accidentally wiped out most of the natives.   We liked the shade of our elm trees and planted them on every street, and we got Dutch Elm disease. The Irish concentrated on growing potatoes and they got potato blight and famine. Grow bacteria in the laboratory and if you get too many, they all die. Humans, potatoes, elm trees, bacteria: none of us escape the laws of nature.   All must die. All individuals and, eventually, all populations.

Knowledge can help us slide sideways somewhat, but it doesn't make us immune to nature's laws.   We are slowing the onslaught of the coronavirus, but at a terrible price in lives, economic losses, and stress on our medical systems and workers.

So I don't envy our leaders. Despite the best advice available, they can only guess at the best strategy while steering the ship of state through the fog. Meanwhile some of the crew scream abuse and refuse to cooperate.

So it sometimes looks like a lost cause. And it makes me, a definite deserter from the league of sports fans, understand why some folks love sports so much. First, they give us a chance to enjoy our human need for community and, second, we get to strengthen our animal need to never give up on the lost cause.  

We aren't going to give up.  

With that in mind, and being a physician to most of you, let me do the doctor thing for a few paragraphs here.

Zinc and Coronavirus

Interferon-alpha (what is this?) helps us resist infection. Zinc increases our production of it by a factor of ten.   Zinc strengthens the ability of the lining of our lungs to bar the entry of infectious agents such as SARS-CoV-2.

NF-kB, a stress response protein, can cause us to overreact so severely to an infection that we die from our own immune response. Zinc puts the brakes on NF-kB. Zinc diminishes the likelihood of cytokine storm, a normal immune defensive maneuver which can sometimes cause our lungs to fill with fluid and our vital systems to fail.

Zinc levels are famously low in the aged and people with diabetes, chronic illness, obesity, immunodeficiency and heart disease, exactly the groups that are landing in the ICU with COVID.

In February we discussed zinc acetate lozenges for relief of the common cold. We recommended a specific brand because, over the decades, most brands I have worked with are ineffective. If a family of four gets a cold on Friday night, three of them will have recovered by Wednesday if taking zinc acetate , but only one would have recovered without that zinc. A properly formulated zinc gluconate may work just as well.   We're talking about colds, but a study published last month indicates that zinc shows promise against SARS-CoV-2 , the cause of COVID-19.  

Coronavirus, as you recall, has been around a long time. It causes about one-third of our common colds, so if zinc helps those, you might expect it to be active against coronavirus. It is. Remember that older folks are more prone to nutritional deficiency and that the Japanese found that about 20% of their elderly folks were deficient in zinc. The evidence is that zinc can impair the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to bind to our cells and to reproduce if it gets inside.

My personal advice:  keep it on hand, take it immediately if you have a sore throat or other cold symptom.  If you feel short of breath or have a fever, don't count on the zinc to save you--get professional help soonest. 

Turmeric and Coronavirus

Many of you already take curcumin (AKA turmeric) for joint pain.   If you don't, you might want to add some to your food because it probably interferes with the life-cycle of the coronavirus. And if it turns out not to, well, it tastes good and benefits depression, fatty liver, arthritis and much more.

The Head Bone's Attached to the Leg Bone

Well, actually, the head bone isn't attached to the leg bone, but I want to segue here into some fun physiology. And you need to be able to separate the healthy medical facts from the world of crap that is out there so your head bone knows what to tell your other bones to do.   So here's a short course in immunology and virology.

Want to see how soap destroys coronavirus? Check this out.

soap kills coronavirus

The great majority of us will not suffer greatly if we are infected with this epidemic coronavirus, technically known as SARS-CoV-2 . By wearing a mask when appropriate, however, we can prevent a loved one, a neighbor, or a fellow human from an infection which can proceed respiratory failure.

Testing can help us stop the virus from spreading, too. Most tests now are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. We collect material from the nose with a swab; in a laboratory we perform a process that will amplify any DNA that is in the sample, and we test to see if there is any coronavirus DNA in that sample. The test doesn't catch all cases, but if it's positive, that individual probably has it.   Can corners be cut and the test give wrong results? You betcha.

Another test is a more traditional test. We look for the body's secondary response to a viral infection, which is to make antibodies. As I write, there are a plethora of these tests and very few are accurate.

I highlighted secondary response because we have a primary response you don't hear much about. Take a moment now to watch this gripping description of this element of your immune system.

innate immune system soap kills coronavirus

We call this the innate immune system. How to make this work better?   Awwww, you know the answer… rest, nutritious food, and exercise!  

The World Will Never Be the Same

We ain't going back, folks. And where we'll end up, nobody knows. Here is one telling change…

In some hospitals, patients with COVID-19 are being taught about ventilators as soon as they enter.   They learn that once on the ventilator they won't be able to speak.   They will be sedated because our natural reflexes are to gag on a tube in our throat. They will feel as if they are choking and often will try to yank the tube out in their sleep.  As well, going on a ventilator is no guarantee of survival. To their doctors' surprise, some people are saying that they don't want that, and that if death is coming they would rather go through it without the machine.

Such conversations were damned as “death panels” just a decade ago.

As a reminder, this would be a good time to compose an advance directive if you don't have one already.  If you do have one, Compassion and Choices provides an addendum appropriate to COVID-19.  These tips from a previous newsletter might help in caring for an elderly loved one. Here in Port Townsend Carrie Andrews has the training and experience to help you with end-of-life care. 

And It's Already Better

Jill and I have more time to relax at home. Our list of “stuff to do” gets shorter by the day. Living on Water Street, we constantly pick up litter on our walks so it doesn't end up in the bay, annoying the fish. Now we even have time for dedicated trips with large garbage bags to really clean it out. When I see people littering, I tell them not to. Just as people are now telling strangers to mask up when they are in public and not masked.

If there was any doubt that we were all in this together, that's gone now.   We need to learn to talk to each other and to listen when others speak.

Nature spreads the most abundant cornucopia before us. As in ancient times, nature resets the balance if we grab too much. Let's work now with nature and each other.

Thanks to Jill Buhler Rienstra for timely editorial assistance.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.