Potential Diet & Lifestyle Factors To Consider
You can’t log in to social media or watch the news these days without hearing about the coronavirus outbreak. Pretty much everybody everywhere is worried and wondering what they can do to protect themselves against infection.
The recent coronavirus outbreak also referred to as COVID-19, is a respiratory infection that appears to have been previously observed in bats and has recently made the jump to humans as detailed in this report released by the WHO and posted to Reddit.
The fatality rate for those infected appears to be about 2% overall; slightly higher for men than women and highest in those with pre-existing medical conditions (which is normal for any infectious disease). Although 2% in absolute terms is a pretty low number, it’s still about 20 times as lethal as the common flu.
The CDC estimates that 34, 200 people died in the US during the November 2018 to February 2019 “flu season”. Extrapolating from that number could mean that we see more than 200,000 – 500,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 in the next year, which works out to as much as 1.6% of the entire population. As it currently stands, pretty much everybody will know somebody who dies from the coronavirus this year.
In theory, I should already be in the lowest risk group, as is everyone in my household, but I’m still thinking about what I can do to minimize my chance for infection or the severity of the symptoms in the event I am infected. This article from The Atlantic places the chance of infection as high as 70% and points out that a vaccine is most likely years away.
That means, at least for this year, we’re on our own.
In this post, I want to lay out a few thoughts I have on things I think everybody can do to possibly help protect themselves from coronavirus.
Before we go any further, I want to point out the blatantly obvious: this post does not constitute personal medical advice, and you should always consult with your physician before pursuing any diet or exercise program.
The absolute best things everyone can do to help stop the spread of any infectious disease are to
- Thoroughly and frequently wash your dang hands!
- Stop touching your face in public, especially your nose
Since, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, hand washing has been all the rage on social media lately, most likely you’re already aware of the above, so what else can we do?
The following are things I already do on a regular basis and are things I think may help me see the best possible outcomes when it comes to coronavirus. I feel that the evidence is fairly solid in each case, but could be deemed to be anywhere from “educated guesses” to “wildly speculative”. I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.
What Else Can We Do?
Get Outdoors More Often
Get as much natural light as possible. This might be more of a challenge than you realize, or at least might be a significant change to your current lifestyle, but spending as much time outside as possible and getting your body in sync with the natural cycle of light and dark is a cornerstone of the Lean, Strong & Healthy approach for a reason.
The CDC estimates that the average person spends 90% of their time indoors and out of the sun, yet it’s well established in the scientific literature that exposure to sunlight has many benefits to our health.
Take a look at this graph on the right that shows deaths from all causes peaks during winter months when exposure to natural light is lowest (note how the curve is essentially flat in equatorial regions where sunlight is relatively constant all year long).
Or take a look at this graph below that compares the rate of death from all causes in study participants over 15 years with their levels of time spent outdoors in the sun.
In both graphs, we see a clear relationship with the amount of time spent outside in the sun and lifespan. The more time you spend outside in the sun, the better protected you are from disease and the longer you tend to live.
Beyond Vitamin D
The benefits of time outside and in the sun very likely have nothing to do with vitamin D (which I want to deal with separately in part two).
Why do I say that? For one, there are studies like this one that show that when it comes to vitamin D, people respond differently to their time in the sun and many don’t produce enough vitamin D despite “adequate” sun exposure. Darker-skinned people produce less vitamin D for the same amount of time spent in the sun for example, and there may be other genetic causes as well.
For another, producing vitamin D is not the only thing that happens in your skin when exposed to sunlight. Nitric Oxide is also produced, which acts as a potent vasodilator, relaxing your blood vessels and lowering blood pressure, which means all of your organs and tissues get better blood supply.
Getting enough natural light in our eyes each day helps to synchronize our circadian biology as well; that has a massive impact on our mood, sleep, hormones and brain chemicals, all of which have downstream effects on our overall immune function.
How Much Is Enough?
- To synchronize our circadian clocks, 2-10 minutes as soon after waking as possible should be enough
- Another 2-10 minutes in the evening as the sun is setting also seems to help signal our brains to start winding down for the day
- Most people will need at least 10-30 minutes to max out vitamin D production, more if you’re darker skinned or if you live further north or if it’s winter
- Other research shows that we need at least 120 minutes a week outside/in nature to see a positive effect on our health
All in all, getting around 30 minutes of full sun on most days; making sure you get some light in your eyes (i.e. no sunglasses, never look directly at the sun!) first thing in the morning and again in the evening is a reasonable place to start. Everyone’s tolerance is likely to vary and some medications can make your skin more vulnerable to UV radiation, so check with your doctor if you’re on any prescription medications.
I would also speculate that there are many other things happening that haven’t even been discovered yet, either because we haven’t thought to look for them, or because we lack the technology to measure them.
Will spending more time in the sun protect us from coronavirus? It will likely be years, or decades before we have enough data to know whether or not getting plenty of sunlight would reduce rates of infection the way it looks to with other infectious diseases like the flu.
In the face of what looks to be the biggest infectious disease outbreak since the flu of 1918 and considering the data we have on the negative impacts of avoiding the sun, making every effort to make sure we get at least a minimum effective dose seems like a safe bet; especially considering there’s currently no vaccine on the horizon. Optimizing our own individual health is currently our best, and only bet.
Either way, in my mind, the benefits to our health from spending enough time in the sun are cut and dried. Getting lots of sun as a protective measure against disease, in general, is a no brainer in my book.
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