Immune Boosting Foods – Lessons from a Dietitian on the Front Lines

Allison Pingel is a registered dietitian working with the Moffit Cancer Center to provide patients with the nutritional knowledge they need to stay healthy. As we know, COVID-19 is a severe threat to those individuals with an impaired immune system. Allison talks about building a strong immune system by eating correctly on a consistent basis.

The construction of this strong immune response does not occur overnight but occurs over time when you give your body the correct nutrients. She is quick to point out that there are no scientific studies that document or prove that vitamin supplements are a good substitute for foods which provide these building blocks naturally. “Fruits and vegetables are a more economical and nutritious way to obtain your necessary vitamins and minerals as well as other nutrients that are helpful including fiber.”

“Foods high in Vitamins A, C D, E and zinc support the immune system.” She cites broccoli, berries, garlic, ginger and spinach as products containing high amounts of these vitamins which assist the body in fighting infections. She encourages yogurt and nuts as plentiful sources of probiotics and zinc, which she considers essential for building a strong immune system. Additionally, she is a strong advocate of fruits and vegetables. One and a half cups to two cups of fruit per day, plus 2-3 cups of vegetables per day, are helpful for building a strong immune response.

While eating correctly to build your immune system is essential, so is some regular exercise and activities that are social and put you in touch with others in a safe manner. As spring descends on our country, it’s a fine time to take a walk or ride a bike and say hello to your friends and neighbors from a safe distance. Just make sure you adhere to your community’s stay-at-home restrictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic is frightening but with healthy eating, regular exercise and safe social interaction we will prevail and come out of this crisis stronger.

When Can I See My Grandchild? Social Distancing – Today’s Norm

I have a neighbor down the block who is a talented internist, administrator and teacher. On his resume is a stint as the Chief Medical Officer at a large urban hospital and director of the medical doctor training program as well. We walk our dogs at a safe social distance daily and update each other on the latest news on the Coronavirus in Florida.

We are also both relatively new glowing grandparents of two-year-old boys living in Dade County. Both boys brought home a viral illness 10 days ago and, quite frankly, with no testing available, we do not know what they had. The only important item is that they both recovered, and their parents are not sick.

“Do you have any idea when I can safely see Hank,” he asked rhetorically? “The CDC told me he needs two negative Covid-19 tests at least five days apart to make sure it is safe for someone over 60 years to safely take that risk. It’s difficult enough to obtain testing for acutely Ill patients so why would I waste them in this situation”?

Initial papers out of Wuhan, China demonstrate that when a sick person recovers from this infection, they continue to shed live virus for days or even weeks. Researchers either are not sure, or do not yet know, if those viral pieces can cause illness in some other susceptible host. They are not sure how someone is still contagious after recovering?

Hopefully this information will be available soon. Until we know for sure I would advise high risk patients to stay away from recovered Covid-19 patients for a few weeks.

Tonight, my wife and I will drive down to South Miami for a family BBQ. My son-in-law, daughter and grandchild, plus their dog Mia, will be on one side of a fence in a covered area. We will be across from them separated by a fence using our own gas grill. We will stay separated by a minimum of 10 yards and prepare our own food.

We will talk in person, tell some stories, sing some songs and then make the long drive home.

 

Hugs, kisses and rides on my shoulders will have to wait for another time.

Life’s New Reality with Coronavirus aka COVID-19

We are bombarded daily with news about the spreading infections with CoronaVirus or Covid-19. With television, the Internet and other news mediums; the quantity, quality and accuracy of information can be overwhelming.

This single stranded RNA virus has managed to invade most of our populated continents and is now moving into communities. There is more we do not know about this pathogen than we do know.

Public health officials which include the Trump Administration, the CDC, the NIH and local health departments have been extremely tight-lipped on the clinical course of the hundreds of US citizens evacuated from infected areas and quarantined for 14 days.

We do not know if there are any telltale historical or clinical markers to tip us off as to whether the patient in front of us with a cough and low grade fever might have a run of the mill seasonal viral infection or Covid-19.

And, it is still unclear,

  • How long the virus stays alive on a surface and remains infective.
  • How long the incubation period is and how long in advance of demonstrating signs of infection asymptomatic patients can transmit the disease.
  • What role, if any, children, who seem to be less vulnerable to the disease, play in the transmission of the disease as asymptomatic carriers?
  • How a relatively healthy nonsmoking adult in their 30’s to 50’s will do if they catch the disease?

The recommendations on testing from the administration and CDC have been unrealistic based on the lack of availability of the testing labs and kits in affected states. This will improve with time, but will it improve to the level of the “quick, never get out of your car, drive-through testing” being done in South Korea? That story, covered by CNN, was both enlightening and disheartening. Enlightening by illustrating how government can institute a plan quickly and efficiently.   Disheartening realizing that with all our wealth and expertise in the United States we are not doing something similar.

The recommendations about prevention are commonsense. Do I really need to log onto the CDC website to learn that I need to wash my hands, avoid touching my face and stay home if ill?

The selfishness and entitlement of the American public make even asking these minimal changes in our pattern to be a major inconvenience and intrusion into our privacy. I see the Ultra Rock Festival in Miami and the Calle Ocho street festival have been cancelled smartly to prevent infection. At the same time restaurants are jammed, servers and food preparation individuals without sick leave and health insurance still show up at work ill, to serve and prepare food, and many chronological adults balk at giving up their restaurants, bars, clubs and shows to prevent the spread of disease.

Posters suggesting we stay six feet away from others are plastered on buses and train platforms of mass transit systems where if you can stay 6 microns away from another transit passenger it’s as if you are travelling in the First Class section.

If we are all fortunate, Covid-19 will ultimately be an annoyance in the low risk population. We will develop fast and effective ways to detect it and then, with knowledge of how it spreads, we will be able to provide advice on how to protect others.

I am just not sure today’s American public has the will, the determination or the sense of community, altruism and sacrifice of lifestyle needed to prevent a major health and economic crisis.

INFORMATIONAL RESOURCES:

Corona Virus – Update

I have been receiving multiple calls and inquiries from patients concerned about travelling within the continental United States and exposure to Coronavirus or its new name, Covid-19. To date, there have been NO cases identified in the general population outside the high-risk groups whose exposure came in China or from exposure to sick individuals who caught their illness from someone who had been to China. While the quarantine has slowed the spread of the virus here in the continental United States, there are still many unknowns such as:

  1. What are the different ways it is transmitted?
  2. Can asymptomatic persons transmit the disease before they become ill and how far in advance of symptoms can they be contagious?
  3. How long can the untreated virus live and transmit the disease on a surface such as a tabletop or doorknob?
  4. How aggressive is this virus? What percentage of the patients who contract the illness get minimally ill? What are the unexpected risk factors for severe complications? Why is the illness sparing children – for the most part?

If you have travel plans in the USA, I suggest you go. Given the season, it’s far more likely to contract illnesses such as cold or influenza.

When you travel, as always, wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your face.  Wipe down surfaces with antiviral commercial preparations frequently.

If you still haven’t received your flu shot, get one now!  Consider a second seasonal flu shot if it has been more than 3 months since the original one. However, expect to pay for the second shot since most insurers do not cover it.  Also, most pharmacy technicians will say you don’t need it.

Do not hesitate to call me if you are my patient and have any questions.

PLCO Data Support Protective Effect of Aspirin in Preventing Deaths

In recent months, the US Preventive Task Force has recommended adults without diabetes or documented coronary artery disease avoid taking baby aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes. They believe the risk of bleeding outweighs the benefit derived. They still recommend aspirin prevention in men with known cardiovascular, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes.

The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Trial (PLCO) just made the decision-making much more complex. In their study, reported in this month’s JAMA Network Open, they found that taking aspirin as infrequently as 1 to 3 times per month reduced the risk of all-cause and cancer related mortality compared to no aspirin in their study with 146,152 patient participants.

Weekly use of aspirin significantly reduced the risk of mortality from both GI and colorectal cancer and all mortality endpoints irrespective of how heavy you were. When the study looked at 12.5 years of aspirin use 1 to 3 times a month, compared to none, the all-cause mortality was reduced by 16%. The results were even more encouraging when aspirin was taken three or more times per week.

The PLCO Cancer Screening Trial involved participants aged 55-74 who were randomized to a cancer screening group or a control group at 10 United States Medical Centers. This review looked at men and women 65 years or older at baseline. While this study showed a beneficial effect of aspirin in the elderly, other recent studies have been less favorable. The ASPREE study, Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly, found that individuals taking 100 mg of aspirin daily were at increased risk for all-cause mortality compared to those taking a placebo.

The decision to take low dose aspirin, or not, is something you should discuss with your physician so that you can tailor the situation and risks to your personalized needs.

Talcum Powder Does Not Cause Ovarian Cancer

Katie O’ Brien, PhD, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina reported a study in nearly 250,000 women over an 11 year span that showed that talcum powder does not contribute to the development of ovarian cancer, The study was published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found that in women who used talcum powder in the genital area, a total of 61 cases per 100,000 persons years was detected. When they compared that to women who never used talcum powder in that area, they found 55 cases of ovarian cancer per 100,000. The difference between users of talcum powder developing ovarian cancer by age 70 compared to nonusers was just 0.09%.

The concern about talcum powder use and cancer occurred in 1976 when asbestos was found in talcum powder. Most talcum powder is felt to be asbestos free today.

Making Sense of the Corona Virus Outbreak in China

The news media has been extensively covering the outbreak of a new virus that causes upper respiratory symptoms. What is known is that it probably originated in bats in a cave and passed through animals and is now infectious to human beings.

The first cases were reported as originating in a fish market in Wuhan, China that illegally sold exotic animals as well. Sources have reported on this new illness for months with much of the information being suppressed by the Chinese government.

Wuhan, China is home to a first-class, state-of-the art virology research lab. That lab’s main researcher has been urging infectious disease experts to evaluate these corona viruses for years while receiving little reward for her efforts. She reports that the previous epidemic of SARS is caused by a corona virus as well.

At this point, researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) are attempting to obtain enough information to evaluate how much of a threat this new illness represents. We do not yet publicly know the exact incubation period. We do not know the length of time an individual is a contagious carrier prior to symptoms developing. Some have claimed you are contagious for about two weeks before symptoms appear. This is not consistent with a Vietnamese visitor to Wuhan who returned home ill and his family in Vietnam were all ill with the new coronavirus within three days. We do not know how aggressive this disease is yet.

Are the fatalities from it primarily in the infirm, very young and very old or does the disease strike down the fittest and healthiest as well? Are the deaths in China due to the lack of availability of modern health care, respiratory treatments and medications?

More information should be forthcoming soon. An evacuation of 200 Americans from Wuhan this week, to a military base in Riverside, California, for a voluntary quarantine should provide valuable data. These frightened but responsible individuals will be monitored and treated and studied.

Of interest to me was an article in the NY Times weekend edition by a “medical historian” who outlined the lack of success in containing infectious diseases we have had when no medications or treatments for these diseases existed. As I read it, I kept thinking that while the quarantines were certainly not 100% effective, what data exists to predict the infection severity and mortality that would have occurred if the quarantines had not been put in place?

As a doctor who regularly sees individuals with acute upper respiratory illness, I am comfortable with the CDC’s initial recommendations of avoiding travel to China, hand washing, wearing a mask and taking a travel history on your patients presenting with upper respiratory tract symptoms.

For those of you looking for more information on the new Corona Virus I suggest accessing the online infectious disease newsletter produced by the University of Minnesota School of Medicine called CIDRAP at http://www.CIDRAP.com. They cover this illness, Ebola, SARS, MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) Bird Flu, food poisoning outbreaks due to infectious agents and other infectious diseases worldwide. If you read that newsletter you will be informed, and frightened, by the reality of what is out there.