There is much we do not know about the COVID-19 coronavirus, but researchers are starting to piece the puzzle together as we go along.
For example, a recent Chinese investigation suggests COVID-19 coronavirus is “highly sensitive” to high temperatures and spreads faster in colder climates, its most rapid spread is occurring at a temperature of 8.72c.
The researchers recommend countries with colder climates “adopt the strictest control measures” to limit the spread of the disease.
Hassan Zaraket, assistant director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases Research at the American University of Beirut, commented on the preliminary findings to South China Morning Post:
“As temperatures are warming up, the stability of the virus could decrease … if the weather helps us reduce transmissibility and environmental stability of the virus, then maybe we can break the chain of transmission.”
You do not have to wait for the arrival of Summer to take advantage of the potential benefits of heat. James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, recently highlighted a core mechanism by which your body fights viral infections, namely fever.
A fever is your body’s way of raising your core body temperature, and most pathogens don’t fare well in high heat.
Dr. DiNicolantonio argues high heat exposure activates heat shock proteins which may prevent viral nucleoproteins from being exported suppressing viral replication. Thus, sauna therapy may have potential against RNA viruses particularly prior or early on in infection.
Ways in which you can acutely and temporarily raise your core body temperature include sauna bathing, taking a steam bath, physical movement to induce sweating, or simply bundling up with warm clothes.
In a 13 March 2020, Instagram post, Dr. DiNicolantonio explained:
“I have been getting a lot of questions about the [Joe Rogan] podcast on coronavirus. A lot of people were disappointed to hear that Michael Osterholm suggested saunas would not work against coronavirus. Michael argued that the lungs wouldn’t get hot enough in a sauna to kill coronavirus.
The problem is that he is looking at this from the WRONG mechanism. Saunas increases CORE BODY TEMPERATURE. Remind me again how our body fights off viruses? That’s right! By raising core body temp-DEVELOPING A FEVER! Why does our own body do this? Because a FEVER HELPS COMBAT VIRUSES.
Saunas, especially infrared saunas, create a ‘pseudo fever’ by raising core body temp. So how do fevers (or saunas) potentially work against viruses? By increasing HEAT SHOCK PROTEINS. So, saunas’ inability to increase the lungs to 180F is NOT a reason to argue that it won’t help against viral infections.”
An expert I read noted that Dr. DiNicolantonio’s advice on saunas is on the target, but EMF (electromagnetic fields) are not his specialty. While IR (infrared) saunas are helpful, one needs to be diligent about the electric and magnetic fields.
Many newer IR saunas have low magnetic fields of about 1 milligauss, many have electric fields far higher than the recommended 30 volts/meter. One that advertises themselves as low EMF I measured at 700 volts/meter. So, do your homework before you use them.
A number of studies have investigated the antiviral effects of sauna bathing.
For example, a clinical study involving 50 volunteers showed regular sauna bathers had 50% the rate of common colds compared to nonusers.
This makes sense, considering sauna use will kill bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses and boost your immune function by increasing white blood cell, lymphocyte, neutrophil and basophil counts.
As noted by Dr. DiNicolantonio, “prospective studies show that those who use a sauna 3X per week have a lower risk of getting colds, influenza and pneumonia.”
He also cites research showing animals placed in a sauna before being injected with influenza virus had dramatically reduced lung pathology and mortality. Viral replication was also suppressed in sauna-exposed animals.
A German review of the benefits of sauna bathing further notes (translated to English):
“Regular visits to the sauna significantly reduce the frequency and severity of influenza infections in children and adults. In athletes, medium-distance runners compared to untrained, the immune system is apparently more stimulable.
In WWII, among the Finns, confidence in the effects of saunas went so far that they were used as the main measure for preventing typhoid fever.”
So, you do not need to elevate the temperature of your lung tissue to a dangerous 180F. You simply could not survive that type of exposure.
Like the influenza virus, coronaviruses, as a general group incubate in your sinuses for about 3 days before moving down into your lungs, and appears to be destroyed by temperatures around 133F (56C), which is easily achieved in a sauna.
Saunas heats up to 170F. So, provided the virus has not yet reached your lungs, it’s quite possible that high heat in your nasal passages would destroy it.
As reported by the World Health Organization during the 2003 SARS epidemic, “Heat at 56°C kills the SARS coronavirus at around 10,000 units per 15 mins.” Chances are COVID-19 may be equally susceptible at this temperature.
What is more, it is not the heat itself that provides all the benefit. By elevating your core temperature by just a few degrees, your body releases heat shock proteins, and they appear to be part and parcel of how saunas reduce your risk of infectious disease.
According to Dr. DiNicolantonio, sauna bathing helps reduce viral illness by increasing heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) and prostaglandins A1 (PGA1).
A Y 2004 study in the Journal of Virology explains how Hsp70 and PGA1 block the replication of influenza viruses.
In summary, viral nucleoproteins are synthesized in the nucleus, forming a special complex that enables their export from the nucleus and allows them to form complete virions, i.e., active, infective viral forms on the surface of the cell membrane.
In the nucleus, Hsp70 interferes with the formation of that export complex, thereby trapping the viral nucleoproteins inside the nucleus. Since the viral nucleoprotein is trapped inside the nucleus, it does not have the chance to become active and infective.
Sauna bathing has also been shown to improve respiratory function in those with asthma, bronchitis and obstructive pulmonary disease, and can boost your mood an added boon if you’re struggling with stress and anxiety.
The mood-lifting effect of saunas has to do with the fact that your body, in response to heat, also produces dynorphin,the chemical opposite of endorphins. And, dynorphins sensitize your brain to endorphins, which tends to elevate mood.
If you have ever had a sauna, you are probably familiar with this “mellowing” effect. Heat shock proteins also trigger mitochondrial biogenesis, thereby supporting your overall health, especially your cardiovascular, cardiac and brain health.
You can also reduce your risk of viral infection by taking some nutritional support.
Quercetin, in particular, appears to be useful.
As reported by Maclean’s, Canadian researchers Michel Chrétien and Majambu Mbikay began investigating quercetin in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic that broke out across 26 countries in Y 2003.
They discovered a derivative of quercetin provided broad-spectrum protection against a wide range of viruses, including SARS and Ebola. Messrs Chrétien and Mbikay are now starting a clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of quercetin against COVID-19.
As noted in a Y 2016 study in the journal Nutrients, quercetin mechanisms of action include the LPS (inhibition of lipopolysaccharide)-induced TNF (tumor necrosis factor α) production in macrophages.
TNF-α is a cytokine involved in systemic inflammation, secreted by activated macrophages, a type of immune cell that digests foreign substances, microbes and other harmful or damaged components. Quercetin also inhibits the release of proinflammatory cytokines and histamine by modulating calcium influx into the cell.
According to this paper, quercetin also stabilizes mast cells and has “a direct regulatory effect on basic functional properties of immune cells,” which allows it to inhibit “a huge panoply of molecular targets in the micromolar concentration range, either by down-regulating or suppressing many inflammatory pathways and functions.”
In summary, quercetin has been found to limit viral illness via three primary mechanisms: 1) it inhibits the virus’ ability to infect cells. 2) it inhibits replication of already infected cells, and third, it reduces infected cells’ resistance to treatment with antiviral medication.
While the immediate health risk associated with COVID-19 is considered low, the media frenzy and global shutdowns of schools, places of work and social venues are feeding and exaggerating people’s fears in most cases unnecessarily.
If you are feeling worried or anxious at this time, remember that your immune system is your 1st line of defense, and there are plenty of ways to bolster your immunity.
Panic shopping is not going to eradicate your fears, but taking common-sense precautions might.
To learn more follow Dr. DiNicolantonio on Twitter and Instagram @drjamesdinic
Have a healthy weekend, stay at home!
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