A Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19 | Mark Hyman

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A Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19 | Mark Hyman

Author(s)
Mark Hyman
Mark Hyman
(Head of Strategy and Innovation, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine)

As a Functional Medicine doctor on the front lines of our chronic disease epidemic, it has become clear to me that we can have an important impact on the trajectory of COVID-19 in our population. It is within our reach—it may be as close as our fork.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to reevaluate so much of our lives, to focus on those we love and what is most important. As an act of self-preservation and as an act of service to all our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow Americans, it is imperative that we now, more than ever, focus on our personal health and well-being.  

The faster and smarter we act individually and collectively, the more we can lessen the suffering. This is a novel virus, which means that no one has immunity. Experts estimate it will infect 40 percent to 70 percent of our population—that’s over 150 million Americans. Currently, 80 percent have mild or no symptoms, 20 percent need hospitalization, and 5 percent will need intensive care. The mortality rates vary depending on the population but range from 0.6 percent up to 15 percent in elderly patients with chronic disease.

We can strengthen our ability to fight infection and support overall better health during this time to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and come out of isolation healthier than ever.

Here’s the bad news. Only 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy. Seventy-five percent of us are overweight, 42 percent are obese, and one in two Americans have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Those with underlying chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.)—affecting 6 in 10 Americans—are at the greatest risk, with mortality rates of five to ten times that of healthy COVID-19 patients. Obesity increases the risk of death almost threefold. We are seeing up to 40 percent of the hospitalizations in 20- to 54-year olds, and most of those are obese and overweight.

While this is a terrible finding, it is something we can quickly begin to change. Each of us must now focus on strengthening our immunity to better fight the risk of COVID-19. Then if we do get sick, the illness is mild, and we can unburden the health-care system, which is already buckling from the onslaught of the virus.

I have seen hundreds of patients dramatically transform their lives quickly, recovering from chronic disease in a matter of weeks using the principles of Functional Medicine and food is medicine. 

Now more than ever is the time to double down on self-care—not just for ourselves but as our civic responsibility to contribute to the solution.

There are five things we can focus on right now, at home, to do that:

  1. Use food as medicine to optimize metabolic and immune health. We can do this by eating whole, real, unprocessed foods: vegetables, fruits, low-glycemic grains and legumes, healthy fats, and clean protein. Foods with flavonoids and anti-viral properties like cruciferous vegetables and citrus fruits, and fresh herbs like ginger, garlic, oregano, and turmeric, are especially beneficial for the immune system. Cut out all sugar, starch, and processed foods (if you need help, check out my 10 Day Reset).

  2. Social distancing. This is among the most effective ways to prevent spread. Don’t shake hands. Keep a six-foot radius from others (unless they are healthy uninfected people who live in your home) and stay home as much as possible.

  3. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands for 20 to 30 seconds with soap and water. Hand sanitizer is okay but not necessary. If you are out and about, do your best to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face (hard to do).  

  4. Get sufficient sleep! We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible! Get in a better rhythm and head to bed earlier. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Incorporating various relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day to help with stress and allow the mind to rest is also very helpful! 

  5. Get regular exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. Avoid overexertion, such as training for endurance events when you are feeling run down. This will lower your immune defenses. If you are able to exercise outside in less populated areas, great. If not, find workouts and yoga classes online. Try the 7-Minute Workout app

Many of us have put off taking care of our health, but now is the time to focus on getting healthy. We can strengthen our ability to fight infection and support overall better health during this time to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and come out of isolation healthier than ever.

Published May 12, 2020