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Can Vaccine Repurposing Help During Covid-19?

With the imminent arrival of fall there are many unanswered questions about how we will be functioning in the world with COVID-19. Will schools be open? Will we have to go on lockdown again? What happens when the cold and flu season hits and we are also dealing with a variety of other common seasonal viruses? 

As I have been advising patients through this entire process, my approach has evolved: information we knew early on has drastically changed; whereas once the use of mask wearing was in question, there is now no doubt that it is essential in significantly decreasing infection from COVID-19. This has led to a lot of confusion as people try to make sense of the latest data and is complicated by some offering up doubts and conspiracy theories. This makes for a good book, but one story I would rather us not be living in.

What is quite clear to me is that we will not have a vaccine in time for the fall flu season. 

So what more can we possibly do?  

I think a reasonable possibility at this time might be the exploration of repurposing existing older vaccines. Last year, my area in Rockland county New York had a major outbreak of measles. A disease that we had not witnessed in many decades began to re-surface. 

Prior to this many susceptible populations, like newborns and infants, were protected by what is known as herd immunity. Herd immunity works only if a significant portion of the population has immunity against the disease. 

As a result, my son’s school was shut down for a period of weeks until the unvaccinated were vaccinated, and the number of cases began to significantly decline; an interesting precursor to times ahead. But now we know on a magnified scale of that event and dealing with a virus we have just started to understand.

The question now becomes: can we support our immune response in an unprecedented time like this?

I recall reading some research as early as May of this year where expert virologists had suggested that giving the Polio vaccine, one that most of us have received, may stimulate the body’s innate immune system in such a way that it could provide protection from a more severe manifestation of COVID-19*.  

Mind you, this is the live oral polio vaccine which is no longer offered in the United States but still available in other countries. We now have an injectable inactivated form of the vaccine. There is a push to do more research in this area and hopefully be able to bring this therapy available to the U.S. again. Dr. Robert Gallo, the director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder of the Global Virus Network, a coalition of virologists from more than 30 countries, is leading the push for this cheap and easily accessible preventative strategy. 

How does that information help Americans since we can’t access that easily?  Recently, another report hypothesized, with supportive rationale, similar effects from the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine –the same one you need to get immunity against measles. The report discussed the potential protection in dampening the severe effects associated with COVID-19 infection. And, many of us have had waning immunity to vaccines we got a lifetime ago.  

Referencing the measles outbreak last year, many people in the New York area began to look at their measles titers to see if they had immunity.  Interestingly, many found that they no longer had adequate protection against measles and sought to revaccinate again. So, a thought occurred to me: maybe this is a great time to do testing for MMR titers. If there is an indication that there is a blunted immune response, then revaccinate. It’s possible that by doing so, you may offer some level of protection against COVID-19. If you are living outside of the U.S. where the oral polio vaccine is offered, that may be yet another option you have.

As a natural “prepper” (I like planning in general and preparedness for unexpected life events like hurricanes and superstorms have led me to think more catastrophic possibilities these days), I urge you to get your MMR titers tested, and consider this possibility of re-vaccination as another layer of protection as we all prep for the coming months.

 

 

Pamela Yee, MD is an Integrative Physician at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY where she creates highly personalized treatment plans for each of her patients. Dr. Yee has a special interest in integrative cancer care, immune disorders, and lyme disease. She lives in Nyack NY where she and her husband manage their own organic micro-farm.

 

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HOW TO HANDLE CANCER DURING THE PANDEMIC

Do you have a health condition, like cancer, that you’d normally seek medical care for but you haven’t during the coronavirus pandemic?  Is this because you think you’re safer at home and going out would risk infection, or your usual physician is not available to see patients?  You aren’t alone.  

One of the most disconcerting things to me as a physician during this pandemic is that the other medical conditions people have been suffering with have mysteriously disappeared.  It makes sense that emergency rooms have noted a dip in occurrences like car fatalities and injuries since many of us are not out and about driving. However, what about heart attacks and strokes?  These are time-sensitive events that if treated early, make a significant difference in someone’s survival.  Many people are afraid to call an ambulance or go to the ER with concerning symptoms like chest pain or sudden weakness in parts of the body because they fear they will get infected with Sars-CoV2.  And unfortunately this is leaving many people to die at home or they are left with permanent disabilities because they received medical attention too late.  These are not conditions where the wait-and-see approach works.

SCREENINGS FOR CANCER DURING THE PANDEMIC

Have you been due for your regular screening colonoscopy or mammogram and have delayed calling to make that appointment because it isn’t an emergency or you decided it can wait until we have some clarity about returning to normal life? Again, you are not alone.

In a typical year, roughly 150,000 cases of cancer are detected monthly in the US population.  As a physician specializing in Integrative Oncology, I am very concerned that people with signs of cancer – a new mass or lump – are not being assessed quickly enough and that these new cases are being missed in the earliest stages when treatment is most effective.  Many people have been choosing to wait until it is “safe” to make the phone call for an appointment.  Every doctor and health system is doing their best to create a safe environment for patients, and while we don’t have all the answers, it is now time to reach out to your provider through telemedicine and share your concerns so that you can create a plan of action together.

CANCER AND COVID

As someone with cancer during the coronavirus pandemic,  are you concerned about what you can do beyond secluding yourself at home? 

During the past 3 months, I have been hearing from many of my cancer patients with concerns about what else they can do. Whether they have a past history of cancer, or are actively in treatment, these patients are looking to have an action plan in place that will help when they are going to reintegrate into the world.  

During this exceptional time, it has also been more difficult for my cancer patients to find some semblance of security in their treatment or monitoring.  Many have felt that their diagnosis has taken a backseat to the pandemic at large.  One of my patients called for a telemedicine followup with her oncologist to find that he was recruited by his hospital to work in the ER managing COVID-19 patients.  Another patient was told to forgo treatment for one month due to a high risk of exposure; her tumor markers became elevated the following month.  Others have found that when they questioned their current regimen, they were told to stay the course until things resumed to a more normal format.  And just like everyone else, those with cancer are very reluctant to go to an ER (whether for a cancer related issue or anything else like heart attack or stroke symptoms), because they are known to be a high-risk category because of a weakened immune system. 

INTEGRATIVE ONCOLOGY

I have been practicing integrative oncology for well over 15 years, helping people to navigate through conventional treatments by offering ways to naturally mitigate symptoms from chemotherapy, radiation and surgery as well as exploring other areas of evidence based treatments that lie outside of the box of their oncologist.  Often, people seek me out to support their treatment nutritionally or to “boost immunity” during treatment, and this is a good place to start.  But then most people discover there is a plethora of other adjunctive possibilities outside of what their oncology team has offered.  Cancer is a diagnosis that I hope that one would consider all angles and possibilities and various opinions to help construct the most solid plan to move forward and try to conquer the disease.

One of the areas that I focus on is supporting immunity and treating immune issues with these patients.  It is interesting to me that many of the natural herbal and nutraceutical treatments that I have used in cancer for various reasons, have activity in some format against Sars-CoV2. For example, I’ve  utilized Chinese Skullcap (also known as scutellaria baicalensis) in both breast and ovarian cancers (as well as other cancers such as colorectal and prostate cancer) because of its anti-proliferative activity against tumor cells but interestingly it has a place in combating Sars-CoV2 by enhancing not only immune function but also possessing anti-inflammatory activity for a variety of cytokines and can potentially block the virus from attaching to ACE-2 receptors that are unique to this virus.  A good review can be found HERE.

The field of integrative oncology is immense and I have always gravitated to working with cancer patients for a number of reasons.  It presents an incredibly difficult time that often necessitates a change in mindset, which allows me to show people that this challenge is an opportunity not only to make positive and sometimes radical change in one’s life. It’s also a time to take control and not always assume that there is nothing out there beyond what the oncologist or surgeon is offering.  And with over 100 peer reviewed publications that come out daily, the field is constantly evolving and my work is never “protocol.”  These are just a few reasons why I find working with cancer patients extremely rewarding. The current pandemic adds yet another layer to work through with patients and I accept the challenges ahead.

 

Pamela Yee, MD is an Integrative Physician at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY where she creates highly personalized treatment plans for each of her patients. Dr. Yee has a special interest in integrative cancer care, immune disorders, and lyme disease. She lives in Nyack NY where she and her husband manage their own organic micro-farm.

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COVID-19 Nutrition 101: Let Food Be Your Medicine! 

A walk through the grocery aisles early this morning was a little shocking: The produce section was overflowing and the packaged processed food aisles were … empty.

The Number One thing you can do to support your immune system is: Eat Real Food

Your immune system is fueled by the food you eat. After all, over 75% of your immune system lives in your digestive tract. This means that every bite of food you eat influences your gut microbiome, which in turn determines your body’s ability to mount the appropriate immune response to invaders like COVID-19. 

Stroll on by the cookies, the sweets, the empty-calorie crackers, the high sodium frozen dinners and opt for packaged foods with minimal ingredients. Take a peek at the ingredient list and use this litmus test, “Am I willing to eat each ingredient with a spoon?

Here are 6 no-nonsense things you can do right now to help boost your immune system and keep your body healthy.

Choose whole, nutrient-dense foods. 

Eat the rainbow! Focus on fruits and vegetables of all colors — They  are filled with antioxidants that support your immune system, and fiber that feeds your healthy gut bacteria. Choosing foods that mirror the colors of a rainbow ensures that you eat a large variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that have enormous protective and healing powers.  

These rainbow foods are particularly good right now: 

Green produce helps boost the immune system and detoxify the body.

All healthy diets require green-colored produce and that is particularly true now. In fact, research suggests that green vegetables are the source of a chemical signal that is important to a fully functioning immune system. They do this by ensuring that immune cells in the gut and the skin known as intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs) function properly. (1)  Include green vegetables, such as arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, green beans, kale, peas, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and zucchini. Enjoy fruit, such as avocado, green grapes, and kiwi. 

Orange and yellow-colored produce help improve immune function.

Chock full of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, vitamin A and vitamin C, these include vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, all varieties of winter squash, yellow summer squash, orange and yellow peppers and golden beets. It also includes fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, papayas, pineapple and peaches. 

Pro Tip: A great way to ensure you’re getting enough vegetables is to make your plate at lunch and dinner is at least half vegetables. 

Here are a few resources for getting organic, healthy foods delivered:

Check out Misfits Market — they will send you a box of seasonal produce at up to 40% less than what you would pay at the grocery store. (Use the code COOKWME-DY5XFK for $25 off.)

You might have access to a local CSA that will deliver to your door. Do a google search for your area or you can start with https://www.localharvest.org/csa/

Check out Butcher Box — they deliver 100% grass-fed beef, free range organic chicken and heritage breed pork directly to your door. 

Ditch sugar and processed foods.

The stress and anxiety of COVID-19, combined with “Sheltering at Home” creates the perfect recipe for craving sugary and processed foods — they temporarily make us feel energized but a big crash comes shortly afterward. Beyond that sugar and processed foods SUPPRESS your immune system. To help you kick the sugar habit, enroll in our 7-Day Sugar Detox Here

Eat high quality protein foods.

Protein is critical for immune function. What’s an adequate amount? Roughly half your bodyweight in grams a day. These include plant-based proteins, such as legumes and nuts and seeds, as well as organic, clean, humanely-sourced animal protein. 

Plant-Based Protein Superstars:

  •     1 cup cooked lentils = 18 grams
  •     3 tbsp. hemp seeds = 10 grams
  •     I cup cooked quinoa = 6 grams
  •     3 ounces extra firm tofu = 9 grams
  •     1 cup chopped broccoli = 8 grams
  •     ¼ cup raw almonds = 8 grams
  •     ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds = 7 grams
  •     2 tbsp. chia seeds = 6 grams
  •     2 cups chopped kale = 4.5 grams

Wild-caught salmon has 13 grams, chicken has 18 grams, and ground beef, 11 grams — all per 2 ounces.

Eat cultured and fermented foods to feed your microbiome and support immune health.

Include sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, chickpea miso, yogurt made from coconut or almonds. These foods give your body a dose of healthful probiotics — live micro-organisms crucial to a healthy intestinal microbiome (the microbial community in the gut) — which plays a role in supporting the immune system and warding off damaging inflammation inside the body. 

Make friends with mushrooms.

Mushrooms are medicinal!  They have immune-boosting polysaccharides that have anti-viral, antibiotic properties. Shiitake, maitake and oyster mushrooms are easy to prepare — a simple roast, sauté or simmer will do. In fact, you can throw them in everything — soups, omelettes, stir fries, stews, vegetable dishes. 

Add garlic, onions, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, oregano and more when cooking. 

These herbs and spices not only add flavor to your food, they are anti-inflammatory powerhouses. Add them to soups, stews, vegetables, oatmeal, or just about anything! Did you know that garlic and onions offer wide spectrum antimicrobial propertiess.

Drink plenty of fluids.

Your body depends on it, as does your immune system. Water and herbal teas,of course, but soups and broths also count! Stay away from fruit and vegetables juices — they are full of sugar (yes, even the so-called healthy ones.) 

Wondering what else you can do?

Join Dr. Blum’s FREE Friday Open Office Hours Q & A, to have all your lingering questions answered: Register Now

Schedule a 45-Minute Immune Support Consult with one of our healthcare practitioners.  Schedule an informational call here

Read my recent blog post: 10 Ways to Reduce the Coronavirus Stress Response

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters. To learn more about Melissa’s coaching practice at Blum Center for Health, click here.

Resources:

  1. Ying Li, Silvia Innocentin, David R. Withers, Natalie A. Roberts, Alec R. Gallagher, Elena F. Grigorieva, Christoph Wilhelm, Marc Veldhoen. Exogenous Stimuli Maintain Intraepithelial Lymphocytes via Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation. Cell, 13 October 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.09.025