Viral Pandemic. What do I do?

As more people are exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus [clarification on names you will see: SARS-CoV-2 (name of the virus)/ COVID-19 (disease and symptoms caused by the virus)], we will begin to hear more and more symptoms people are experiencing. I have come across 6 people in the past week that I believe are COVID-19 symptoms and not due to a cold or flu virus. They do not meet the requirements to be tested at this time although one was finally tested and we are waiting for results which are taking between 3-5 days.

I want to give you some ideas of what the symptoms look like, what you can do to help prevent contracting the virus, supportive treatment if you do fall ill, and what you might expect if you do become ill.

The symptoms I have personally seen and some of what are being reported are:

  • Feeling run down and just not feeling well
  • Many do not have an actual fever but feel like they are having “hot flashes”
  • Within about 2-3 days, they begin to have breathing difficulties. This includes a feeling of tightness around the chest, inability to take a deep breath, a feeling of gasping for air and panic/anxiety. It gets worse at night especially when the person tries to lie down.
  • A cough begins shortly after the difficulty breathing. It is dry with very little sputum produced. The cough is usually instigated by the difficulty breathing. Both are much worse with any amount of exertion.
  • The person also often feels very restless and anxious but is very, very exhausted. The exhaustion they feel is incredible. It is like nothing they have ever experienced.

These are the main symptoms I personally know of. There have been other symptoms reported. Some start with a mild sore throat for a couple of days.  Some have headaches and some do have fevers but the fevers do not seem to be extreme. *Important to see more on fevers below.

These symptoms are not fast moving which is a big concern with a virus that causes respiratory issues and does not resolve quickly.

Although these are concerning symptoms, there is little to nothing that can be done as far as pharmaceuticals go. The recommendations have been that if you have any of these mild to moderate symptoms, that you do not go to the ER or urgent care centers unless your breathing is compromised. You don’t want to unnecessarily expose others or distract care from another patient who may be more critical than you are. If you can, it is best to self-quarantine and treat yourself at home.

I am a Naturopathic Doctor and have given much of this same advice to my patients. Naturopathic Doctors (NDs and NMDs) are trained in 4 year medical curriculum much like M.D.s but our education also incorporates integrative therapies such as medical nutrition, herbal medicine, hydrotherapy and homeopathic medicines. We are experts in natural medicine therapies and how to safely integrate them with pharmaceuticals. This means that we have a lot of tools in our tool bag of safe and effective therapies we can use especially in times like these where there is no pharmaceutical intervention available.

Please visit my website for more information: http://www.drmichellethatcher.com

We as humans have co-existed with viruses since the beginning of time. In a normally functioning body, we are perfectly designed to mount an appropriate immune response. This includes a fever. People are generally very afraid of fevers for some reason. When we look at the amazing cascade of events that is triggered by our body when they encounter a pathogen such as a virus, we understand the very important role that a fever plays. Most virus & bacteria cannot thrive or even survive at temperatures above 102°F but the human body can! In fact, the human body’s immune system works quite well between 102°F -103°F. The body normally runs a temperature of about 98.6°F.  Mild elevations can occur normally after exercise, excessive clothing, a hot bath or hot weather.  An infant’s temperature tends to rise after bottle or breastfeeding for a half hour or more.  Most childhood fevers in the range of 99°-104°F are not harmful and are often due to a virus. An adult is considered to have a low-grade fever at a temperature of 99°F.

Fevers are a symptom, not a disease.  Sometimes a fever alerts us to a serious condition and can be a cause for concern while at other times, it is not.  A fever is the body’s NORMAL, innate response to an infection.  It increases the body’s immune system functions by increasing the release and activity of white blood cells and causes the release of many other substances which cause the body to feel achy and want to slow down & rest. Trust & honor this innate wisdom of the body. It is important not to suppress this important infection fighting process unless absolutely necessary. The Naturopathic perspective tends to regard fevers below 103°F as useful to the body to help us eliminate toxins through sweating and fight disease-producing organisms. If you interrupt this process with using medications that artificially lower it, you can actually allow the pathogen to gain more traction and increase its activity. This prolongs the disease fighting process. Yes, certainly, there are times to be concerned for a fever especially in infants and children. This is not meant to say that you should never be concerned for a fever, that you should never use fever-lowering medicines, or shouldn’t seek medical help if you are concerned for someone with a fever. Most of the time, it is a normal and necessary process.

These are some things we can do right now to help support our bodies naturally whether we feel healthy or ill with mild to moderate symptoms. These are what we as Naturopathic Doctors call Nature Cure. These are the basis of our medicine and some of the tried and true immune supports when we need them. If you become ill, recognize the symptoms of this virus are likely to last at least 10 days to 14 and possibly longer. You can do some or all of these suggestions as much as you’d like to help ease your symptoms. Remember that if you become critically ill or have underlying medical conditions, you should seek medical attention.

  1. Warming sock/Wet sock or Magic sock treatment: No matter what you call them, these are a safe effective at home or travel treatment for kids and adults. This link will give you the info:

https://health.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2009/11/dive-feet-first-wellness-natural-remedy

  1. Warming chest compress: This is the same idea as the warming sock treatment for to target the chest area: This hydrotherapy technique is an amazing tool to heal coughs and weakness in the lungs and may help prevent pneumonia. It can be safely used whether you are at home or traveling. It is called a “heating compress” because the patient’s body heats up the cool, wet undershirt. This increases circulation which increasing the amount of white blood cells in the area to help the body clear out the area of debris.
    • You will need:
    • 1 thin, cotton t-shirt
    • 1 heavy sweatshirt or sweater (wool is preferred if possible

a) Make sure the body is warm before beginning. This is best accomplished by a warm bath. This is crucial to the treatment and at no time should the body become chilled. Treatment should be discontinued if the person gets chilled and they should be warmed as soon as possible

b) Run the thin, cotton shirt under cold tap water soaking the material. Wring out enough water that it isn’t dripping but still wet.

c) Place the now wet cotton shirt on the body immediately followed by the warm heavier sweatshirt or sweater.

d) Go to bed and leave compress on for at least 45 mins to 1 hour and all night if possible. It is best to leave it on until the shirt is dry, however, some people become too hot with it and uncomfortable. It is best to leave it on until the cotton undershirt dries but if it is too uncomfortable, try to leave on for a minimum of 45 mins-1 hour. If it’s used on a child, monitor them during a nap or night time to make sure they are comfortable.

3.  Make some chicken and veggie soup with a lot of garlic! Garlic and onions contain a sulfur compound that help support the body’s immune system. Miso soup is also another great nourishing soup. Here is my favorite recipe for chicken soup:

This recipe will give you nutrients as well as antimicrobials and warm fluids. It is very comforting and delicious!

You will need:

  • A whole organic chicken or thighs and legs with bones. (Important to use organic when possible)
  • Veggies including onions, garlic, carrots & celery
  • Sea salt

Put the chicken on a cutting board, remove bag of giblets, and pat dry with paper towels.  Boil chicken in a large pot of water with onions, a lot of garlic, carrots, celery & sea salt. After a few hours the chicken begins to fall apart. Remove the chicken, allow to cool a bit & de-bone. Place a large strainer over a large bowl & pour the fluid through the strainer. Discard the softened veggies. Put the chicken pieces back into the healthy, rich broth. Add a little more sea salt & add more veggies & herbs such as rosemary if you desire. Put soup back on heat & lightly simmer until veggies are softened. Sip the broth throughout the day (all that garlic is an excellent anti-viral) and eat the chicken & veggies if you desire.

4. Get outside in the fresh air, sunshine and nature. Vitamin D is needed for the immune system to respond appropriately and the studies show that higher vitamin D reduces incidence of lung related symptoms. It is best for your body to absorb enough sunlight to make vitamin D if you are in direct overhead sun for at least 10-20 minutes depending on your skin tone (lighter skin needs less time) with as much sun-exposed skin as possible. If it is warm enough for you, get outside in shorts and a tank top between noon-3PM for at least 10 minutes. Take a nice walk, go hiking, sit and read a good book or whatever other activity you like to do outdoors.

5. Get water. Drink plenty of water. Drink water with electrolytes added or Emergen-c for extra vitamin C. Drink hot tea with honey. Use saline solution 2-3 times daily to keep the sinuses moist. Run a humidifier in the home and/or a diffuser with essential oils. Also, gargling with warm salt water can be helpful. Why is water so important? When the sinuses become dry, they are more fragile and more susceptible to viruses because your natural defenses are down. These mucous membranes are where viruses enter our bodies and begin to infect. If these mucous membranes are moist and healthy, there is a better chance of them being able to defend you from invaders.

6. More water…In the shower use alternating hot & cold water. Target your chest and allow the water to spray for 3-5 minutes as hot as you can tolerate. Then, turn it down to 30 seconds of as cold as you tolerate. Do 3-4 cycles and always end on cold. This stimulates your body’s internal healing powers. It gets blood pumping to & from the vital organs stimulating the immune system.

When you fall ill, you can do this several times per day as a way to help support your body’s efforts in mounting an appropriate immune response (and it actually feels really good!). You can do this while you are showering as a great way to start the day. You will notice as you cycle through the warm and cool water, you will be able to get the water a little hotter each time and a little cooler. This is great for your body! Another way to accomplish this is if you have access to a hot tub and pool. It is the same idea-3-5 minutes in the hot tub, 30 seconds in the pool. Always end on cold. There may be contraindications if you are chronically ill but gentle hydrotherapy should still be beneficial.

7. Get good sleep. I know this is easier said than done for a lot of people in our 21st century world. Aim for good sleep hygiene even if you start with just 1 or 2 things. Follow a regular bedtime, turn off computers/TVs/pads and phone screens at least 1 hour before bed, sleep in as dark of a room as possible to help natural melatonin production (take a little melatonin for a few days if it helps you sleep or other herbal sleep aids). Another suggestion is to take an epsom salt bath before bed. The magnesium in the salts are an excellent muscle relaxer.

8. Reduce your stress. There is a lot of anxiety and panic out there because of so much uncertainty. Stress and anxiety lowers our immune system capabilities. Try not to stay glued to the news and social media. Check it a couple of times per day to stay updated and informed but instead, do things you enjoy. Read a book, do art or craft projects, make a good meal, listen to music, get outside as noted above, watch some good Netflix movies you’ve been wanting to see especially the funny ones. Laughing actually helps boost your immune response and your mood. Do whatever it is that you enjoy that you may not normally have time for. Focus on what’s really important in life. Call your loved ones instead of texting. Be kind to people. Help a neighbor or elderly friend if you can. These are uncertain times and we’re all in this together.

9. Certain vitamins and minerals can be helpful in supporting the body’s immune process. These include: vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and selenium. Herbs that can be helpful include elderberry, andrographis, green tea, garlic.

Here is a recipes I love using garlic:

Garlic Oxymel

This is an easy at home recipe for a garlic oxymel- a mixture of honey, water, vinegar, and plant, boiled to a syrup. This is great as an immune boost or when used at the first signs of a cold or flu.
You will need:

  • At least 1 bulb of garlic
  • ¼ cup raw, local honey if available *do not give honey to children under 1 year old.
  • ¼ cup raw, organic apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water

Peel garlic cloves and cut in half.  Boil garlic in 2 cups of water until translucent & soft. Remove water & garlic from heat. Stir in honey. Add apple cider vinegar and mix well.
Drink 1/3 to 1/2 cup of warm liquid, two to three times a day, eating at least 2 cloves of the cooked garlic with each serving. Oxymel may be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for 4 weeks.

Here is a recipe for an onion-honey cough syrup. It sounds odd but often works better than any over-the-counter medicine.

Onion cough syrup

Onions have mild anti-microbial and immune support properties. It pairs well with honey which is a natural cough suppressant. I love this recipe and it often works the best for a cough.

You will need:

  • 1 raw onion
  • sugar &/or honey
  • glass jar or bowl with a lid

Slice the onion. Layer honey &/or sugar and fresh cut onion in jar or bowl. Make sure onion slices are completely covered in honey/sugar. Seal the jar or bowl and leave at room temperature for 18-24 hours. (You can begin to use it after 12 hours.) Store in refrigerator. Adults & kids over 12 months of age can take 1 teaspoon 3-4 times per day for colds and coughs.

**A note about elderberry. There is a lot of confusing advice out there regarding elderberry syrup. Of course we don’t know very much yet about this particular coronavirus but we do know that elderberry syrup has natural anti-viral properties and it does gently increase your immune system. The scientific literature does not support any evidence that it has ever caused a cytokine storm in humans. Herbal medicines typically work by helping to modulate the immune system along with all of the other things mentioned above. Elderberry also helps the viral illness come to resolution faster. At this point, we don’t see any reason to avoid elderberry because it does have great anti-viral properties. Use it moderately to help prevent illness and don’t increase its use dramatically if you become ill. More is not necessarily better.

10. And remember: Wash your hands with soap and water often and don’t touch your face!

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“I’m soooooo tired!”

This is something I hear at least once a day in my practice. I spend the majority of the appointment listening for clues as to the root cause of the fatigue because there are so many factors and reasons why many of us, at one time or another, feel exhausted & burnt out.

 What may seem like a simple complaint such as fatigue can bring about a multitude of questions and thoughts that run through my head…

  • “Could it be a thyroid problem? We can run a few tests to check how it is functioning.”
  • “How much stress is this person experiencing or has experienced in the past?”  The adrenal glands are taxed when there is no relief from stress. “Our modern lifestyle is so calm & peaceful that stress-related problems are so rare.” Ha! We all know THAT isn’t true!
  • “What time of the day is the fatigue the worst or is it all day long? Do they feel tired all day and then as soon as they lay down to sleep at night, they are suddenly wide awake and can’t fall asleep for hours? “
  • If this is a woman who is still having a menstrual cycle, “How heavy are your periods? How frequently are they coming?” Have you ever had iron deficient or insufficient anemia?”
  • “How is this person’s sleep? Are they getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep? Are they practicing good ‘sleep hygiene’ by sleeping in as dark of a room as possible, no TV or computer on and no cell phone or other electronics near their bed?”
  • “What is this person’s current diet like and are there foods they are eating that could be contributing to their fatigue?”
  • “Are they a vegan or vegetarian and possibly not have enough vitamin B12 in their diet?”
  • “What other symptoms does this person exhibit that may or may not be related and under what time frame did all of these symptoms arise?”

After thoroughly examining these various aspects, I usually have a good idea where we should focus our attention & what labs might be a useful piece of the puzzle to rule in or rule out an area of concern. Most people assume fatigue is the result of an under-functioning thyroid gland since that seems to be what we hear the most about but as you can see, there can be many underlying reasons. Some of them can be discovered through more thorough blood work. Most conventional physicians order very basic, focused blood work which may not reveal the whole story or they may only look for values that are out-of-range. I am not only looking for high or low values but also where in the given range the value lies. In many instances, I am evaluating the numbers with a more narrow range in mind or an optimal range not just what is considered “normal” for a given group of people. For example, the given range for a thyroid lab called TSH is 0.45-4.5. That’s a huge range! Naturopathic doctors know that the thyroid should be functioning optimally with a TSH below 2. When it appears above 2, I know it is not performing at its best & I make decisions based on that knowledge.

Many times, basic blood work doesn’t give enough information and a few more in-depth labs may reveal the key. An example here that I see all of the time is that a doctor will run a serum (blood) iron level. It almost always comes back in the normal range because the body will do just about anything it can to keep the blood iron level within that range (even if it is in the low range) because it is so crucial for the body. The doctor will say, “Nope! It isn’t your iron. The iron numbers are just fine!” What is not often looked at is the serum ferritin level. Ferritin is generally the body’s iron storage level. I tell my patients that ferritin is like your overdraft or savings account. When the iron in the blood gets low, it dips into its “savings” to boost its numbers while the “savings” dwindles if it isn’t replenished. Just this one extra lab value helps me to identify an iron insufficiency that can be treated before it becomes extreme and the patient’s fatigue is relieved.

Many, many, many times I end up addressing the adrenal glands first as the underlying reason for feeling tired. The adrenals are highly overworked but highly under-appreciated and undernourished little glands that sit atop our kidneys. Conventional medicine practically sweeps their importance under the rug but we as Naturopathic Physicians are highly versed in the needs of the adrenals and we have just the right tools to implement to support them, help reduce the body’s response to stress and help to relieve fatigue at the foundational level.

The next blog will discuss the adrenal glands in more detail. Stay tuned!

If you are feeling fatigued and haven’t been able to get to the root of it, come in to see me and follow the natural path…

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First things first…

Hello!

This is my first blog so let me introduce myself if you don’t know me already. I am Dr. Michelle Thatcher. I am a family practice Naturopathic Physician in Tucson, Arizona.

“You’re a Naturo-what?” I get that a lot.

A Naturopathic doctor (ND or NMD in some states like AZ) is a licensed physician that functions as a family primary care doctor. I am a specialist in natural medicines such as herbal medicines, homeopathy, acupuncture, & nutrition to name a few. I treat primarily with natural medicines that are less toxic and, in many cases, more effective than pharmaceutical medications. Whenever we can use food as medicine, even better!

One of my favorite quotes from Hippocrates, “Let thy medicine be thy food & thy food be thy medicine”. Proof that Hippocrates was Naturopathically minded more than 2000 years ago!

I can write prescriptions for those times when they are necessary but they are typically not my first option. I can also order lab work that is another piece of information I use when considering how I am going to treat you as a whole person and not just your symptoms.

Another question I get a lot, “So, what inspired you to go into Naturopathic Medicine?”

My interest in natural medicine started in my early 20s when I worked at a store called Body & Soul. It was there I was first exposed to aromatherapy & I became increasingly aware of natural, alternative treatments. I was, for a short time, a pre-pharmacy student and I used to joke that I would probably not be a good Pharmacist because I would be telling people about natural alternatives to consider instead! I ended up as a research scientist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. People were always encouraging me to apply to the medical school but I knew it wasn’t the right fit for me. After 10 years in the research lab, I began to think about my future & what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A good friend of mine asked me one day, “What would you do with your life if nothing else mattered?” I don’t know where the thought came from but my first answer was a Naturopathic doctor. I went home that day & began researching Naturopaths on the Internet. I came across a school located in Tempe, Arizona (about 100 miles from me here in Tucson). It is one of 4 schools in the U.S. & 2 in Canada that are an accredited, rigorous, 4 year, Naturopathic medical program. One thing led to the next and after 4 years of traveling back & forth as well as living away from my family for most of every week, I graduated from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in the summer of 2009. I took my board exams that summer & became licensed in the fall of 2009. I had a home-visit based practice for the first year and finally found the office location of my dreams and opened up my private practice in Sept 2010. I wake up every morning & go to bed every night with an incredible sense of happiness knowing I have chosen (or it chose me!) a truly rewarding profession. I love what I do every day!

Our Naturopathic tenants guide me with every patient and in many other areas of my life, actually.

Primum non nocere – First Do No Harm –

Naturopathic medicine uses therapies that are safe and effective.

Vis medicatrix naturae -The Healing Power of Nature –

The human body possesses the inherent ability to restore health. The physician’s role is to facilitate this process with the aid of natural, nontoxic therapies.

Tolle causam – Discover and Treat the Cause, Not Just the Effect

Physicians seek and treat the underlying cause of a disease. Symptoms are viewed as expressions of the body’s natural attempt to heal. The origin of disease is removed or treated so the patient can recover.

Tolle totum – Treat the Whole Person

The multiple factors in health and disease are considered while treating the whole person. Physicians provide flexible treatment programs to meet individual health care needs.

Docere – The Physician is a Teacher

The physician’s major role is to educate, empower, and motivate patients to take responsibility for their own health. Creating a healthy, cooperative relationship with the patient has a strong therapeutic value.

Praevenire – Prevention is the best “cure”

Naturopathic physicians are preventive medicine specialists. Physicians assess patient risk factors and heredity susceptibility and intervene appropriately to reduce risk and prevent illness. Prevention of disease is best accomplished through education and a lifestyle that supports health.

Add a dose of humor and many problems are solved!

I was recently inspired by a friend to start a blog as a way to educate people, talk about relevant topics, share food/recipe ideas, environmental issues, and whatever else pops in my head. I intend to make this a weekly blog so be on the lookout for them. Share whatever resonates with you and leave the rest.

Besides having the best profession, I have been married to my best friend and biggest supporter for 20 years. There are 3 pretty awesome kids that call me mom. None of them will likely follow in my footsteps & do anything science or health profession related. Wah! I would have loved a partner in crime. I just hope at least that all of my babbling about natural medicine and eating healthy rubbed off on them. I have 3 adopted children of the fur variety who have no choice in following the natural path.

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