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Immune Resilience: It Takes Two to Tango

Leading Industry Organization Speaks Directly to Natural Practitioner Readers


Why do some people who catch viruses have a relatively mild reaction while others develop catastrophic fatal symptoms? I propose, the answer is likely immune resilience. This concept is top of mind as health professionals battle the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19.

We are learning that everyone is different in how each individual wards off infections, whether bacterial or viral. This is why the concept of individual immune resilience is worth exploring. A deeper understanding of individual immune reliance can provide ideas, strategies and a road map of sorts to strengthen our natural ability to get and stay well.

So how does one go about finding immune support? Beyond simply avoiding contact with any possible source of infection, there are many known ways to aid our innate immunity. It starts with addressing the terrain of our bodies that creates our natural defenses. Without this, we are omitting one of the most powerful tools we have to stay well.

Now that months have gone by while I watch the pandemic, I think this is the biggest untold story—it takes two to tango. Yes, focusing on the agent is important, such as public health measures to minimize exposure and working on a vaccine, but so too is focusing on the host. Remember that we are the host and each one of us reacts differently to how our bodies fight off a foreign invader. Unlike most things in life, it is important to create the least hospitable host possible. This means that along with following public health measures, we need to do all we can to support our body’s innate immune system to lessen the impact of any public health threat, viral or otherwise.

I am not alone in my belief that supporting innate immune health is important. Boldly, the New York Times bucked the trend of focusing exclusively on the vital agent in a March 10 article. The writer endorsed five of eight standard immune-boosting methods: sleep, lowering stress and promoting calmness, nutrition, exercise and reducing alcohol intake. The writer even noted that meditation may help prevent colds.

Other methods not mentioned in the article include maintaining hydration, reducing toxic exposures and focusing on physiological balance. Our health and immunity depend on what we eat, drink, breathe, do and feel.

Regarding vitamins, most mainstream journalists still echo the standard advice of avoiding “unproven supplements,” citing that they do no good and might even hurt you. Under the right supervision of a naturopathic physician, some supplements are an important part of healthy immune support. One notable example of a supplement that has received incomplete—and even misleading—coverage, is vitamin C.

This vitamin has been reported to be a “myth” and “fallacy” that it doesn’t protect. By examining the research that is so often overlooked or misinterpreted, we can learn a lot about why vitamin C is an important part of immune support.

One-to-6 grams per day of vitamin C shortened ventilator use for 471 patients by an average of 25 percent (even more for the sickest patients). Another study in the journal Nutrients showed that an average of about 2 g/d of vitamin C shortened ICU (intensive care unit) stays by 8.6 percent. Just that small amount of vitamin C could free up a lot of ICU beds. While these studies were not specific to COVID-19 and patients were undergoing multiple therapies, they show that at a cost of less than a dollar a day. Vitamin C provides a significant return on investment to reduce the length of an ICU stay.

There are hundreds of basic-science papers that show at least 3 to 5 grams per day of vitamin C, taken throughout the day, is an important immune system protector. Without an adequate dietary supply or vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, our immune responses suffer.

Recently, I’ve seen many hopeful developments, borne of a need to find solutions to support the body during conventional medical approaches. Mainstream medicine is beginning to take notice. A front line COVID critical care working group recommends IV vitamin C and steroids as elements of an early intervention protocol. Additionally, 50 tons of vitamin C were shipped to Wuhan, China, where success rates have inspired many New York hospitals to adopt the same therapy in severe COVID-19 cases. The results have been encouraging. Could it be that when in a crisis, health decision makers are more open to new options that might help?

At times like these, we need to look at all immune support approaches. Public-health strategies should combine reducing exposure to the virus with making any infections rates shorter, and milder. There is a high reward to focus on ways to strengthen community immunity that lowers the risk. While the rest of the world focuses on developing a vaccine, this is very complex and will take a very long time. There is always the risk that a viral mutation could outpace the development of a vaccine and render it useless. There is a lot we can do to invest in our own body’s very capable immune capacity to better arm ourselves.

To that end, the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) has produced webinars and a resource page (https://naturemed.org/online-housecall-series/) for the public to become aware of the myriad things to do to help build immune resilience. Yes, there are no proven remedies or cures for COVID-19, however that should not dissuade us from working to enhance the functionality of our immune system.

There is an adage that times of crisis provides an openness for big ideas and big solutions. When we see the integration of the use of natural therapies in mainstream health care, it is a recognition of the body’s innate ability to support the body during a serious infection. It’s an idea whose time may have finally come. Let’s celebrate and dance.


1 Tara Parker-Pope, Can I Boost my Immune System? New York Times, March 10, 2020

2 Hemilä, H., Chalker, E. Vitamin C may reduce the duration of mechanical ventilation in critically ill patients: a meta-regression analysis. J Intensive Care. 2020; 8, 15. doi.org/10.1186/s40560-020-0432-y

3 Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C Can Shorten the Length of Stay in the ICU: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2019; 11(4):708. doi.org/10.3390/nu11040708

4 Lorena Mongelli, Bruce Golding. New York Hospitals Treating Coronavirus Patients with Vitamin C. New York Post. March 24, 2020.

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural MedicineMichelle Simon, PhD, ND, President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine

In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies.
Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research.
Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009.
Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.