COVID-19: Prevention and Reducing Risk
Guidance for Cancer Patients—and the Rest of Us
This webpage is for all of us who are at risk of COVID-19.
Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, BCCT Senior Researcher
Nancy Hepp, MS, BCCT Project Manager
Last updated April 21, 2021.
COVID-19 has affected our lives in unprecedented ways. We are learning about COVID-19 faster than we’ve learned about any other contagious disease.
We're all being challenged to find meaning and peace in the face of social, economic and health upheaval and uncertainty. More than one cancer survivor has told us that the whole world is now finding out what it's like to live with cancer (see Leda Dederich's story, for one). Perhaps you are finding new perspectives on your life, health and relationships (see Exploring What Matters Now for more information).
We also are finding ways to connect with family and friends without increasing exposures. We see many, many examples of people who are reaching across miles and isolation barriers to chat, to laugh, to make music together, to celebrate and to carry life forward despite the challenges. We've found that gathering online has even improved opportunities and access to some events! We invite you to send us your favorite videos and events that bring people together for fun, make you smile, or help us all appreciate the blessings of each new day even during a pandemic. Submit your items in the Commentary box at the end of this page.
Advice on how to spot disinformation about COVID-19 from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Prevention and Reducing Risk
BCCT seeks to support you, your families, and communities by sorting out the fact from the myth, presenting the most credible and current scientific evidence on what you can do to prevent transmission and to bolster resilience to infection. We offer guidance on lifestyle practices to support your immune system so that your body is better able to fight the virus. We also list natural products that may help, as well as those that may hurt. We have compiled guidance from credible practitioners on appropriate use of natural products.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does good work promoting hygiene measures. What is remarkable is the absence of widespread awareness of the possible benefits of health promotion and the potential value of integrative medicine. BCCT hopes to help bridge this gap.
Prevention Recommendations from the CDC
These recommendations are your “outer shield” to reduce your risk of coming into contact and being infected with the virus.
Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact (within six feet) with those outside your household and avoid groups.
Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
Cover coughs and sneezes.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
Monitor your health daily.
- CDC's Summary of Guidance for Public Health Strategies to Address High Levels of Community Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and Related Deaths, December 2020
- Information related to vaccines in More Information below.
Integrative Approaches to Reducing Risk of COVID-19
Time-tested approaches can build your resilience and boost your “inner shield”, improving your ability to fend off infection and reduce the severity of disease if you do become infected.
What is remarkable is the absence of widespread awareness of the possible benefits of health promotion and the potential value of integrative medicine.
Some of the better integrative health websites and resources that we respect:
- ConsumerLab.com report on the known effects of several supplements and natural products on viruses: Natural Remedies and Supplements for Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- The Institute for Functional Medicine's recommendations:
- Boosting Immunity: Functional Medicine Tips on Prevention & Optimizing Immune Function During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak
- COVID-19: Functional Medicine Resources
- Wayne Jonas, MD: Resources to Support a Healthy Immune System Right Now
- Cynthia Li, MD: How to Shield Yourself against COVID-19: Science-Based, Integrative Medicine Strategies for a Once-in-a-Century Pandemic (free e-book)
- The Natura Institute at Commonweal: Resilience and Covid-19 Integrative Medicine Recommendations, authored by Anna O’Malley, MD
- The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine:
- Integrative Approaches to COVID-19
- Integrative Considerations during the COVID-19 Pandemic, authored by Lise Alschuler, Andrew Weil, Randy Horwitz, Paul Stamets, Ann Marie Chiasson, Robert Crocker and Victoria Maizes
Specific to children:
- Healthy Kids, Happy Kids: A Pediatrician’s Pandemic Immune Support Plan
Note that recommendations from these sites differ, yet there is considerable overlap.
Health professionals may also want to review further information at the end of this page in the "For Healthcare Professionals" section.
The 7 Healing Practices Build the Foundation
The healthier you are at any age, the more likely you are to mitigate the severity of an infection and improve chances of recovery.
The healthier you are at any age, the more likely you are to mitigate the severity of an infection and improve chances of recovery. Our 7 Healing Practices promote health and wellness. Each of these seven practices has strong research support for making you a healthier and more resilient person at any age.
Supplements and Natural Products
When considering supplements and natural products for reducing your risk, keep in mind:
- Many people are interested in taking supplements and natural products to reduce their risk of getting COVID or getting serious symptoms. Sorting through all the information (and misinformation) out there can be overwhelming. To help you make sense of all this information, we at BCCT have drawn from trusted sources to provide a list of supplements and natural products that are promising in building your resilience and reducing disease symptoms and severity.
- Researchers (and BCCT) do not recommend that people use treatments without appropriate evidence.
- Follow dosing guidelines to avoid overloading your body or producing needless side effects. There's no need to trade one set of risks for another or to introduce a risk of harmful side effects.
- Some suggested preventive measures and treatments are based on studies of other viral illnesses (influenza, the coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS epidemic, or others). Although we may have reason to think the effects could also apply to COVID-19, without human studies in COVID-19, we cannot be sure. Having said that, some natural products boost your natural immunity. Others are effective at reducing common symptoms of COVID-19.
Supplements Recommended by Knowledgeable Integrative Health Practitioners
Some herbal and nutritional supplements and other integrative practices may also be of benefit.
Some herbal and nutritional supplements and other integrative practices may be of benefit.
In general, supplements and products that regulate a healthy immune response are beneficial before infection. But no human trials have been completed with natural products and COVID-19. Balance the potential benefits with costs and potential harm from supplements. See our list at right of some trusted websites for recommendations from credible practitioners. Note that these recommendations vary.
Complementary Medical System Approaches
Naturopathic medicine, functional medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and other systems each have approaches to wellness, to immune support, and to fighting viral infections. Following a specific approach may help you avoid overloading your body by using a shotgun approach—taking everything that anyone recommends, irrespective of possible interactions or side effects, or of its potential benefit for your situation.
Advance Care Planning
Those at greater risk for more serious COVID-19 illness may be thinking about how you’d like to be cared for should you become critically ill. Could a ventilator help me? If I’m nearing the end of my life, are there effective ways my pain and distress can be controlled at home or in a palliative/hospice care unit? These are important questions.
Naturopathic oncologist and BCCT advisor Heather Wright, April 6, 2020: There was an active debate about elderberry within our organization. I believe elderberry is okay and will be supportive, as do others in our community. I will say I have had two patients over the years with confirmed elderberry allergy, though, so this is not unheard of. I do not think elderberry will contribute to the inflammatory cascade in COVID. I also don’t think people can or will take enough of it to do harm. Elderberry syrup on all bottles recommends very low doses. I don’t see my patients going beyond conservative dosing on labels and at those doses I believe they will be safe and that it will be supportive.
General COVID-19 Resources
Prevention for Other Viruses or Improving Your Immune Response
Isolation and Mental Health
For Healthcare Professionals
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Longest Time - Quarantine Edition, from the Phoenix Chamber Choir https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpAKcQufacc