The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread for one reason: Researchers have not been able to come up with a vaccine or a highly effective treatment.
A vaccine is likely to take many months, or even years, to develop. And so far, new treatments have been disappointing.
Early in the outbreak, there was hope that hydroxychloroquine might be the answer.
It’s a malaria drug that seemed to work in some patients. But when it was tested in trials, it failed miserably. Researchers found that it caused heart problems and actually increased death rates in coronavirus patients.[i] [ii]
The antiviral drug remdesivir was also touted as a potential game-changer.
It’s a medication that was developed to fight Ebola but didn’t work. One study showed it didn’t work against coronavirus, either. Another trial found it helped some moderately sick coronavirus patients recover faster. Either way, it’s far from a cure.
Now, new research shows that the most effective COVID-19 therapy may be one that is more than century old. It was used to fight the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.
In a trial at Houston Methodist Hospital, doctors took plasma from people who had recovered from COVID-19. They then transfused it into 25 hospitalized patients who were severely ill with the disease.[iii]
Nineteen of the patients got better. Eleven became well enough to leave the hospital within days.
What’s more, doctors found the plasma treatment caused no side effects. They concluded it was a safe and effective option for patients with severe COVID-19.
“Blood plasma is the liquid part of the blood,” explained Dr. Arturo Casadevall. He is preparing to launch a follow-up study. Plasma carries the antibodies that fight foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.[iv]
The treatment is simple: Blood plasma from people who have survived a particular infectious disease is injected into others who are suffering from the same illness. The blood plasma contains antibodies that were generated to target the disease.
The treatment has rarely been used in the U.S. in recent decades. But it helped patients recover during the 2002 SARS outbreak.[v]
Chris Ciarallo is a COVID-19 plasma success story.[vi]
The anesthesiologist suspects he caught the coronavirus while working with COVID-19 patients. He had a fever, night sweats, headaches, and muscle aches. He thought he could handle it at home, but after a week, his condition worsened.
“I started coughing up pink fluid, dropped my oxygen, my heart rate wouldn’t come down from about 120, 130,” said Ciarallo. “I just couldn’t get the fever to break.”
Friends urged him to go to the hospital. When he arrived, he wasn’t ill enough to need a ventilator, but he gradually became worse.
Doctors gave Ciarallo blood thinners and Tylenol. He said there’s “nothing more disheartening” than being hospitalized and told that “there’s really no other options for you.”
So Ciarallo “pushed the infectious disease doctor to take a look at convalescent plasma, because I really didn’t have any other options available to me.”
He was given the treatment 12 hours later.
The results were remarkable.
“Within about two hours, I noticed that I wasn’t warm anymore,” he said. “My heart wasn’t beating out of my chest. Within two hours I had an appetite. I got up, went to the bathroom. I stopped coughing up pink frothy stuff.”
The next day, Ciarallo was up and around with no difficulties. Friends brought him Chick-Fil-A for lunch.
His doctors told him he could go home.
5 Ways to Support Antibody Response
If you are hospitalized with COVID-19, ask your doctor if you are a candidate for plasma therapy. If you are healthy, here are five ways to support your immune system to help it produce infection-fighting antibodies.
- Exercise. Research shows that exercise boosts your body’s production of antibodies. It causes them to circulate rapidly, helping them do their job more efficiently.[vii]
- Broccoli. It’s one of the healthiest immune-boosting things you can eat. Broccoli is loaded with fiber and antioxidants, which strengthen immune response. It is also rich in magnesium and calcium…and vitamins C, E, and B—all important for proper immune function.[viii]
- Vitamin D. It’s crucial for your immune system. A major 2017 study looked at vitamin D’s effectiveness against viral infections. Researchers analyzed 25 clinical trials that included 11,321 people. The study found that vitamin D cuts in half the risk of respiratory infections caused by viruses.[ix]
To make sure you’re getting sufficient vitamin D, spend 15 minutes in the sun each day with your arms and legs exposed. Or you can take a D3 supplement. (D2 is cheaper, but isn’t absorbed as well by your body.) We recommend 5,000 IUs daily.
- Garlic. Scientists attribute garlic’s immune-supporting abilities to its high concentration of allicin and other sulfur-rich compounds.[x]
- Probiotics. These are “good” bacteria that keep us healthy in many ways, including by stimulating systemic immune response. Yogurt is a great source. Be sure to get the full-fat kind that contains live cultures. Avoid yogurt that has sugar or artificial sweeteners.[xi]
You can also take a probiotic supplement. Look for one with at least six different bacterial strains including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum. These are the strains most strongly linked to improved immunity. And make sure each serving contains at least 10 billion CFUs. This is a measure of potency.
There is a massive research effort around the world to find new ways to fight COVID-19. But the effectiveness of blood plasma shows that it is often the oldest remedies that prove to be the best.
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