4. A New Approach


Before synthetic drugs and supplements were introduced, shamans and medicine men (or women) would develop medicines from plants to cure a range of ailments and diseases. The influence of plant-based and natural cures can still be seen in today's Eastern medicines. Natural remedies, often derived from plants, were also the source of many early Western medicines. For example, penicillin, the first true antibiotic and a major medical breakthrough, was secreted from a mold usually found on citrus fruits. Please see the list below for other examples of plant-derived drugs:

aloe vera dry skin aloe vera
aspirin inflammation, pain willow bark
atropine slow heart rate deadly nightshade
caffeine migraines coffee beans, tea leaves
camphor skin pain and itching camphor tree
colchicine gout autumn crocus
digitalise irregular heartbeat purple foxglove
ephedrine decongestant ma huang
etoposide cancer mayapple
heroine, morphine, codeine pain opium poppy flower
hyoscyamine gastrointestinal disorders plants of the Solanaceae family
l-dopa Parkinson's Disease mucuna pruriens seeds
penicillin bacteria infections mold on citrus fruits
pilocarpine glaucoma leaves of Pilocarpus microphyllus
quinidine irregular heartbeat quinine tree
reserpine high blood pressure root of Indian snakeroot
scopolamine motion sickness jimsonweed
tamoxifen cancer feverfew
taxol cancer Pacific yew tree
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) loss of appetite cannabis sativa (marijuana)
theophylline asthma cocoa, tea
vinblastine, vincristine cancer madagascar periwinkle

Today, chemicals that are derived from plants and benefit health are called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. These phytonutrients are abundant in plant-based whole foods. Plant-based whole foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, teas, herbs, or spices. Phytonutrients have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, analgesic, and antimicrobial properties.

Thousands of phytonutrients are yet to be discovered and most benefits are still unknown. The most popular phytonutrient is vitamin C. Scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency and killed millions of sailors between the 16th to 18th centuries, was treated by feeding patients fruits and vegetables rich in this essential phytonutrient. It became even more popular when Linus Pauling, a two time unshared Nobel prize winner, published his book in 1970, Vitamin C and the Common Cold. Today, it is one of the most recognized phytonutrients for fighting colds and flu. Another phytonutrient, resveratrol, has seen a recent surge in popularity within the last 20 years. Found in red grapes and wine, it has been shown to have anti-aging properties. The benefits of resveratrol have made it a key ingredient in everything from cosmetics to functional beverages.

Vitamin C and resveratrol are only two examples of phytonutrients that have been widely researched and marketed. Because of the diversity of plants, thousands of phytonutrients are yet to be discovered or researched. Most benefits of phytonutrients are unknown.

Phytonutrient Combination Therapy™

Instead of cherry-picking and guessing which (and the right amount of) vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants are best to prevent or treat a viral infection, it is better and much more effective to eat a wide variety of whole foods. Whole foods are a better and natural alternative to current synthetic immune-boosting supplements. Whole foods contain countless numbers of phytonutrients, nutrients derived from plants that have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, analgesic, and antimicrobial properties.

In pharmacy, the use of multiple drugs working in synergy to treat an illness is called combination drug therapy. Instead of attacking the virus one way with a single drug (monotherapy), multiple synergistic drugs are used to attack the virus in various ways. One drug can prevent the virus from binding to the cell, the second drug can prevent it from entering the cell, and the third drug can reduce inflammation caused by the excessive immune response to infection. Combination drug therapy, sometimes referred to as a "drug cocktail", is commonly used to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, AIDS, tuberculosis, and H. pylori-induced stomach ulcers. It is also used to treat cancer, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases, including organ transplant rejections. One current coronavirus treatment being tested is a combination of the antimalarial drugs, hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, plus azithromycin or zinc. This treatment is a recent example of a combination drug therapy.

Just as combination drug therapy increases the chances of success in a clinical setting, applying a similar combination approach to nutrition optimizes overall health. It is also much safer than taking supplements or drugs. Instead of taking multiple supplements to prevent or treat a viral infection, it is better and much more effective to eat a wide variety of whole foods. Just imagine the number of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and antivirals in a single whole food. A single orange has over 170 different types of phytonutrients whereas Emergen-C only has about 20 nutrients. Now imagine what would happen if you took each of these unique phytonutrients and added them to the unique phytonutrients of other whole foods. Here is a hypothetical example: if a fruit, vegetable, or herb has an average of 100 different types of phytonutrients each, then eating a variety of ten different whole foods together would provide your body with 1000 different types of phytonutrients. This is 500 times the number of nutrients in one dose of Emergen-C. That range and diversity would load your body with a lot of nutrients that could help your body fight off the viral infection.

Only eating a few select whole foods severely limits their nourishing, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory benefits. By eating many different types of whole foods together, sometimes referred to as "eating the rainbow", you attack the virus in multiple ways.

Nutrient Density of Foods

As a whole food is processed, more phytonutrients are removed, and potency increases. High potency increases the risk of overdosing and toxicity. The table below shows the relationship between the amount of processing of an orange, phytonutrient amounts, and potency.

Food TypeExampleProcessedNumber of PhytonutrientsPotency & Toxicity
Whole foods orange none most lowest
Juices orange juice little more low
Extracts orange extract more few moderate
Nutrients vitamin C a lot one high

The effects of processing whole foods can be seen everywhere. Whole corn is a healthy food, but when processed to corn syrup, it causes obesity and diabetes. A whole wheat grain processed to white flour increases its glycemic index, leading to higher blood sugar spikes. This adverse effect of modifying whole foods is the same argument used to support eating non-genetically modified, or non-GMO foods. Artificially breeding food to be sweeter, less bitter, more resistant to drought or insects, increase yield, or withstand a herbicide often negatively affects the amount and variety of phytonutrients in the food.

Antiviral Effects of Foods

Many foods are known to possess antiviral properties. Plants have been fighting viruses since the beginning of time. Viruses mutate to infect plants. Plants evolve by making chemicals to fight viruses. Viruses mutate again to restart this natural selection cycle. Phytonutrients in elderberries, for example, bind to viruses to prevent them from entering healthy cells and inhibiting viral replication in infected cells. Green tea contains phytonutrients, called catechins, that block the enzymes that enable viruses to replicate. Garlic, used for centuries for its medicinal properties, has been shown to inhibit influenza virus penetration and proliferation in cell culture. Besides having immunostimulating activity, certain mushrooms, like shiitake, cordyceps, reishi, maitake, and turkey tail, can inhibit viral activity and viral infection of cells. Star anise, a popular spice used in Chinese "Five Spice" and Indian "Garam Masala", contains shikimic acid used to make the prescription drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Tamiflu is prescribed for the prevention and treatment of influenza A and B.

See List of Antiviral Foods & Drinks

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Foods

The release of too many free radicals is only one way an overactive immune system harms the body. The immune system also releases chemical messengers, called pro-inflammatory mediators, that tell the immune system to increase its immune response. Increasing the immune response increases inflammation. One group of mediators that increases the immune response is called cytokines. Scientists and doctors now believe high levels of cytokines release, also referred to as a "cytokine storm", causes your immune system to destroy healthy tissue and is a major cause of COVID-19 deaths.

Most people are unaware that certain phytonutrients in whole foods can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory chemical messengers. Reducing these messengers lowers inflammation. Phytochemicals that can turn down the immune response are called anti-inflammatories. An anti-inflammatory food or supplement is one that contains anti-inflammatories. However, there is a lot of confusion between the words "antioxidants" and "anti-inflammatories" because they are used loosely in the science, health, and wellness communities. Whereas all antioxidants are anti-inflammatories, not all anti-inflammatories are antioxidants. An antioxidant is only one type of anti-inflammatory. Phytonutrients that are anti-inflammatories and able to suppress production pro-inflammatory mediators are not heavily researched or marketed compared to popular antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.


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