COVID-19 is a virus that greatly affects the lungs, which is why it's so important to take care of your lungs as much as possible. To help you better understand the virus, this blog will focus on East Asian medical theory as well as Western pathophysiology as it pertains to COVID-19.
Before we get into the inner workings, I want to share some interesting information about the virus.
1. Symptoms can appear 2-14 days after being exposed, meaning you may have the virus for 2-14 days and not know it. This is why it is so important to stay home.
2. The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. Trouble breathing, persistent pain and/or chest pressure, trouble arousing or new confusion, and bluish lips or face require immediate hospital care.
3. COVID-19 is highly contagious. The RO (pronounced R naught) number estimates how many people will be infected by an average individual with the disease. The RO number for the flu is typically around 1.3, meaning the average person with the flu may spread it to 1.3 people. The RO number for COVID-19 is 2.0-2.5. A study of the passengers aboard the Princess Cruise ship during the outbreak resulted in an RO number of 2.28. There's no question that COVID-19 is significantly more contagious than the flu, and this is another reason why it is important to stay home.
The Lungs in East Asian Medicine
The basis for all thought in East Asian Medicine is the balance between Yin and Yang. This balance fluctuates constantly but can become particularly out of balance when fighting an illness. There are many characteristics of Yin and Yang, but I'm going to focus on a few that are most relevant.
Yin - cold, wet, internal and night time
Yang - hot, dry, external and day time
We have Yin organs and we have Yang organs. The Lungs are a Yin organ, but of the Yin organs they are the most Yang because they have the closest connection to the external. The Lungs are the only Yin organ that has any initial contact with any external Qi, meaning air. The Lungs provide our body with Qi in the form of oxygen. Without this Qi, the body can't live.
The Lungs have assistance in drawing oxygen into the body. The Kidneys help the Lungs by grasping the Qi inhaled by the Lungs, which also helps to maintain a smooth respiratory rate.
In Five Element Theory, the Lungs are associated with Metal whereas the Kidneys are associated with Water. In the nourishing cycle, Metal is the mother of Water, meaning the Lungs help support the Kidneys.
The relationship between the Lungs and the Kidneys is vital. Additionally, the Heart has an important relationship with the Lungs. In Five Element Theory, the Element associated with the Heart is Fire. To help maintain a balance between all of the Elements, we have the control cycle. Fire controls Metal (imagine fire melting metal) so that the Metal Element does not become excessive.
There are 6 Yin organs and 6 Yang organs, and each organ is associated with a specific 2 hour window of time every day.
The time for the Lungs is 3am to 5am, during which they support deep sleep, dreams and memory. This is also the optimal time for the Lungs to clear themselves of toxins.
A Simple Western Explanation of Covid-19
Until COVID-19, pneumonia was generally thought to be the worst infectious condition for the lungs. Pneumonia is often seen in only one lung within one lobe, usually a lower lobe.
The alveoli are the little pockets within the lungs that transfer oxygen from the lungs to the capillaries, which brings the oxygen into the blood stream. With pneumonia, fluid builds within the alveoli within a lobe, which decreases the amount of oxygen people absorb into their system and why fatigue is common with pneumonia.
COVID-19 presents more like acute respiratory distress syndrome. When the virus gets into the blood stream, it breaks down the capillaries that are closest to the alveoli, which inhibits the absorption of oxygen. This occurs in the periphery and bases of the lungs. This is why patients with COVID-19 need to have their oxygen monitored and why some can take a turn for the worse rather quickly. Additionally, in severe cases multiple organs can become affected, including kidney disfunction and difficult urination.
Covid-19 and East Asian Medicine
Symptoms of COVID-19 present as difficulty breathing, fever (hot), dry cough (dry) and shortness of breath.
Because COVID-19 inhibits the body from absorbing oxygen, the body can become Qi deficient rather quickly, hence the difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. Additionally, Western medicine acknowledges that in severe cases the virus can affect multiple organs. In Five Element Theory, we know that the organs all have a relationship with each other and that the Kidney grasps the Qi from the Lungs to ensure a smooth respiratory rate. Before the virus becomes severe, it appears that the Kidney isn't grasping the Qi from the Lungs as well as usual. This may be why some with the virus explain that this is the worst they've ever felt and they have no energy.
The virus presents with a low grade fever that may fluctuate. Fevers are intended for the body to fight a virus. Additionally, the cough presented is dry, perhaps because the virus is affecting the capillaries and less so the lung tissue, which otherwise would likely respond by building up fluid as seen in pneumonia. These are generally Yang symptoms primarily affecting a Yin organ initially, that being the Lung. In Five Element Theory, the Metal nourishes Water, so if the Lung becomes weak then it can't nourish the Kidneys. In severe cases, patients can experience Kidney disfunction and difficulty urinating. Additionally, the Fire (the Heart) controls Metal (the Lungs) so if a patient has a pre-existing Heart condition, the patient's Fire may not be able to control Metal.
What's most interesting is patients are reporting that nighttime is when they are experiencing the worst of their symptoms. As mentioned earlier, between 3am and 5am is when the Lungs clear themselves of toxins. The Lungs require access to the blood stream in order to help in that process so that those toxins can eventually end up in the Liver and eliminated from the body through the Intestine. If the Lungs don't have strong access to the blood stream, perhaps toxins build in the Lungs or the virus becomes stronger, neither of which we really know at this point. If you have someone in your household with COVID-19, I would check on them periodically throughout the night, especially between 3am and 5am.
What To Do To Stay Healthy
It cannot be said enough - self quarantining is the best way to stay healthy. Not knowing when you'll be paid again is difficult. Home schooling is difficult. Cancelling family celebrations is difficult. But if you combine all of those difficulties together, they don't come close to the expense of having a severe case of COVID-19.
Now is a great time to work on your health. Local personal trainers and yoga instructors are offering tons of virtual classes, some of which payment is optional. Imagine if after emerging from self quarantine you're able to show off your new arm muscles!
It's easy to fall into a pattern of eating comfort foods, but what we eat forms the cells of our body. Indeed....you are what you eat. Would you prefer your house to be built with low quality materials or with the strongest, most beautiful materials available? Imagine if the cost of those materials was nearly the same? A bag of chips versus a bag of frozen mixed vegetables....one will ultimately harm the body whereas the other will ultimately support the body (and for cheaper too!).
Additionally, it is important to exercise your lungs. Peter Deadman's Qigong video is a routine I recommend doing daily.