We have all heard scary stories about how serious COVID can be, and many people worry about what will happen if they contract the virus. Good news: There are things you can do now to strengthen your immune system. By boosting the body’s defenses, and minimizing inflammation, you can prime your body to mount a strong attack, and improve your odds of having a good outcome in the event of an illness.
1. Lifestyle Changes: Moderation is Key!!
- Sleep: Yes, the quality of your slumber can improve the health of your immune system. Your sleep is the time when your body does its repair work, so don’t shortchange yourself! Let your doctor know if you have sleep struggles so you can get help with this.
- Exercise: Research clearly shows that people who stay active are much less likely to get sick. Moderate exercise increases the production of immune cells and improves your defense against invaders. This is a great reason to start a new fitness habit, but don’t overdo it—very strenuous exercise can be detrimental.
- Healthy Diet: The fuel you put in your body affects the function of your immune system.
- Minimize sugars and refined foods, which increase inflammation and decrease the body’s capacity to fight infection.
- Increase vitamins and minerals that protect the body’s barriers, such as the skin, GI tract, and respiratory surfaces (nose and lungs), which are your first line of defense against germs. Vitamins such as A, C, and D, and minerals such as zinc are especially beneficial. Vitamin A and C sources include leafy greens, and red and orange fruits and veggies, and seeds, nuts, and legumes will add zinc. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, but also easy to take as a supplement.
- Increase potassium-rich foods. Plantains, avocadoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, and coconut water help minimize inflammation.
- Increase healthy fats, which are anti-inflammatory. Good sources include nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and olive oil.
- Minimize alcohol consumption, which has been shown to weaken host defenses.
- Consider mild intermittent fasting (12 hours a day), which can help reboot your metabolism and immune cells. But this is NOT a good time to start an overly extreme or restrictive diet, which could put the brakes on the body’s healing
2. Consider using Specific Agents that help your body fight pathogens. There are a number of these, including:
- Quercetin: This flavonoid is a powerful modulator of immune function, and has direct anti-viral actions. It is easy to get in your diet, especially if you like apples, berries, onions, and green tea. (Green tea has additional ingredients such as EGCG which has its own anti-viral effects).
- Astragalus: This Chinese herb can also be added to soups and stews. It has long been touted for its ability to strengthen the immune system and prevent viral infection.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: These help prime the innate immune system, the collection of cells that are the first line of defense against microbes.
- Melatonin: Besides helping you sleep, this is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps minimize tissue damage caused by viruses. As we age, our natural levels of melatonin drop, and it is hypothesized that this is one reason that older people get sicker with COVID as compared to young people.
3. Consider using supplements.
- Glutashield (Orthomolecular): Has some zinc, vitamin A, and glutamine to heal the GI tract lining. A few scoops a day will help strengthen your gut barrier.
- Astragalus Complex (MediHerb): Taking this through the winter is an excellent way to ward off viral infections.
- Immucore (Metagenics): Containing a combination of Vitamins C & D, zinc, and medicinal mushrooms, this is a great supplement to take during the winter, but can be used year-round.
- D-Hist (Orthomolecular): This supplement is great for allergies, but the quercetin and vitamin C can also prime your system to resist viruses. There is a children’s version as well (D-Hist Jr).
- Probiotics: There are a number of different types, and they all improve the diversity of the microbiome, which improves the GI tract barrier. Bacillus spore-type probiotics produce some anti-microbial substances, and Saccharomyces Boulardii improves the immune system in the gut.
- Fish Oil: Boosting your intake of healthy fats is a great way to minimize inflammation. You can take these at the start of an illness, but it is better to have them in your system beforehand. Aim to get 1000 mg a day of EPA and DHA combined.
- Powders: If you struggle to add fruits and greens to your diet, try adding antioxidant superfood powders into your smoothies or sprinkle them over your salad or pasta (you can find these in our retail store).
Thinking about all the options available may have you feeling overwhelmed. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our medical doctors to discuss how to improve your sleep or decide which supplements are right to you. If you are looking to optimize your diet, consider meeting with Katherine Mattox, RDN.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Immune Support During Infection (what to do IF you get sick!).