8 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During COVID-19by Carissa Andrews - March 23rd, 2020
The world community is actively quarantining COVID-19 in an attempt to stop the spread of this infectious disease. Not everyone will get sick and not everyone who does get this newest coronavirus will be facing mortality. However, there are certainly some segments of the population who are more at risk than others. Namely, those who are over 70 years old, and/or those who have underlying health conditions that could compromise their immune system or pulmonary function. This includes people with chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and those with blood malignancies or cancer, specifically those who are in active chemotherapy or receiving bone marrow transplants. According to a paper released from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, those between 70 and 80 years old had an 8% fatality rate, and those over 80, that number jumped to 15%.
Unfortunately, because this virus is so new, there is no herd immunity in place at the moment to stop the spread of the disease. What does this mean? Basically, we get immunity from a virus through exposure to it. This can be done by actually being infected, or by vaccinating against it. Since there is no vaccine yet, exposure is left. However, when you have a population where 60% of adults have an underlying health condition as described above, it leaves a large number of people vulnerable. Which is why we’re seeing the reaction we are to the pandemic. In essence, we’re buying time until a vaccine can be developed.
So, while COVID-19 might not affect the entire population with the same force, one area we can all focus on is making sure we take better care of our bodies. We do this by increasing our own health, so the immune system functions optimally. Let’s take a closer look at the best ways to give it a good boost.
Kick the Smoking Habit
Smoking is never good for you, but let’s face it, when a new virus is impacting your lungs, it’s best to take notice. Now might be the best time to kick the habit for good. Smoking heightens your risk of catching everything from pneumonia to bronchitis on a good day, and of course, it also increases your risk with COVID19.
When you smoke, your body is constantly fighting to rid itself of the chemicals from the cigarettes. In addition, it also produces excess mucous, which narrows airways, making it harder to clear your lungs, which increases your risk of infection. If all that wasn’t bad enough, it also lowers the antioxidants in the blood, which means free radicals have free reign. For those of you who aren’t smokers, but are around those who do, now’s your time to put your health first and avoid secondhand smoke, too. Vapers, you’re also challenging your lungs and blood in ways we have yet to understand. Consider giving it the kick, too.
Eat for Health
From what we currently know, 70-80% of our immune system is based in the gastrointestinal tract. That means our health is directly impacted by the foods we eat. Avoid processed foods and instead, opt for whole foods whenever possible. This includes foods high in protein, vitamin D, and vitamin C, as well as high in antioxidant properties. Some of the best foods to rotate through your diet include eggs, fortified milk and cereal, fatty fish (like salmon), clementines, red peppers, berries, ginger, lemon, broccoli, oats and nuts, leafy greens, and mushrooms. Remember the more (natural) colors on your plate, the better.
Vitamin D and vitamin C are instrumental to your immune system. In fact, there are some studies that have suggested active people (meaning, people who exercise regularly) who took 200mg of vitamin C cut their risk of illness in half, and the general public shortened their cold lifespan by a full day with the same supplement.
While the best line of defense is to be eating a healthy diet, sometimes supplements can help boost up a body’s vitamin levels, particularly if there is a deficiency happening. Paul Klenerman, Immune Theme Lead at the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre mentions that vitamins like vitamin D and C aren’t typically prescribed to boost your system to “better than normal.” However, if your doctor finds a deficiency, a supplement might be a good way to get your levels back up.
Dry mucous membranes and cracked skin give an entry point for pathogens. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water wards off viruses. So, now’s the time to drink up. In addition, water helps your body to flush out toxins that may try to engage with your system. The current recommendations are 11.5 cups of water for women and 15.5 cups daily for men. If you’re not sure how you can fit that amount of water into your day, start with one 8-ounce glass the moment you wake. In addition, keep in mind that you can also sip on plain green, black, or white tea or add a little fruit essence to your water to mix it up throughout the day. It all counts.
Skip the Booze
Now, we did say stay hydrated, but not with alcohol—which can actually dehydrate you. In addition, even small amounts of alcohol can cause inflammation of the liver. This means your body has trouble cleansing the environmental toxins coming your way. Booze also interrupts the overall microbiome in your gut—which as we know, is where most of our immunity comes from. Alcohol can strip out healthy bacteria in the gut, allowing bad bacteria to run rampant. To make matters worse, it can also impair the cells lining your intestines, damaging even more of the body’s natural immunity.
Get Your Body Moving
Getting 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise helps to rev up our immune system and keep our bodies operating optimally. It triggers the lymphatic system, which is where our immune system circulates. During this time, you might find you’re not able to go to the gym, thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns. That’s okay, you can still workout from home or go for a walk/run outside and enjoy the fresh air. It could even boost your spirits beyond the endorphin rush by lowering your cortisol levels and reduce overall stress.
Getting worked up over COVID-19 will not help keep your immune system humming. In fact, stress and anxiety can have the opposite effect. Instead, prioritizing self-care during this time is crucial. Start a gratitude journal to keep track of the things you are most thankful for, spend time meditating, reading books, working out, and do things that bring you joy. A positive mindset and self-compassion are linked to a stronger immune system. Utilize it during this time, and especially if you have been given time off during the quarantine measures.
As it turns out, sleep is a critical function for staying healthy, including avoiding colds and viruses. Sleep releases cytokines (proteins) that protect against inflammation and infection. According to an Oxford study, people who slept less than six hours of sleep a night were four times more likely to catch a cold than those who got more sleep. Other studies also show that sleep deprivation shuts down your immune response. So, do yourself a favor and make sure to get enough sleep.
While there is no cure for COVID-19, researchers are working overtime to develop a vaccine. Japanese doctors have found there was some effectiveness in treating COVID-19 patients with an asthma medication called Ciclesonide, which is a steroidal inhalant that suppresses the immune system response. Because the drug reaches the lungs where the virus is spreading, its effectiveness may be linked to the fact that it reduces the inflammation there. In the meantime, we hope these tips were helpful in reminding you about the healthy habits that can boost the immune system. Don’t forget that smart hygiene is also beneficial: wash your hands, cover your coughs, and be sure to wipe down shared surfaces with disinfectant wipes. These things can help stop the spread of germs and keep you and yours safe and healthy during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
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