Coronavirus: How to Boost Your Immunity

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The novel coronavirus strain COVID-19 has been spreading quickly and infecting people so rapidly, that it is now formally a world-wide pandemic. Like other virus strains, it causes ailments ranging from the common cold to acute respiratory syndrome.

The goal shared by billions of people across the globe is to limit the infections. At the societal level, reducing physical interaction in normally busy hubs reduces transmission between people.  Additionally, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself – by boosting your immunity.

The immune system

The immune system is the body’s defense complex, protecting against disease. It is comprised of a multi-level biological infrastructure designed to detect a broad range of pathogens, such as viruses, distinguishing them from the body’s healthy tissue. Once identified, the immune system works to neutralize these pathogens.

Building and sustaining a strong immune system is an ongoing endeavor; there is no silver bullet. Here are suggestions for boosting your immunity.

Foods rich in nutrients

Unsurprisingly, the same foods that will help you lose weight, feel healthy, and look great, are the ones that will help your body against toxic pathogens.

There is no single food or diet that has been shown to cure or prevent disease, but malnutrition can impair your ability to fight off illness and infection. By malnutrition, we are referring to a lack of vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients.

The best thing you can do to boost your immune system is to regularly consume copious amounts of produce. Fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of phytochemicals that are extremely beneficial in disease prevention.

Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of carotenoids that boost the activity of the white blood cells called lymphocytes. If you can’t find fresh produce, opt for frozen, and even canned. In any case, make dark leafy greens a priority.

A word about garlic. As any food lover can test, garlic is tasty and healthy. Additionally, it possesses antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown that garlic can inhibit some flu viruses. however, there is no evidence right now that garlic can help prevent the coronavirus.

Food with zinc

Zinc is a mineral with anti-viral properties. A laboratory study demonstrated its ability to inhibit the replication of coronaviruses such as COVID-19 in cells.

Furthermore, zinc can ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold.

The recommended daily intake of zinc is 11mg for men, and 8mg for women (12mg if pregnant).

Food sources of zinc include:

  • Meat – beef, pork (30-40% of the daily value (DV)
  • Chicken (20% DV)
  • Shellfish – oysters (200% DV) , crab (60%), mussels and shrimp (10-15%)
  • Eggs (5% per egg)
  • Milk (9% per cup) and cheese
  • Potatoes (9%  for a large potato)
  • Cashews (15%  per 1-ounce serving)
  • Seeds – hemp (30%), pumpkin, and sesame seeds
  • Legumes (12% )
  • Avocado (12% per medium  avocado)

What about supplements?

Supplements are being promoted like crazy by marketers hoping to make a quick buck from panicked consumers. When people are afraid, they they can easily be convinced that supplements prevent or treat disease.

When it comes to coronavirus (COVID-19) and other flu-like diseases, there is no proof that supplements actually work.

That being said, some supplement may have a limited benefit:

  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc lozenges (see above)
  • Vitamin D
  • Elderberry extract
  • Garlic supplements

Vitamin C protects the immune system and helps to fight off infections. Vitamin C is most bioavailable when consumed from whole foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwi, etc. 

Zinc lozenges can reduce the severity and duration of colds caused by viruses. This means that even if you have contracted a virus such as COVID-19, there can be a mitigating effect on the respiratory disease that develops in the upper airway.

Vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of a respiratory infection from flu-like viruses in people who start out deficient. There is no study pertaining to coronavirus, but if you are low on vitamin D levels despite eating foods with vitamin D, consider supplementing.

Hydrate with water

Drinking water throughout the day may help boost your immunity. Staying hydrated helps the body eliminate toxins naturally through urination. It helps the cells take in nutrients and remove waste.

Avoid alcohol and smoking

Consumption of alcohol reduces the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Alcohol disrupts immune pathways thus impairing the body’s ability to defend against infection.

Excessive alcohol consumption leads to adverse immune-related health effects such as increased susceptibility to pneumonia and acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS).

Smoking slowly kills your lungs. Need we add more?

Physical activity

Regular exercise, even mild, has been shown to boost the immune system. You don’t need to do much more than take a 30-minute walk. A study conducted on elderly people who regularly exercised found that they had immune systems comparable to people decades younger than them

Sleep more

Sleep deprivation has a detrimental effect on the immune system. Our modern lifestyle has led to a decrease in quality sleep time, and it has been taking its toll on society. The exact mechanisms are an area of active investigation.

If you can add just one extra hour of sleep a night, your body will be better prepared to handle whatever is thrown at it the next day.

Pro tip: leave your phone and tablet devices out of the bedroom.

Find ways to de-stress

Just like sleep-deprivation, stress has become a hallmark of modern living. Stress compromises the effectiveness of the immune system. The negative emotional response to perceived stress leads to hormonal and other changes that weaken immune function.

While easier said than done, there are several things you can do to reduce stress. Some were mentioned above. Getting a good night’s sleep is extremely beneficial. So is exercise. Walking counts. If you can get out to a park or a place with green and trees, even better.

Hygiene is critical

We are all familiar with standard recommendations to prevent the spread of infection:

  • regularly wash your hands. Do this with intention, spending at least 30 seconds fully lathering your digits and all the way up to your wrists.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.
  • Clean off dirty surfaces.

Social distancing and the need for human connections

If you don’t want to get infected, stay awy from infected people. This is hard to do when the incubation time of the coronavirus is up to 2 weeks. This means people don’t know they are carrying the virus, they are out in public, and infecting others.

This is why so many events have been canceled, why schools are closing, and why many people have started working from home.

While social distancing makes sense, it sure is great that we have digital social networks that help us feel close. Make sure to stay connected with friends, family, and loved ones. We humans are social animals.

Boosting immunity with the Fooducate app

In your Fooducate app settings, turn the “Boost my immune system” option on. Foods that you look up will include information about their contribution to improving immunity.

Sources:

  1. Carr, et al – Vitamin C and Immune Function. – Nutrients, 2013
  2. Thomas, et al – Vitamin C and immunity: an assessment of the evidence. – Clin Exp Immunol. 1978
  3. Sharma, et al – Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview – Indian J Clin Biochem., 2013
  4. Velthuis, et al – Zn(2+) inhibits coronavirus and arterivirus RNA polymerase activity in vitro and zinc ionophores block the replication of these viruses in cell culture. – PLoS Pathog. 2010
  5. Aranow – Vitamin D and the immune system. – J Investig Med. 2011
  6. Wintergerst, et al – Immune-Enhancing Role of Vitamin C and Zinc and Effect on Clinical Conditions – Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2006
  7. Bnaventura, et a – Zinc and its role in immunity and inflammation – Autoimmunity Reviews, 2015
  8. Ried –  Garlic Lowers Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Individuals, Regulates Serum Cholesterol, and Stimulates Immunity: An Updated Meta-analysis and Review – The Journal of Nutrition, 2016
  9. Tsai , et al –  Antiviral properties of garlic: in vitro effects on influenza B, herpes simplex and coxsackie viruses – Planta Med 1985
  10. Sarkar, et al – Alcohol and the Immune System – Alcohol Research: Current Reviews (ARCR) , 2015
  11. Fernanded et al – Exercise, immunity, and aging – Aging Clinical and Experimental Research – Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 2014
  12. Bollinger, et al – Sleep, Immunity, and Circadian Clocks: A Mechanistic Model – Gerontology, 2010
  13. Cohen – Psychological Stress, Immunity, and Upper Respiratory Infections – Current Directions in Psychological Science – 1996

 

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