How to keep your immune system strong and healthy to fight COVID – 19 – What works and what does not.
Have you been researching what you can do to avoid COVID – 19? Or what to do to help boost your immune system to fight this new disease? Well, there are a lot of ideas out there on what you can do to keep your immune system up and ready to fight COVID – 19. However, is all that information accurate and evidence-based?
Now, that’s where the problem is with COVID – 19. It’s new, so there is not a lot of evidence-based research out there on how to enhance your immune system to fight COVID – 19. Luckily, there are plenty of knowledgeable professionals that have studied medicine and the human body. This gives us years of evidence-based science on the body’s immune system and on other viruses to guide us.
Here are some evidence-based facts.
Boosting your immune system with supplements
I’m sure you’ve read about taking supplements to boost your immune system. Maybe you rushed to the store to purchase supplements such as vitamin C, zinc, elderberry, or other propriety formulas.
Here is skinny on supplements
Some key points about supplements
- They are typically used for people who are deficient in a certain nutrient.
- Supplements not regulated by the FDA, nor are the company’s claims.
- They may be unsafe in some situations.
As dietitians, we focus on evidence-based research.
Most research indicates that supplements don’t give your immune system the boost you are looking for. If we have a healthy diet and don’t have any medical conditions that require supplementation, we typically don’t need supplements.
In fact, getting a “boost” in the immune system might indicate that our immunity is not working properly. A fellow dietitian, Julie Stefanski explains this concept well in this Washington Post article. We want to make sure we have a diet and lifestyle that supports a healthy immune system.
COVID-19 is new and we are on a steep learning curve. What we have learned from past viruses is that there are no miracle supplements out there. However, there may be some supplements that can shorten the duration or help with symptoms.
Popular vitamin C has been studied for decades for its effects on the immune system. In fact, it is being studied now to see if large doses can reduce the duration of COVID-19 like some research indicates for the flu. Some research indicates that vitamin C can shorten the duration of the flu by less than 10%. There are new studies popping up all over the world on its effects on COVID-19. Read more about vitamin C and the coronavirus here.
Disappointedly, there is no research indicating that vitamin C will prevent you from getting COVID-19. In fact, it is important to note that high levels of vitamin C can cause diarrhea and kidney stones.
Zinc & Elderberry
While zinc and elderberry have been in the spotlight recently, the research is still raw on the effects on the immune system and its relationship to viruses.
Zinc has been known to keep the immune system strong and healthy. Food sources of zinc include are chickpeas, lentils, and fortified cereals can help support the immune system. Smaller studies have indicated that zinc may decrease the duration of the common cold in larger doses.
Elderberry is linked to supporting the immune system and reducing upper respiratory illness in the cold and flu. While elderberry may not prevent illness, it may reduce symptoms. You can make your own elderberry syrup or purchase as a supplement.
What to look for in a supplement
Taking a supplement won’t likely hurt you. However, taking a supplement doesn’t mean you will be supercharging your immune system. It really becomes a personal and financial choice.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to take a supplement.
1. Purity. Since supplements are not FDA-regulated, there is no government agency checking for purity or toxins. Companies can hire a trusted third-party to have this testing done. A popular certification is USP. You should select supplements that have the USP logo on it.
2. Upper Limits. Keep in mind that some supplements cannot be taken in large quantities. You can look up the limits of many supplements here.
3. Source. Make sure that you are purchasing reputable sources, especially online. Check if they are approved retailers of the brand. Also, look at the reviews. We recommend buying straight from the manufacturer.
4. Common Sense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. According to the FDA, there are several companies that have received warnings about false advertisements on treating or preventing COVID-19.
Adding in probiotics
There is a lot of information out there about the immune-boosting benefits of probiotics or should say immune-supporting benefits. The key is to consume the right strains of probiotics.
How to use probiotics
Consistently eat foods that have probiotics. Food such as yogurt, raw sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and kimchee are great. Drinks such as Kombucha and Kefir are a good choice to add to the mix.
Remember that these foods help to grow the intestinal colonies. In order to feed these colonies, you need to feed them with prebiotics. Prebiotics are fibrous foods such as vegetables and fruits. Consistency is key!
Drinking herbal teas to help fight off COVID – 19 and boost your immune system.
Many medicinal teas claim to help boost the immune system, however, these are modest at best when it comes to giving your immune system a push. There have been some studies that show benefits to drinking green and black tea, however, most medicinal teas do not have either of these types of tea in them. There is very little solid scientific proof that drinking herbal or medicinal teas will boost your immune system.
So how do you keep a healthy immune system?
1. Exercise daily to keep your immune system healthy – 150 min/week is best.
One way you can support a healthy immune system is to make sure you are active every day. Exercise gives the body a little extra push in the right direction. Simply walking around your neighborhood is enough to keep your immune system healthy. Exercising 150 minutes each week is ideal.
2. Support a healthy immune system with fruits and vegetables.
Try to make each meal at least half fruit and vegetables. This will go a long way to give your body the nutrients it needs to fight off viruses and bacterial infections. Load meals and snack times up with lots of fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system in top-notch. For more ideas on how to do this, schedule an appointment with one of our dietitians!
3. Vitamin D is amazing for the immune system.
Vitamin D has been shown to really support the immune system. So go outside and get a little sunshine! Keep in mind that being in the sun without sunscreen can increase your risk of skin cancer, so you want to make sure you talk to your doctor about what the right amount is for you.
You can always take a vitamin D supplement to get the vitamin D that you need. It is important to note that you can take too much vitamin, so before starting to supplement with Vitamin D you should take to your doctor or even get a labs.
4. Find ways to reduce your stress level.
Stress is horrible for the immune system and can inhibit its ability to fight diseases and keep you well. Stress releases the hormone corticosteroid, which can suppress the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that fights bacteria and viruses). Simply Psychology explains this full process in greater detail.
Right now, especially when we are extremely stressed and scared of what will happen in the future, it’s easier said than done. However, doing something every day to decrease your stress level will significantly help to keep your immunity up. If that means painting, doing yoga, drawing, sewing, taking a hot bath, reading a book or magazine, meditating or praying, playing with your dog or anything that can help you reduce your stress. Read more about stress management.
Often time people find stress relief with meeting with a health coach. Tracy Lira, our certified health coach has great things with our clients. You can learn by setting up a Learn More call for free.
5. Get your probiotics in the natural form, from food, not supplements.
Want to use probiotics to keep your immune system healthy? Do it in its best form: naturally-occurring in foods. The strain of probiotics in these foods are the ones your body needs to fight off illness. Find the best probiotics for your immunity in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, cottage cheese, kefir, tempeh, miso, and pickles.
Remember to follow us on our Facebook page and Instagram for more upcoming health information on how to cope with this new and novel COVID – 19. We are still open for virtual nutrition visits if you would like to schedule an education/consultation session with one our of dietitians.