Please note that to date, there are no diet modifications or supplements that can protect you from developing COVID-19.
Although the strategies listed below can help keep your immune system generally healthy, they don’t specifically protect against the COVID-19 pandemic.
We often talk about how crucial preventative health is. And it’s true! Why work to reverse a disease or recover from an infection when you can prevent one altogether? Having healthy habits and keeping a healthy immune system are the key elements in preventative health.
It is so important to have a healthy immune function. You will especially know this if you suffer from frequent and long-lasting infections.
Fortunately, most ways to keep your immune system are also pillars to good overall healthy lifestyle and wellness.
If you incorporate some of the strategies below, don’t be surprised if you see improvements in other health areas as well, aside from all their great immune benefits!
The importance of a strong immune system
Imperfections in the immune system can lead to disease of various organs. A well functioning immune system provides defense against pathogenic organisms. It also helps to give tolerance to non-threatening organisms, food, and your own body.
The immune system works by providing what is called an exclusion barrier. It does this by identifying and eliminating pathogens. It also identifies and tolerates anything that is not a threat. The immune system also keeps a memory of any past immunological encounters.
The immune response to an infection can lower nutritional status and alter body composition.
The gut-associated lymphoid tissue (called GALT for short) is essential in immune health. This is because of its close proximity to the gastrointestinal tract. The GALT is also highly exposed to food.
A sub-optimal immune response can increase susceptibility to infection. A strong immune system is essential for healing from infection, injury, and even cardiovascular events such as stroke.
Signs of a weak immune system
One significant sign of a weak immune system is if you get sick more often than other healthy people. Another sign is if you stay sick for longer compared to others.
Another sign of a weak immune system is a lack of normal signs of infection. These include symptoms such as swelling, fever, or pus coming out of a wound. These signs could be less obvious or non-existent. That makes it difficult to detect an infection in the first place.
There are a few blood tests that could point to the fact that you have a weak immune system. This could be true if your white blood cell count is low or if your immunoglobulins are low.
How to naturally boost your immune system
Sleep is an important regulator of the immune system. During sleep, the necessary functions to maintain the immune system’s balance are carried out. Sleep can alter the immune system function by causing changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. Sleep can also affect the immune system by carrying out changes in the sympathetic nervous system.
Sleep affects both the innate and adaptive immune systems in our bodies. Getting more and better sleep during an infection gives feedback to the immune system to promote host defense.
Sleep affects various immune parameters. Sleep is associated with a lower risk of infection. Sleep can also improve the outcome of infection and your response to vaccination.
One of the reasons sleep helps the immune system is by triggering a cascade of hormones that support immune functions. Sleep and your circadian rhythm (your “biological clock”) have a strong influence over immune function.
Sleep has a specific role in the formation of immune memory. You also have a neurally integrated immune system that can anticipate injury and infectious threats. Sleep disturbances can lead to dysregulation of inflammatory and antiviral responses.
Research over the past decade shows that sleep disturbance has a powerful influence on the risk of infections. Promoting healthy sleep can be therapeutic for people with chronic infectious diseases.
Sleep is an important modulator of the immune response. If you don’t get enough sleep, this can weaken your immune system. This increases your susceptibility to infections. Shorter sleep duration is linked with a rise in the common cold. Sleep deprivation increases your risk of contracting bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections.
There are multiple explanations for this:
- Impaired reproduction of immune cells
- Decreased expression of an immune antigen called HLA-DR
- Upregulation of CD14+ proteins
- Variations in immune cells called CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes
Sleep is essential to maintaining homeostasis, which is a metabolic balance in the body.
2) Fruits and vegetables
Undernutrition decreases your immune defenses. This can make you more susceptible to infection if you aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. Nutrient deficiencies can also affect immune function in the gut. Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants that can scavenge free radicals and lower inflammation.
3) Limit sugar
Having too much sugar and too many refined carbs in the diet can lead to becoming overweight or obese. Obesity increases the likelihood of contracting infections.
One study done on 1000 people showed that people with obesity were twice as likely to get the flu as individuals of a healthy weight. This was true even of those who received the flu vaccine!
Lowering your sugar intake can help you to lose weight and decrease inflammation in your body. By losing weight and lowering inflammation, you can reduce your risk of chronic health conditions. These include diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system. This is why it is important to cut back on sugar and eat a healthy diet if you want to know how to naturally boost immune system factors.
Try to keep your daily sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. For example, if you are eating 2000 calories per day, you should have about two tablespoons of sugar per day total.
4) Healthy fats
Healthy fats can help to decrease inflammation in the body. This can boost your body’s immune response to pathogens. Even though some degree of inflammation is part of a healthy response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation is not. In fact, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system.
Olive oil has been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil might even help your body to fight off bacteria and viruses.
It is important to note here that we are talking about healthy sources of fat. We don’t want you to eat lots of processed food filled with trans fats. Stick to lean meats and the sources of healthy fats listed below.
Sources of healthy fats include the following foods:
- Olive oil
- Chia seeds
Salmon and chia seeds are full of omega 3 fatty acids. These help to lower inflammation in the body.
Dehydration upsets cell metabolism and wound healing. Making sure you drink enough fluids is necessary to support the blood flow to wounded tissues.
Maintaining hydration doesn’t directly protect you from bacteria and viruses. However, preventing dehydration is important to overall health. Dehydration can cause headaches, poor physical performance, poor focus, low mood, indigestion, and heart and kidney dysfunction. These complications are what can increase your susceptibility to infection.
So how do you know that you’re drinking enough water? Your urine should be pale yellow in color. Although green tea and juice are also fluids, they have caffeine and high sugar content, respectively. Water is free of any calories, sugar, or other additives.
In general, you should drink when you are thirsty and stop once you aren’t anymore. Your fluid requirements may be higher if you perform intense exercise, work outdoors, or live in a hot climate.
Older adults need to drink regularly, even if they don’t feel thirsty. This is because as we age, we start to lose the urge to drink. Thirst signals become confused as we get older. If you are an older adult, try to sip on a water bottle or on a glass of water all throughout the day.
Our immune systems tend to decline as we age. However, exercise might help to prevent this decline in immunity. Exercise can possibly delay the onset of immunological aging. It may also rejuvenate aged immune profiles.
Exercise can powerfully stimulate the immune system. Exercise at the time of vaccination can improve antibody responses to antigens. Exercise can improve lymphocyte immune surveillance. This is where cells search tissues for antigens derived from viruses, bacteria, or malignant transformation. Exercise boosts lymphocyte immune surveillance by boosting lymphocytes in the blood.
Physical activity can be anti-inflammatory. If it is repeated regularly throughout life, it can lower morbidity and mortality from immune and inflammatory diseases.
Regular moderate exercise can reduce symptoms of upper respiratory infections. Regular exercise also has many benefits for individuals infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
As we age, we experience a decline in most cell-mediated and humoral immune responses. Two human studies suggest that immune function is better in highly conditioned elderly subjects than the sedentary subjects.
Mental stress is related to impaired immunity. One of the keys to immune health is lowering anxiety and stress levels. Long term chronic stress promotes inflammation. This then leads to imbalances in the functioning of immune cells. Prolonged psychological stress can suppress the immune response. Stress leads to the release of cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Cortisol can suppress immune function.
Some activities that may help you to manage your stress include the following:
- Mindfulness techniques
- Speaking with a therapist or counselor
Certain probiotic bacteria modify the gut microbiota. They can also enhance immune function in laboratory animals. Scientists say they may be able to do the same in human subjects as well.
Intestinal microflora plays a central role in immune homeostasis and reactivity. The functioning of the microbiota is essential for having an effective immune system. It is also important for overall health.
You can increase your intake of probiotics by taking a supplement. You can also do this by increasing your intake of fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
Selenium is an essential micronutrient. Selenium plays a crucial role in immune responses. The immune system depends on adequate dietary selenium intake. Selenium gets incorporated into selenoproteins. This is mostly how selenium exerts its biological effects.
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D shows immune regulatory potency. Vitamin D works on the macrophage and T cell. They all work together to control inflammation and T cell dysregulation.
One study looked at 110 elderly patients from a geriatric outpatient clinic hospital. They found less of an immune decline in those supplementing with vitamin D. Vitamin D acted as an anti-inflammatory agent. It increased IL-10 and decreased the IL6/IL10 ratio, which is important in immune function. Vitamin D was also able to improve cellular immunity through an increased CD4/CD8 ratio and decreased levels of CD8+.
- Vitamin C
One study looked at more than 11,000 people. They were taking between 1000 and 2000 milligrams of vitamin C per day. Researchers found that they were able to reduce the duration of their cold by 8% in adults and by 14% in children! However, supplementing with vitamin C obviously did not prevent the cold entirely.
One study looked at 575 people with the common cold. They found that supplementing with more than 75 milligrams of zinc per day reduced the cold’s duration by 33%.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E helps boost the immune system. Vitamin E supplementation has beneficial effects on the host immune system. The decreased cellular immunity with aging or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is improved by eating a diet high in vitamin E containing foods.
One study found that elderberry reduces the symptoms of viral respiratory illness. However, the authors stated that more research is needed around this subject.
A study was done in over 700 people. They found that the patients taking Echinacea recovered from their colds more quickly. This was compared to people having either placebo or no treatment at all. However, the authors of the study stated that the difference was not significant.
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a micronutrient and antioxidant. Vitamin A is an anti-inflammatory. Researchers say that vitamin A has a critical role in enhancing immune function.
One study on 146 people looked at garlic supplementation over a 12 week period. They found that garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by 30%. However, the authors concluded that more research is needed in this area of study.
As you can see, having a strong immune system is important. It is crucial to overall health and a key part of preventative medicine. If you have any of the signs of a weak immune system that we mentioned, it’s important that you speak to your health care provider. They will want to rule out any more serious disease processes.
Get a good night’s rest, eat your fruit and vegetables, and limit your sugar. Eat a balanced diet. Eat lots of healthy fats and drink lots of water! Exercise regularly and adopt some stress management techniques like yoga or meditation.
Ask your healthcare provider if probiotics or other dietary supplements are right for you to help boost your immune system. You simply can’t feel like your best when you are sick. Boost your immune system naturally so that you don’t have to go through the hassle of an infection and can go back to living your best life