Don’t Be Caught with Your Immunity Down
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has swept through the entire globe leaving people devastated with not only many deaths but with economic and social consequences. But like any life crisis, everyone will come out of this learning a lot and I believe the future will be brighter if we can take these lessons to heart.
We can focus on any number of aspects of how this disease will change society but my interest lies in the health of the American people. You see, this pandemic has shown what many of us have already known – your current state of health is directly related to your immunity and ability to fight off disease. We have learned that although young people are not immune, older people and those with underlying risk factors are the ones dying from complications of COVID- 19 at much higher rates(1). With that said, there will always be exceptions but in general, I think it is fair to say that healthy people have been able to fight off this virus the same way they would fight the common cold or flu.
So how do we take this knowledge to better prepare ourselves for the future? Can we avoid being a statistic from something like coronavirus? And since this virus may not entirely go away, how do we protect ourselves once the country returns to normal?
To answer these questions, we need to look at what factors contribute to a lower immune system. We know that gut health, diet and genetics can all influence immunity but now we are seeing underlying diseases and obesity putting people in a high-risk group for COVID-19 complications and death (1). In addition, the elderly with lowered immune response are also at greater risk. The good news, is that we can reach a state of optimal health and high immunity with diet, exercise and lifestyle changes. We don’t need drugs. The number one course of action will be diet. You are what you eat has never been a more important statement to make then right now in our current circumstances.
Now, with that said, I get that there are genetic variations in a person’s ability to reach optimal health. Some people are going to be more prone to diabetes, heart disease and immune deficiencies but the majority of people can improve their health with diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors. Let’s take a look at the most important changes we can make to help our bodies reach optimal immune response and avoid being caught with our immunity down.
Maintain an Ideal Body Weight
Studies beginning to come out of this epidemic are showing that obesity is a risk factor (2). It makes sense that an obese person is more likely to have an underlying disorder that increased their risk such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, hypertension however it is also likely that how they eat affects their ability to have a strong immune system. We know that obesity increases risk for autoimmune disease as well as cancer and both of these are related to our bodies immune function. Even a small amount of weight loss can make a big difference in overall health. Weight loss and health go hand in hand so now is the time to take the steps to eat right and exercise to reach and maintain a healthy body weight.
Improve Gut Health
The immune system begins in the gut. The saying goes that 70-80% of immunity is related to a healthy gut (3). I personally believe that in our country we have an epidemic of unhealthy guts. I see it all the time in my practice and I address gut health with every single client that does a nutrition plan with me. Gut health has been disrupted for many reasons but include overuse of antibiotics, C-sections, diets full of sugar, chemicals and fake foods, high fat diets, stress and lack of exercise. The first line of defense to fix your gut is nutrition. Your diet is going to make the largest difference and should be considered before any medications are involved. Supplements can also be helpful in tough cases. Fixing your gut takes time so working with someone and being patient is important to reaching your goal. If you struggle from gut issues such as reflux, bloating, IBS, Crohn’s or any number of related gastrointestinal problems, work with your nutritionist as soon as possible to begin getting your immunity back up.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
What we eat affects not only our gut health but the level of antioxidants in our body. Antioxidants are needed for immune response and as we are seeing with COVID-19, some doctors are experimenting with vitamin C and zinc to help fight the virus. The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is high in animal proteins, sugar and processed foods and low in immunity boosting fruits and vegetables. Eating a plant-based diet and choosing small portions of lean, organic animal proteins will not only start to fix your gut and help you lose weight but will provide you with a variety of immune boosting nutrients. I know there is a lot of confusion out there about which diet to follow but evidence-based research always leads back to a plant-based diet high in immune boosting anti-oxidants for a healthy body both inside and out.
Take Immune Fighting Supplements
Although food should always be your medicine first, many of us can benefit from a boost. This is especially true if you do not always follow a healthy diet on a day to day basis or perhaps you really struggle to get enough fruits and vegetables. There is evidence that deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, Vitamins A, B6, C and E can alter immune response (4). We also know that maintaining optimal vitamin D levels can improve immune response, reduce risk of respiratory infections and enhance our fighting white blood cells and decrease inflammation(5). Herbs and mushrooms might also help with immune response. So, let’s take a look at a few supplements and how to use them properly.
Vitamin D – Maintaining Vitamin D levels in a healthy range requires you to check with your doctor to obtain your current level so the amount needed can be determined. Most people will fall into a healthy level between 2000 and 5000 IU per day. We don’t want to overdo Vitamin D as it is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the liver and cause harm in higher than needed amounts. Everyone should know their Vitamin D levels and be supplementing as needed to obtain a healthy, immune boosting level at all times.
Zinc – Zinc is a common deficiency seen in our country and is associated with increased risk of disease such as pneumonia (5). Since our diets are often low in zinc, supplementing on a regular basis with a small dose should help you maintain a healthy immune response on a day to day basis. It is recommended to stick with about 30-40 mg per day. Using extra zinc in the form of zinc lozenges if you begin to show symptoms ofa viral infection can be helpful in fighting it off.
Vitamin C – We have all heard of the effects of vitamin C for helping to fight off a cold or flu but now with COVID-19 some doctors are using intravenous Vitamin C at high doses (6) and appears to be able to help the lungs fight back (7). Since Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, we can use higher amounts without worry. I like Liposomal Vitamin C and take it daily.
Elderberry – This was all the rage last year but I don’t see it so much with the COVID-19 outbreak. I do keep it on hand in case I feel under the weather. Elderberry needs more testing however it has been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties and appears to reduce the length of respiratory infections (8).
Medicinal Mushrooms – Mushrooms of many variety have been shown to benefit immune health but more research is needed (9). Cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, shitake, reishi and turkey are some of the ones studied. I personally love my mushroom teas and recommend them to all my clients. These teas make great substitutes for coffee and you can find them with or without coffee added. Check them out under Some of My Favorite Things for Healthy Recipes and Meals.
Oil of Oregano – This is my weapon for avoiding getting sick if I am traveling or exposed to someone that is ill. Right now I am taking one daily “just in case” I should run into someone with COVID-19. The active ingredient in oil of oregano is carvacrol which has been shown to have antiviral factors, breaking up the virus before it can get into your system (9).
Quercetin – This supplement is rarely heard about in the mainstream media however studies are currently running to determine the effectiveness of this with zinc in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. Eastern Virginia Medical School has this with zinc as part of their COVID protocol for mild cases but I think for preventative care this could be a game changer (see link below for Covid Protocol).
For the other vitamins and minerals listed above, I recommend a good multi vitamin on a daily basis if you are not eating a plant-based diet high in fruits and vegetables to assure you get the necessary vitamins needed.
Moderate exercise has been found to increase immune response (10) while those that exercise too intensely might decrease their immunity (11). In general, though, exercise will help fight obesity which also is a risk factor for lowered immunity so it possibly works in several ways to combat illness. I like to recommend high intensity exercise no more than 2-3 times a week for maximum fat burn and other benefits while keeping the remainder of the sessions at a more moderate level. If you feel under the weather light to moderate exercise can increase infection fighting cells while over exertion will decrease your immune response, often pushing you into an illness you might otherwise been able to fight off.
How we live our lives on a daily basis will affect our immunity. Here are a few things to focus on for optimal health.
Sleep – I can’t emphasis enough how important sleep is to our immune health. I find that my clients often treat sleep like an afterthought not bothering to make time for this most important part of our day. Sleep increases your body’s ability to make enough cytokines, a protein which targets infections and inflammation and creates an immune response. Studies show that insufficient sleep leads to more infections and even the flu vaccine becomes less effective for people who don’t take the time to get proper sleep (12). Although it varies from person to person, sleeping between 7-8
hours per night is critical for your health. Learn more about how sleep affects immunity here.
Quit Smoking – Smoking is going to decrease immunity and as we found in COVID-19, smokers had a higher risk of developing life-threatening symptoms (13). Smoking also decreases the cytokine response like lack of sleep but it harms our immune system in a variety of other ways also (14). Suffice it to say, the damage to the lungs from smoking also increases risk of infections.
Reduce Stress – We know that stress causes adaptions in the body that affect immunity (15). Stress can affect children and adults and we often see long term health issues with people that have continuous stress in their lives. To reduce stress, take the time to practice mindfulness, mediation, prayer, exercise and downtime and get your quality sleep.
In conclusion, we want to come out the other side of this tragic event having learned something that not only makes us a better person but helps us to live a better life. Americans are a group of very unhealthy individuals with obesity and chronic disease taking the lives of millions of Americans daily. Let COVID-19 be a life lesson for you to take the time to take care of your health.
If you need help, I am here with customized diet plans, daily nutrition coaching and exercise plans both in person and virtual. I’d love to help you reach your optimal health goals so you don’t get caught with your immunity down.
Are you looking to transform your health? Mary works with clients all over the country developing personalized nutrition and exercise plans for weight loss and health. If you’re ready to get started on your journey to health and wellness contact her today!
- 1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/groups-at-higher-risk.html
- 2. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/04/new-york-obesity-appears-raise-covid-19-risk
- 3. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060112p58.shtml
- 4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
- 5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/immune-boosting-supplements#2.-Zinc
- 6. https://www.newsweek.com/new-york-hospitals-vitamin-c-coronavirus-patients-1494407
- 7. https://local12.com/health/medical-edge-reports/iv-vitamin-c-being-used-to-fight-covid-19
- 8. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/immune-boosting-supplements#4.-Elderberry
- 9. https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jam.12453/
- 10. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827610392876
- 11. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-2007-1021128
- 12. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity
- 13. https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-covid-19-risk-and-smoking.html
- 14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5352117/
- 15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/