Boosting Your Immune System During the COVID Pandemic
Key Takeaways From This Article:
- Currently there are NO COVID-19 products, vaccines, or cures approved by any medical organizations such as the CDC or WHO
- Best way to boost immunity is through key basic steps: healthy diet, regular sleep, stress management
- Most people who do get COVID-19 will treat themselves from home and should self-isolate themselves from anyone else they live with
- As scary as the new virus epidemic may seem, we are still in control and can take steps to protect our immune systems and ourselves
Note: This article was written with the information that was available at the time. Last updated: April 3, 2020
That’s certainly a terrifying word. Watching the news right now and seeing various countries tirelessly battle with this new COVID-19 virus while hearing the numbers of the dead or infected steadily rise up can seem like something out of a horror film.
Every day something new is being reported, old information thrown out, new problems uncovered, and we’re left wondering just how to protect ourselves. And in this time of uncertainty, there are the scared or the unscrupulous promoting preventives and cure-alls that at best, don’t help, or at worst, are actually harmful.
Currently, there are no COVID-19 cures approved by any medical organization such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). There are no vaccines or natural health products that are authorized to treat or protect against this virus. It’s easy with anxiety at such high levels to snap up whatever is promising to shield us from this new virus. So to ease our minds and to protect ourselves against predatory or useless cures, let’s talk about what we can do to boost and protect our immunity against this new virus, based on the information and data provided to us by the CDC, WHO, and reputable medical research teams across the country.
How To Boost Our Immunity
It should be noted that there is no one thing that you can do to suddenly boost your immunity overnight. It’s like dieting or learning to ride a bike—you do it in steady, gradual steps. But when these steps are taken, it can lead us to a strong and healthy immune system.
A healthy balanced diet is the underpinning of a healthy, strong immunity. But one very important thing to note—there is no one superfood that fixes everything! There are people touting the benefits of garlic water or bee pollen right now as superfood cure-alls against virus infections but it’s the balance of different foods that protect us. The best thing to remember is having a healthy variety of foods.
Many of us are experiencing shutdown (e.g., shelter-in-place, quarantine), with whole cities going quiet as we all stay home to protect ourselves and others. This has led many to raid grocery stores, buying up dried and canned goods as if the world was going to end. But for now trips to the grocery stores are still allowed. And food is not in short supply. Don’t feel compelled to eat only what is dried or canned or frozen. Fresh fruit and vegetables play a key role in keeping you healthy through this crisis.
For example, vitamin A helps maintain the mucosal lining of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract to protect against infection. It also strengthens the immune system to help fight off invasive viruses or bacteria. And vitamin A can be found in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, and eggs.
Some studies have found that zinc can reduce the duration of colds by about a day and may reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children. Zinc can be found in pumpkin, spinach, shellfish, and meats.
Vitamin D has also shown promising research results suggesting it can help your body fight off respiratory illness. One study of 25 randomized controlled trials of 11,000 patients showed an overall protective effect of vitamin D supplementation against acute respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish such as salmon or also in milk fortified with vitamin D. You can also increase vitamin D levels with sun exposure—a good idea when self-isolating or quarantining. A short time outside can help not only increase vitamin D levels but also help boost mood.
Healthy sleep habits means healthy immune system. Research has shown that people who were short sleepers, those who regularly slept less than six hours a night, were 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold compared to those who got more than seven hours of sleep. The risk was even higher when a person slept less than five hours a night.
Right now, with this big disruption in our lives, it’s easy to fall off of our schedules. Our daily rhythm might fall off beat. When we wake up, eat, or fall asleep may now be totally out of whack. It can be hard to have a sense of time and progression right now when everything seems to be at a standstill but it’s important for our body’s health and protection to try and maintain some semblance of order. On top of affecting our immune systems, loss of sleep or irregular sleep can also affect our moods. And right now, it’s just as important to keep our mental as well as our physical states healthy.
Try to sleep at a regular time so that you can wake up at a regular time. You want to have at least six to seven hours of sleep a night. Avoid screens or late night eating before bed.
This is probably going to sound like the most impossible step in improving immunity right now but it’s one of the most important—lowering stress. Stress can have an incredible impact on the body, making it more susceptible to infections or slowing down its responses to healing.
Carnegie Mellon performed a study spanning twenty years where volunteers were exposed to the cold virus using nasal droplets and then quarantined for observation. The researchers found that people who reported less stress in their lives were less likely to develop cold symptoms. Another interesting study done at Ohio State University studied the effects of martial conflict in regards to immune response. The researched inflicted small wounds on the arms of volunteers and then asked couples to discuss topics both pleasant and stressful. When couples argued, their wounds took, on average, a full day longer to heal than after the sessions in which the couples discussed something pleasant. Among couples who exhibited especially high levels of hostility, the wounds took two days longer to heal.
It can feel impossible to avoid stress right now. Turning on any type of media bombards us with a stream of frightening information. But for our health, it is important to take the time and effort to separate ourselves mentally from that chaos and to find a level of quiet within us. With so many of us having time to ourselves at home, this might be a good chance to learn or improve our meditation skills. Deep breathing or short walks outside can help clear our heads and lower our stress levels.
And for those of us living with partners, it can be tough at first to spend so much time together in a confined space. But as the Ohio State University research has shown us, couples should learn to give their partners a little space where they can so that both individuals can lower their stress. Good communication is key.
Also don’t forget that staying indoors all day, away from sun, can also affect our mood and raise our stress. Low levels of vitamin D can also cause fatigue and muscle pain. Even just fifteen minutes spent in sunlight can help elevate mood and decrease stress levels. So if you have some yard space, enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t, as long as you keep a healthy distance away from others, you can still give yourself a breath of fresh air.
These suggestions may not seem like revolutionary steps in protecting ourselves but sometimes the basics are best. Right now, these steps are our most effective defense against this virus. Good diet, sleep, and stress management are the foundational building blocks of a healthy immune system.
And you can always be more proactive and look to alternative options for keeping ourselves healthy and sane. For example, oregano oil is known for antifungal and antioxidant properties, making it helpful against bacterial infections or fevers and respiratory problems. Eucalyptus and Basil oil also have anti-inflammatory properties to aid against coughs and the mucus associated with respiratory issues. It can’t hurt to have an extra set of remedies, if only for peace of mind.
But remember, none of those steps are worth much if we don’t also follow proper sanitation steps.
Don’t forget to properly and regularly wash your hands with soap and water! Always cough or sneeze into your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
But what if you think you might have COVID-19? What if you’ve already caught it? What can you do then to aid in your recovery?
If you are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 such as sore throat, runny nose, or aches and pains, don’t panic. According to the WHO, most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However if you are older or someone with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart problems, you should seek medical attention.
But if you don’t fall under those categories, most of us will be treating ourselves at home.
If you feel you have the symptoms of COVID-19:
Self-isolate yourself. If you are living with others, designate a room to yourself if possible. If wearing a mask hinders your breathing, anyone else coming into that room should wear a mask.
Do not share dishes, glasses, or utensils with anybody else. Avoid contact with pets, if those pets will be touched by other members of your family. All ‘high touch’ surfaces should be regularly cleaned with disinfectant. Even better if the person infected can designate a bathroom to themself. Essentially any shared item or surface should either be cleaned regularly or not touched at all.
Monitor your symptoms. Again, most people will recover without needing special medical care. But keep an eye out for difficulty breathing or persistent pain in the chest or bluish lips or face. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Otherwise, follow the same immune boosting steps above. Eat as best you can, rest as much as you can, and try to keep your stress levels low. No bee pollen. No garlic water. No tonics or cures. These simple steps are truly the best things you can do for your body to fight off this virus.
There are some people following trendy or wacky or just reckless cures for COVID-19. A lot of unscrupulous businesses are also trying to take advantage of the panic to sell fake cures to the panicked. Several megachurches have claimed their holy water can kill the virus while also encouraging large congregations to continue gathering every week. This is incredibly dangerous and reckless for the community’s health as a whole. The Chinese government has recently released a list of Western and Eastern medicines to treat COVID-19 and one of the treatments is made of bear bile. This will not cure or treat the virus in any manner and will only be an ecological terror on the bear population in China. As tempting as it might feel to grab the nearest cure, this virus is too new for any one organization to have found a cure for. Please be mindful of your health and wallet and do not purchase unscrupulous and possibly dangerous fad cures.
With all the news reports overwhelming us every day with updates on the new virus and its rampant infective impact not the world, it’s important to remember that we are still in control. We can still protect ourselves. By taking it day by day, following these simple steps and whatever city or state-wide measures that are in place, we can make sure that our bodies are properly fueled and protected to fight off any infections that come our way.
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