Do you want to boost your immune system? I was recently asked “What was I doing to boost my immune system?” This got me thinking about what do we know about this… Here is my research.
The strength of our immune system is largely determined by modifiable factors. This means that you have the ability to change these factors. Lifestyle factors like stress, sleep, diet and exercise (as well as the germs we have been exposed to during our lifetime) all play a role in the strength of our immune response.
There is no magic pill or supplement or food that will irrefutably bolster your immune system and protect you from the new coronavirus. But you can take care of yourself to give your immune system the best chance to fight against a respiratory illness.
Lower your stress. Worrying will not help anything. Consider yoga or meditation. There are many free apps to help get you started: Inscape. Calm. Headspace. Consider talking to a therapist or a trusted friend to help release stress and feel more at peace.
Improve your sleep habits. Those who sleep less than 6 hours per night are 4 times more likely to catch a cold compared to those who sleep more than 6 hours per night. A sleep-deprived immune system doesn’t work as well as a well-rested one. Even if you are isolating at home or your work schedule has changed due to the pandemic, stick to a regular bedtime and wake schedule. Avoid tv or screens at bedtime. Don’t eat before bed as this can increase your symptoms of heartburn. Don’t exercise immediately before bed as most people find this activating and difficult to induce sleep.
Vitamin D may help. May. Some studies have shown no immune benefit from vitamin D but a metanalysis of 11,000 patients showed some protection against respiratory infections. These benefits may take months to work, but if you would like to try. Start now. Vitamin D3 is available over the counter. 2000 IU a day is a routine dose. In the current times of the pandemic, I would NOT suggesting get a lab order to check your vitamin D level. You can find vitamin D in salmon (and other fatty fish), milk or vitamin-D fortified foods. Sun exposure can also increase our vitamin D in our bodies, but most of us are covered in clothing and do not get sufficient amount solely from the sun.
What else can you do to help booster your immune system? Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Men drinking more than 14 drinks per week, or women more than 7 per week is considered excessive. This amount of alcohol may impair immune function, alter your gut microbiome, and damage the lungs. Also, avoid binge alcohol intake.
Eat a balanced diet, exercise and skip unproven supplements. I spoke with a patient recently who had started a handful of “immune booster” supplements and was suffering from gastrointestinal distress. I advised to stop the new supplements, which doubtful were going to help, and instead eat fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Be healthful. It is unknown if garlic or elderberry or turmeric or oregano oil or ginger help significantly.
Should you take zinc? First ask yourself if you have a healthful diet and if so, you most likely get all the zinc needed from food. Zinc supplements and lozenges are popular. Zinc may reduce the duration of cold by about a day and, may reduce the number of upper respiratory infections in children. Nausea is a common side effect of taking zinc supplements.
Don’t smoke. Smoking never helps any part of the body and it certainly weakens the lungs ability to clear secretions and to exchange oxygen in the alveoli.
In summary, decrease your exposure to the coronavirus! This is the most important step. Stay home. Only leave to do truly necessary errands: seek medical care or buy groceries. Sleep 7 or more hours per night. Eat healthful foods. Stay calm. Wash your hands for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day. Don’t touch your face.