How to boost your immune system
This is not a keto-specific post, but with the COVID-19 virus spreading rapidly in the United States, immune health is something we all need to be thinking about. I’ve read estimates that 50-70% of the global population is expected to be infected with coronavirus within the next 12-18 months, which is how long it could take to develop and test a vaccine. Social distancing measures will help slow it down — which is important so that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed — but won’t completely contain it. We’re past that point and this thing spreads fast.
It’s crucial to stay healthy as the virus spreads. Fortunately, there are things we can do right now to boost our immunity while we wait to see how things unfold in the next few weeks. I fully expect to be exposed to COVID-19. I probably already have been. My husband is an ICU nurse and took care of a coronavirus patient yesterday.
If you’re healthy with no underlying conditions, you have a low risk of serious illness. The World Health Organization reports that 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild to moderate. Most people will have a mild case, with a fever, dry cough, and some aches and pains. Those at risk of a serious or severe illness tend to be older people and those with other underlying health issues or immunodeficiencies. If you’re in these groups, stay home if at all possible, avoid people, and follow all the advice to practice good hygiene. I thought this article written by a critical care anesthesiologist had some good info and advice in it.
For those of us who are generally healthy but could probably stand to strengthen our immune systems (which is a lot of us), here’s what I’ve been doing to keep my immune system strong and hopefully minimize the severity and duration of the virus when it does hit.
Get these vitamins
Three important vitamins to focus on right now are vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
We all know vitamin C helps boost the immune system. The RDA for vitamin C is only 90 mg, but you can take much more. In one study, people with virus-induced respiratory infections who were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C three times a day experienced an 85% improvement in symptoms.
I’m drinking Emergen-C every day, which has 1,000 mg of vitamin C. Plus I get more from food. Vitamin C is considered safe in almost any amount when it’s obtained from food. I wrote more about vitamin C in this blog post for Balance the Superfood Shot.
Good sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, acerola cherries, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Vitamin D also helps protect against respiratory infections. Vitamin D deficiencies are extremely common. It’s in few foods; your skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Right now it’s still pretty wet and wintry where I live, plus we’re all spending more time inside if we’re practicing social distancing. So you probably need a vitamin D supplement. I take 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily, plus there’s 1,000 more IU in the Emergen-C.
The RDA for vitamin D is only 600 IU, but that’s probably not enough. Some researchers recommend as much as 8,000 IU. One formula you can use is this: take 1,000 IU per 25 pounds of body weight, but no more than 10,000. So if you weigh 150 lbs, that’s (150 / 25) x 1000 = 6000 IU daily.
Vitamin A also supports the immune system. Vitamin A deficiency is linked to an increased risk of respiratory infection as well as prolonged symptoms. You need to get vitamin A from food; supplements have not been found to provide the same benefits.
Good sources of vitamin A are orange and yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, apricots, and pumpkins, as well as red peppers, spinach and other leafy greens, and broccoli.
Inflammatory foods keep your immune system busy fighting inflammation. Reduce your intake of sugar, soda, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, trans fats, fried foods, artificial sweeteners, and vegetable oils. Take it easy on the alcohol. (I’m drinking a fair amount of wine right now so no judgment but try to keep it in moderation.)
Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Some of the best are leafy greens, berries, cherries, green vegetables, olives and olive oil, coconut oil, tomatoes, bell peppers, and avocados. Vitamin D also helps reduce inflammation, as do turmeric and green tea (I’m drinking matcha every day).
Improve your digestive health
Seventy percent of the immune system is in the gut. If you have digestive problems like gas, bloating, or constipation, your immune system is likely weakened. Cutting back on the inflammatory foods listed above will help. If you have digestive issues, I also suggest cutting out wheat and dairy. I know, I know, we all need our coping mechanisms right now. Do what you can.
Sidebar: Americans spend $800 million every year on laxatives! That’s insane! If you’re eating lots of fruits and vegetables (more on that later), you should be more regular. I make a green smoothie every morning with coconut oil (a natural laxative); between that and my morning coffee, I’m good to go. Another thing that can help is squeezing half a lemon into a glass of water.
You may also need to take a probiotic to support your intestinal microbiome. I wrote about microbiome imbalances and probiotic foods here.
Get these 3 things in every meal
I’ve written about this before. Every meal should contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients), protein, and healthy fats.
Phytonutrients come from your fruits and vegetables. Most Americans don’t get enough. I also wrote about this for Balance the Superfood Shot. Ideally, you want non-starchy fruits and vegetables in different colors. This does not mean potatoes or corn. This means leafy greens, berries, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, etc.
Phytonutrients also give fruits and veggies their color, so differently colored foods offer different health benefits. This is why health experts and nutritionists are saying to “eat the rainbow.”
Protein is necessary to help your body build new tissue. If you eat meat, you probably get enough protein, but try to focus on clean sources of protein. If your budget allows, buy grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild-caught salmon.
Healthy fat. Fat still has such a bad rap. You need fat in your diet. Fat is necessary in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Guess what vitamins are fat soluble! Vitamins A and D! Plus vitamins E and K. We could talk lots more about fat (that’s pretty much what this whole blog is about), but for now, make sure you’re eating healthy sources of fat like olives and olive oil (olives contain some antioxidants that aren’t found in any other foods), avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut, even dark chocolate! I also take a fish oil supplement.
Other things that are good for your immune system
Manage stress, which weakens the immune system. We’re probably all feeling a certain level of anxiety right now. Find healthy approaches to stress management that work for you. I meditate every day. Yoga and exercise are also great for stress.
Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system. Make sure you get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night.
Exercise. Low- and moderate-intensity exercise naturally lowers cortisol and helps with immune function. If you don’t want to expose yourself to germs at the gym, take a run outside or do some yoga. Don’t overdo it, though, because too much exercise is stressful on the body.
Oh, and if you smoke, stop now!
This is a lot of info and I’m not suggesting everyone try to overall their diet right now in the midst of everything else. Again, do what you can. I’m here if you need help.