Every single day millions of viruses fall on the ground from the air. Add many more bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, and you will realize that trillions upon trillions of microorganisms surround us.
Why then are billions of us alive, you may wonder? The answer is straightforward: your body has powerful build-in mechanisms to fight these microbes. However, the strength of this mechanism depends on your health. Some bacteria are harder to fight than others, maintaining the health of your immune system is imperative for minimizing your risk of illness. Now, with the new COVID-19 outbreak, it is more important than ever to keep your immune system and overall health strong.
Discover your body’s self-defense mechanisms:
Your immune system is working 24/7 to protect you against viruses and other microbes. Understanding how your immune system works is essential. While researchers and scientists are in the process of creating effective vaccines and therapies, you can do your part to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong. According to the British Society for Immunology, there are 3 specific mechanisms that your immune system uses to eradicate viruses:
T cells – A particular cell of the immune system called a T cell normally circulates looking for infections. One type of T cell called a cytotoxic T cell targets explicitly cells that are infected with viruses.There are also natural killer (NK) cells that specialize in eliminating infected cells.
Interferons – The cells that become infected with a virus release interferons. Interferons are proteins that have potent antiviral effects. Interferons prevent the replication of the viruses inside these infected cells. Interferons are also created synthetically in the labs and prescribed by doctors to manage severe infections.
Antibodies Viruses are also eliminated from the body by antibodies before they get inside the cells and infect them. Antibodies are specialized proteins that can recognize microbes and bind to them. Once the antibodies bind to these microorganisms, a few other processes are triggered in the body, which further help to eliminate the infection
The top 4 ways to keep your immune system strong and healthy:
80% of the immune system is in your gut! In addition, your stomach is the home of 100 trillion beneficial microbes, which make up the gut microbiota or gut flora. Your gut flora sends instructions to the immune system, directly fights the harmful germs, and plays a crucial role in your digestion.
In other words, a healthy gut = health immune system = a healthier you.
“Food is Medicine,” said Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine. He believed that eating wholesome food is the basis for good health, and he was right. Research shows that highly processed foods and high sugar foods, depress the immune system function, and create inflammation.
Here are the top 8 tips to consider:
- Set up a specific time to eat your meals to avoid snacking. If you choose to snack, select a small portion of carrots, celery sticks, or some nuts and seeds.
- Eat a variety of veggies, as they are a great source of fibers, vitamins, and minerals, as well as phytophenols (plant chemicals), which support healthy digestion.
- Increase your protein intake (unless your doctor recommended otherwise), as proteins are essential for immune health. Wild-caught fish, free-range eggs, antibiotic and hormone-free chicken, and turkey. Animal proteins are best
- Include some healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and coconut oil.
- Avoid cold drinks or ice cream. Choose instead hot drinks, teas or soups. Enjoy a hot chocolate – cacao is filled with immune-boosting nutrients.
- Your gut flora also needs probiotics. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt and kefir (choose goat, sheep or buffalo if possible), kombucha, and homemade pickled vegetables. Apple cider vinegar is also a great option – choose organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with mother.
- Include plenty of herbs and spices – turmeric, ginger, and black seed all help reduce inflammation and support a healthy immune system. Don’t forget garlic and onion too.
- Have your last meal 4 hours before you go to bed, so you can get a good night’s sleep. Fasting for 12-14 hours (including the time you sleep) further supports your immune system.
Need some cooking ideas? Here are 21 healthy, low carb recipes
We mentioned earlier that NK (natural killer) cells of the immune system are working hard to protect against viral infections. Well, science shows that NK cells are the most responsive immune cells to exercise. According to Medline, several theories link a healthy immune system with regular exercise:
- Firstly, physical activity may help flush the microbes from the airways, thus reducing the risk of getting a viral infection.
- Secondly, exercise has a positive impact on antibodies and white blood cells.
- Thirdly, exercise promotes a rise in body temperature, which may prevent the microbes from replication
- Finally, exercise reduces the release of stress hormones, which further protect against catching an infection.
Beyond boosting the immune system, exercise improves your mood, reducing stress and anxiety levels. Let’s not forget that staying active reduces the risk of gaining extra pounds during the self-isolation period.
Consider the following tips:
- Make exercise a priority. It is best to exercise in the morning. Aim for 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
- Avoid very intense exercise, and choose Yoga, Pilates, or aerobic training instead. Find a few YouTube workouts that you enjoy and use them regularly
- If you can’t run, jump. If you do not have too much space available, consider investing in a mini-trampoline. Rebounding stimulates the lymphatic system, which works closely with the immune system to fight microbes.
Sleep well. Sleep has many health benefits and sleeping 7-8 hours every night helps reduce the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. It also supports the immune system and helps fight infections. According to Mayo Clinic experts, not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as Coronaviruses causing the common cold. Lack of sleep can also slow recovery if you do get sick. Furthermore, the infection-fighting antibodies and cells are decreased during periods of sleep deprivation.
Consider the following tips:
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep. Keep in mind that the best, healthiest, and most restorative sleep is between 10 pm and 2 pm, therefore try to get as many hours of sleep as you can during this time
- Keep your room completely dark. Use a blackout curtain to eliminate any source of light. Blue light from your phone or TV suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other type of light. Make sure you don’t have any electronic devices on during your sleep. Turn off your wifi
- Keep the temperature of your room cooler (about 20-21C/ 68-70 F), as this temperature promotes a more profound, better sleep.
Zinc – According to Ann Shippy MD, a protocol of hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) + Azithromycin + Vitamin C + Zinc is clearly working for many of the front line physicians caring for patients with the coronavirus. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system.
It is crucial for the normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and NK cells. Zinc deficiency can affect macrophages, phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production; adversely affecting the growth and function of T and B cells. Health experts advised taking at least 25mg per day of zinc chelate, more in the event of illness.
Vitamin C– New York State’s largest hospitals are currently using vitamin C intravenous in addition to prescription medications to treat COVID-19. This therapy was also used with success in China to manage severe cases of COVID-19. Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, China, is conducting clinical trials on the benefits of high dose intravenous vitamin C on COVID-19 patients. Taking vitamin C in oral form also helps. Health experts recommend at least 1000 mg of vitamin C.
Vitamin D– In a recent article for Fox News, former CDC Chief Dr. Tom Frieden has explained that coronavirus infection risk may be reduced by Vitamin D. Based on research studies, Frieden further explains that vitamin D supplementation can decrease the risk of respiratory infections. This nutrient also regulates cytokine production and can reduce the risk of influenza and other viral infections. The respiratory infection leads to so-called cytokine storms, causing damage throughout the body, raising the risk of death for those with COVID-19. Correcting Vitamin D deficiency could be particularly helpful for vulnerable populations like the elderly or immunocompromised. How much vitamin should you take? The safe upper limit is considered 10,000, while most nutrition experts recommend at least 5000 UI.
Herbs– Herbs have potent antimicrobial effects; however, they should be used under medical supervision to avoid possible interactions with prescription drugs. Among herbs, echinacea has been researched in many scientific studies for its antiviral qualities. Elderberry and olive leaf extract also have well documented antiviral effects. Licorice shows unique benefits against coronaviruses (including SARS), but should not be used if you have high blood pressure. Several herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine were also found to have activity against coronaviruses. Maintaining the health of your immune system is imperative for minimizing your risk and severity of illness. Be proactive and safeguard your health.