Ways To Strengthen Your Immune System During The Pandemic
Posted: April 28, 2020
Here are some general guidelines for strengthening your immune system. Will these practices protect you from contracting COVID-19? There is no way to tell, but eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing stress certainly can’t hurt! I also discuss the impact of aging on our immune system.
Immunity and Nourishment
Everyone agrees that one of the components of a healthy immune system is a well-balanced diet. Decades of research shows that those who live in poverty, without access to nutritious foods, are more likely to contract infectious diseases.
Many dietitians recommend following the Mediterranean Diet. Here it is:
- The majority of your diet should include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes, potatoes, whole grains and breads
- Seafood and fish
- Herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil
- Eat poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation
- Eat red meat rarely
- Avoid trans fat, sugary drinks, fruit juices, processed meats, highly processed foods, added sugar, refined grains or refined oils
- Water should be your main beverage. The diet also includes 1 glass of red wine a day, as well as coffee and tea
In a recent study, those who followed the Mediterranean Diet, combined with a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU for a year, experienced a small increase in the number of T-cells, the immune cells.
The majority of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Much is known about its importance for the immune system. It is both an anti-inflammatory and an immunoregulator which is crucial for immune system defenses activation. It improves immune cell function which includes T-cells and macrophages. They act to protect your entire body system from pathogens.
Low levels of vitamin D are responsible for an increase in the risk for infection, diseases and immune system related disorders. These include respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma, COPD and other viral and bacterial respiratory infections and decreased lung function. COVID-19, in its most severe form, attacks and damages the lungs, causing life-threatening respiratory distress. Supplementation of vitamin D has been proven to reduce mortality in older adults who are in the highest risk group for developing the most severe respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Immunity and Exercise
Engaging in exercise, especially outdoors, is important to maintain a healthy immune system. Here’s what it does:
- Lowers your blood pressure
- Helps control your weight
- Boosts your heart health
- Protects you from developing a host of diseases
- Contributes to general good health, both mental and physical
- Promotes good circulation which moves all of the components of the immune system through your body so that it works more efficiently
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just issued new guidelines highly recommending that everyone wears a cloth mask when in public. You not only protect yourself from others but you also protect others from you as it is now understood that a significant number of people are asymptomatic. There are plenty of videos online on how to easily make a mask.
Immunity and Stress
A myriad of medical conditions are associated with emotional stress. We have all experienced that. The problem with defining stressful situations is that stress is unique to each individual. It is also difficult to measure how much stress impacts an individual’s health. When researchers study the impact of stress on the immune system, they study chronic stressors. These include work performance stress as well as relationship stress with spouses, children, parents, friends and co-workers.
Ways To Reduce Stress
- Practice Mindfulness
- Stress reduction techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing and guided imagery
- Cognitive therapy
- Spend Time With Your Pet
- Listen To Calming Music
- Play An Instrument
- Engage in an Artistic Activity
- Do Things That Make You Laugh
- Start A Journal
- Avoid Procrastination
- Get Rid of Toxic Relationships
- Use Aromatherapy Infusers
Immunity and Aging
As we age, our immune response does not work as well as it did when we were younger. People over 65 have the highest incidence of contracting the COVID-19 virus and are more likely to die from it. They are highly susceptible to its most severe symptoms of pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Scientists do not know for certain why that is, but they have observed the following:
- The increase in risk is associated with a decrease in T-cells. This may be caused by the age-related atrophy of the thymus which produces fewer T-cells, decreasing the body’s ability to fight off an infection.
- There may be other changes, due to aging, that are responsible for the decrease in T-cells, that are not understood at the moment.
- Another theory is that bone marrow no longer efficiently produces the stems cells that become immune system cells.
It is interesting to point out that the decrease in the immune response in those over 65 is reflected in their response to vaccines. The flu vaccine has been shown to be less effective in the elderly compared to healthy children. However, it has significantly lowered the rates of sickness and death in those 65+ when compared to those who did not get the vaccine.
Immunity and Sleep
Getting enough good quality sleep is crucial to maintaining good health. Without it, your body makes fewer cytokines, a protein responsible for producing an immune response which kills infections and inflammation. During sleep, cytokines are created and released, so insufficient sleep results in a reduced immune response. Insomnia also diminishes the effectiveness of the flu vaccine by minimizing your immune response.
During the pandemic, it is highly recommended that adults make sure that they get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. This will help keep your immune system working efficiently and may also protect you from a myriad of other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Take Short Naps
If you aren’t able to get a full night’s sleep, taking two naps up to 30 minutes each, has been shown to bolster your immune system. If possible, take a nap in the morning and one in the afternoon, but avoid napping close to your bedtime.
We can get through this pandemic, but we are all in this together! Please wear a mask and gloves when you go outside and especially when you go into your dispensary, the pharmacy and the grocery store.
health.harvard.com, How To Boost Your Immune System, updated April 6, 2020.
healthline.com, Can Vitamin D Lower Your Risk of COVID-19? Jillian Kubala, March 26, 2020
sleepfoundation.org, How Sleep Affects Your Immunity
healthline.com, Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner’s Guide, Kris Gunnars, July 24, 2018
thecut.com, How Many People With The Coronavirus Are Asymptomatic? Amanda Arnold, April 7, 2020