Our immune system is here to defend us against disease causing micro-organisms. There are all kinds of viruses that attack us every day, and the latest COVID-19 outbreak have us wondering what we can do to protect ourselves. In general, older adults and those with weak immune systems are most likely to be at risk with most infectious diseases, the latest coronavirus, COVID-19 included.
Unfortunately, there’s no reliable cure at this stage for this virus, but scientists are working tirelessly on developing a vaccine. In the mean time, the best we can do is take preventive measures and boost our immunity. There are few options to strengthen our immune system against viruses which we’ll discuss here. But first, let’s see how the immune system works and how can boost your immune system to optimal levels.
Immune System Explained
The immune system works in a way that it recognizes the cells that are part of our bodies, while trying to dismiss anything unfamiliar such as bacteria and viruses, as well as parasites. It does this by using a huge army of defending cells, commonly known as white cells.
On average, the human body produces about 1000 million of different white blood cells in the bone marrow. Macrophages are considered to be the main warriors of the inborn immunity as they constantly patrol the body, destroying pathogens and viruses as soon as they appear.
But, in case of an infection, your body fights it off with even more powerful T and B cells. These cells give your body acquired immunity therefore the same type of pathogen can’t make you sick again in the future. As long as you boost your immune system to optimal levels, you are protected from a variety of ailments. But, if your immune system weakens or it is suppressed by medications, it can’t fight against strong pathogens, and as a result you fall ill.
How is the immune system activated?
As mentioned, the immune system is triggered by things that the body doesn’t recognize as its own, known as pathogens or antigens. Proteins on the surface of bacteria, fungi and viruses are all examples of antigens. The immune system usually stores information about each variant and how to fight it, therefore when it comes in contact with the same agent again, it will fight it faster and easier. Although in most cases the antigens are foreign bodies, in some cases even our own cells can trigger our immune system.
Everyone’s immune system is different, but generally speaking, teens and adults have stronger immunity when compared to children and elders. Regardless of which age group you belong to, there are few things that can help you boost your immune system during the coronavirus outbreak and any other infectious disease.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but not when it comes to COVID-19 or any other variant of the coronavirus. As doctors explain, if you’re in contact with pathogens, it doesn’t matter how many apples you eat, eventually you’re going to have symptoms and fatigue, followed by time away from your daily activities due to some type of viral infection. But, if you combine fruits, veggies, proteins and good fats in your diet, your immune system will be improved and ready to fight any virus. However, you should pay attention to your diet not only when there’s a risk of getting a certain disease, but by adopting healthy eating as a lifestyle.
Vitamins are always helpful, but keep in mind that there’s such thing as overdosing on certain vitamins. Try to get all the required vitamins from food sources. But, if you decide to resort to vitamin shots, juicers, or infusion, keep it in moderate amounts.
A multi-vitamin won’t hurt, but taking 100 times more than the recommended dose can become hazardous in the long run. Aside from the fact that overdosing on vitamins may lead to nausea, dizziness, and headache, it may also affect vital organs like kidneys and liver. When your body is fighting off a pathogen, you need your body to be in the best shape possible.
Vitamin D and vitamin C are essential in order to boost your immune system. Although the sun is the best source of vitamin D and oranges for vitamin C, we might not have access to sun light during colder months or a citrus tree outside our home. Lack of vitamin D can be a cause and symptom of nutritional deficiency. A number of studies conclude that vitamin D supplements may reduce the risk of viral infections, including respiratory tract infections, by reducing production of pro-inflammatory elements in our body.
Zinc is probably the most important mineral for our immune system. It is involved in white blood cell response to infection. Researches show that people who are deficient in zinc are prone to getting the cold, flu, and other viruses. According to a study, supplementing with zinc reduces the length of the common flu by 33%.
However, this does not imply that it will have the same or similar effect on COVID-19. If you already acquire enough zinc from your diet, it is yet to be known if getting even more zinc from supplements has any additional benefit.
Iron also plays an important role in the immune system. Too little iron can cause anemia and weaken your immune system. For easier iron absorption, it is recommended to use a combination of iron and vitamin C. Iron regulates enzyme reactions essential for immune cells to recognize and target pathogens.
Selenium is another essential mineral that plays a major role in a number of processes in the body. By helping lowering oxidative stress in your body, selenium reduces inflammation and enhances immunity. There are a number of studies indicating that higher blood levels of selenium are associated with enhanced immune response.
So, let’s look into food choices that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that your immune system needs in order to be in optimal condition. Before we proceed listing the immune system booster foods, it’s important to note that there is no miracle vitamin, mineral, or any kind of food that will protect you from COVID-19, or any virus for that matter. These are foods that can prepare our immune system, our body and mind to fight off illness.
Foods That Boost the Immune System
Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, and there’s no reason not to include them in your diet as they are tasty as well! As you probably know, most people turn to citrus fruits when it’s the cold or flu season, mostly because of the vitamin C. It is believed that citrus fruits increase the production of white blood cells, therefore directly strengthening the immune system.
Our bodies don’t produce vitamin C on their own, and unfortunately, they don’t store it either. Hence, you need to make sure that you consume citrus fruits on daily basis, such as:
Beta-carotenes and other antioxidants, vitamins B6 and B9, vitamin E and a lot of essential nutrients are all found in leafy greens. Fortunately, many leafy greens can be found all year around, and if you don’t like eating them fresh, you can always incorporate them into your cooked meals.
Keep in mind though, the less you cook them, the more benefits they provide. If you include a variety of these vegetables into your diet, you’ll have the most health benefits.
- Romaine lettuce
- Swiss chard
Aside from these, the following list consists of foods that have proven effects in boosting the immune system:
- Green tea
- Sunflower seeds
- Shellfish (crab, lobster, mussels, clams)
- Red bell peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Wheat germ (innermost part of the wheat kernel)
If you were looking for a sign to hit the bed, this might be it! Numerous studies have shown that proper sleep has amazing benefits on your overall health, and it seems that sound sleep has a major role in improving immune cells known as T cells.
T cells fight against intracellular pathogens, virus-infected cells like flu, herpes, HIV, and even cancer cells. When these cells recognize a virally infected cell, they activate integrins, a stick protein that allows them to attach to, and destroy infected cells.
In a rather interesting study, researchers compared the results of healthy volunteers who slept as opposed to those who stayed awake. The research showed that the T cells show higher levels of integrin activation in those individuals who slept.
Getting enough sleep is probably the best way to stay healthy regardless if there’s an outbreak or not. During sleep, the body performs critical recovery and repairs essential functions, resulting to a restored immune system. Just one night of poor sleep can reduce the immune response by an incredible 70%.
To boost your immune system and stay healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak, get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This way, your immune system will stay in fighting mode if the virus attacks you. If your sleep is interrupted by your busy schedule or other reasons, make sure to stock up on naps. Not only naps will allow you to get some sleep sleep, but they also help relief stress.
To sum up, even if you do come down with a virus or cold, you’ll be able to bounce back faster if you’re well rested!
Regular exercise is the pillar of health. It contributes to overall wellbeing which in turn leads to a healthy immune system. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, helps with body weight, lowers blood pressure, etc.
Possibly the biggest advantage of regular exercise is the fact that it promotes good circulation and blood oxygenation. Good circulation implies that blood cells move through your body with ease. This doesn’t mean that you should be undergoing intense physical exercise. Instead, moderate regular exercise is just enough to keep your immune system healthy.
How to exercise while staying at home?
Since coronavirus has most of us locked inside our homes, hitting the gym is not an option. Thankfully, there are countless of online programs that allow us to get our daily dose of stretching, lifting, squatting, and all kinds of body exercises, all from the comfort of our home using our body weight and simple fundamental body movements. If you have kids, you can include them in the workout and make it fun for them as well!
You don’t need to worry too much about meeting Olympic standards, just improvise a bit, adapt, and overcome limitations in your head. Do you really need a yoga mat or fancy leggings? As long as you have a clean carpet and comfy clothes, you’re good to go! Use towels as resistance bands. Fill bottles of water and use them as weights. There are all kinds of items around the house that can be used when it comes to indoor exercising.
The reality is, we all have to sweat this one on our own. At the same time, many of the fitness gurus are proving that claiming there’s still hope for humanity by offering online programs at either discounted prices or completely free of charge 😊
Many people don’t realize the importance of staying calm during times of collective stress. Although stress can temporarily enhance immune function, looking at the bigger picture, it’s among the most significant enemies of your immune system. Known as chronic stress, it can negatively impact you body’s ability to fight off viruses.
Unfortunately, we can’t make the current COVID-19 craze magically disappear. But we can take measures to control how we react to this situation as there’s no point in focusing on the uncertainties. There’s no legitimate reason for stressing about not having enough toilet paper either!
As you can see, taking care of your immune system results to the ultimate reward – your health! Even if you get sick, a healthy immune system will fight the disease off and you’re more likely to bounce back in a relatively short time. Faced with COVID-19, it’s crucial to keep your immunity intact by following some basic guidelines and boost your immune system.