You’ve probably been hearing a lot about what to do to prevent a certain viral infection lately, such as frequent hand washing, physical distancing, etc. But I know a lot of you are wondering what MORE you can do to keep you immune system in tip top shape.
While there is no medication, supplement, or single nutrient that we know for sure will keep you from getting (or treat) COVID-19, there are certainly some lifestyle factors, foods and nutrients that can help to support your immune system.
Gut health and the microbiome
Most of us are aware by now that the bacteria in our gut is essential to good health. They promote proper development of the gut lining (i.e. help fix “leaky gut”), allowing better absorption of nutrients. They act as a physical barrier against the attachment of pathogenic bugs.
They also help to balance immune function by interacting with something called the Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue.
Keeping your gut intact (i.e not leaky) and full of the right microbes is key to preventing infections. Things to consider to support gut health could be: probiotics, fermented foods, bone broth, getting enough fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, glutamine, zinc, and digestive enzymes. Ask your naturopathic doctor what would be best for you.
Sleep is, of course, so important for so many things and your immune system is one of them!
Allowing enough time for your body to heal during sleep gets your systems and organs strong and ready for another day. Seven hours per night is the bare minimum I recommend for good health, preferably asleep by 10-11 pm.
Though you may be having difficulty social distancing from your fridge right now (hello, snacks!), you can still focus on eating certain foods or supplementing with specific nutrients to support your immunity.
Eating a diet high in vegetables and fruits (especially vegetables), protein, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains will be high in immune-supporting nutrients like vitamins A, B, C, E, K, and minerals like magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium, and iron. Onions and the rest of the onion family, garlic, ginger, cruciferous vegetables, and spices like turmeric are all known immune-supporting and anti-inflammatory foods.
Of course we should be limiting our simple sugars and refined/processed carbohydrates as much as possible since they depress the immune system.
A vitamin D supplement is usually a good idea for those living in Canada.
Anxiety is running high for many of us lately. We know that stress depresses the immune system…which only makes us more stressed!
Going out in public when you need groceries can be fear-inducing when others don’t keep their distance or when you don’t know who else has touched what you’re touching.
Many people are isolated with no one to talk to or see, while others are still working, but from home, and have to take care of their kids at the same time.
Whether it’s during a pandemic, or any other time you feel the stress rising:
- Make a plan for the day or week.
- Meditate. I like to use apps like Insight or Calm.
- Talk to someone who makes you laugh (on the phone or video chat).
- Talk to your naturopathic doctor about possible supplementation with anti-anxiety remedies if you need more support.
Not only great for reducing anxiety, exercise also supports immune function directly. It needs to be fairly exertive though, walking the dog probably doesn’t cut it. I want you to sweat. Fitness Blender on YouTube is one of my favourites for at-home workouts for any fitness level.
What about other nutrients or herbs that can prevent or treat a viral infection?
It’s best to consult with a trained professional such as a naturopathic doctor or herbalist before trying to pick and choose from the huge selection out there. What’s right for one person might not be right for you. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.