Posted December 16th, 2020
While we are waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine (and are in the middle of cold and flu season), boosting your natural immune system has never been more important. There is a lot of information (and misinformation) out there, so we are going to try to break it down and simplify it for you.
The simplest place to start is with the basics:
Nutrition – A healthy, balanced diet of whole foods full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats will provide many of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to stay healthy, help immune function (more here), avoid unnecessary inflammation and feel healthier. As a general rule of thumb, you should try to have 10 servings of vegetables and/or fruits daily. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest ways of eating, and is replete with wonderful food choices. Learn more here.
Sleep – A restful 7-9 hrs. is the “prescription” for most folks.
Stress Management – Negative stress has a variety of unhealthy psychological effects (increased cortisol is one). We cannot eliminate the creators of these stressors, but we can work on how we accept and manage those stressors. Some easy things to try on your own are abdominal or deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or a walk in nature.
Staying Active – Try to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Maybe less if you engage in some high intensity interval (HIIT) training several times per week. But the most important thing is just to DO SOMETHING active. Don’t get hung up on the 150-minute goal and try to engage in activities that are fun or meaningful for you! Some studies have shown a seven-minute HIIT workout can be as effective as 30-minute jog.
Get Fresh Air / Get Outside – If you can incorporate some of this activity outside (walking, jogging, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, etc.) you get out of recirculated, stale air, and into fresh, ventilated air and areas where you can more effectively distance. Plus, it is good for the soul!
Focusing on the basics is a great way to “treat” or reverse complicating pre-existing conditions that are effectively managed by diet and lifestyle. These might include diabetes (type II) or pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and more. Statistics show that if you are living a healthy lifestyle (being healthy) and do not have (or can eliminate) Covid-19 comorbidities, you are far less likely to develop a severe Covid-19 reaction. This is not a guarantee, but the numbers are on your side.
The good news is many of these are free or low cost. The challenge? They are on you. You need to put in effort and stay engaged. But if you put in effort, these are sustainable for a lifetime of healthier living. And they come with very few side effects (only the good kind)!
But for some (time, genetics, environment), it may take a little more than the basics. Here are some products or supplements that are effective in boosting your immune system. Important: If you are not currently taking supplements, please talk with your medical doctor before starting. While most supplements are very safe (in proper dosage), there is still the potential for drug interactions or other side effects.
There is broad consensus in the medical community that proper levels of Vitamin D are important for general immune health. The blood level of Vitamin D should be between 50 and 80 ng/ml. Recently, there has also been studies looking at levels of Vitamin D and infection response with Covid-19. One study, published in the journal Nature (here), compared people with asymptomatic infections to people with severe infections. The results were stark:
- 97 percent of people with severe infections had significant vitamin D deficiency (with an average level of 14!)
- Only 33 percent of those who were asymptomatic were Vitamin D deficient.
- And when it came to fatality rates, they were seven times higher in those Vitamin D deficient vs. not (21% to 3%)
Vitamin D helps to modulate the immune response without provoking an immune overreaction such as the “cytokine storm” often associated with severe COVID-19 illness. In other words, it boosts the immune response while dampening the inflammatory response.
A product we love is Metagenics D3 5000 + K.
Of course there is no definitive study, and we cannot conclude that having normal levels of Vitamin D will prevent you from getting Covid-19.
Zinc is an essential mineral that helps boost our immune system. In the common cold, it is theorized that zinc could inhibit the binding of the cold virus to cells within the nasal mucosa and suppress inflammation. Zinc can be especially important in antiviral immunity, as this article from the American Society for Nutrition explores.
There are things to consider when taking zinc, however. One, zinc deficiency is relatively rare, as it is readily available in a good diet. High dosages of zinc can potentially be toxic. And it can potentially upset the stomach. On the other hand, some people cannot metabolize zinc well and they need a higher intake to see a good immune response.
If you are interested to know if you are one of them, we can analyze your raw data from 23 and Me or Ancestry and find out through our trusted partner, PureGenomics.
Studies have shown zinc can reduce the duration of the common cold. We would recommend taking zinc supplements during the upcoming winter months, as we are in the heart of cold and flu season as well.
We have been recommending Metagenics Immune Active for overall immune health, as it includes Zinc along with other beneficial ingredients, or Zinc 15 mg supplement from Metagenics or Douglas (available in our office).
Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators (SPMs)
Specialized pro-resolving mediators are involved in the active process of the resolution of inflammation. As the body resolves inflammation, our body’s systems can return to homeostasis, or a stable equilibrium in the body where systems are functioning normally and efficiently.
Proactively taking SPMs can help manage chronic inflammatory conditions (including complicating pre-existing conditions in regard to Covid-19), and help us manage inflammation related to higher stress environments (and who isn’t dealing with a little more stress these days).
One of our favorite products in this category is Metagenics SPM Active.
Probiotics and Gut Health
Probiotics are generally defined as live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. They are most often good bacteria, but can also include yeast and other microorganisms.
Gut health is a growing area of study, especially when it comes to immune health. It is estimated that 70% of your immune system is in your gut and bacteria in the intestine may help regulate immune cell activity.
Probiotics have been tested for their effects against upper respiratory infections (a group that includes the common cold, middle ear infections, sinusitis, and various throat infections). A 2015 evaluation of 12 studies with 3,720 total participants indicated that people taking probiotics may have fewer and shorter upper respiratory infections.
While this is still an area of emerging study, probiotics have an extensive history of apparently safe use, particularly in healthy people. For most healthy people, there will be little downside to taking a probiotic supplement (but always, consult with your MD first!).
If you have any questions or concerns about your immune health and/or supplements, please call or email our front desk and set up a 15-minute Telehealth consultation with our health coach, Will Merrick. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you stay as healthy as possible during these difficult times. And remember, mask up, keep physical distance, avoid gatherings, wash your hands, and stay home if you are not feeling well!