Has the coronavirus panic made it to your area? In Boston, everyone’s canceling events and wiping out sanitization products. I’ve considered canceling upcoming classes and haven’t been able to book corporate wellness workshops because everyone’s working from home! But it’s all for the greater good, we need to flatten the curve to slow the spread of the virus and to ease the impact on our hospitals and medical services.
How else can you support your immune health at this time?
Staying safe from coronavirus
- Seriously, just wash your hands. This is the most important, easiest, and just-about free way to protect yourself from COVID-19. Soap and water for at least 20 seconds, which is the length of singing Happy Birthday twice. If you get bored with Happy Birthday, try some more exciting alternatives like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” or Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”. If you have a little scrubby brush for under your nails, get in there too.
- Save some sanitizer for the rest of your community. Please, PLEASE avoid hoarding masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, etc. Get what you must for yourself (only sanitizer with 60%+ alcohol is effective according to the CDC), but wiping out a whole aisle of products is selfish and ableist, and keeps immunosuppressed people from getting what they need to survive—it can literally be a life or death situation for them. I know it’s tempting, but consider this: is our community safer if one person has ALL the sanitizer, or if everyone has some?
- Stay home as much as you can. If you’re experiencing symptoms, please also stay home as much as possible. Even if you’re not the demographic for which it can be fatal, being out and about spreading germs can have a direct effect on those who are.
- Support local businesses. A lot of small and local businesses are impacted because of event cancellations and social distancing. Consider getting food delivered from local restaurants (and tip kindly!), purchasing gift cards to use when the panic is over, or joining public events that have been moved online (I am likely going to cancel my in-person workshops and do this). If there are other ways you can think of, please post in the comments!
- Check on your neighbors, friends, and family. If you know anyone who is not likely to be able to get the supplies they need for potential self-quarantine, check on them to see what they have and help them stock up.
- Keep up with the CDC’s recommendations here.
Supporting your immune health with functional foods
The following tips aren’t going to immediately protect you from coronavirus specifically, because strengthening your immune system is a process with many factors and COVID-19 is happening NOW, but there are certain foods with medicinal benefits that you can regularly work into your routine to help positively contribute to your immune health over time.
- Colorful foods. Citrus, bell peppers, broccoli, leafy greens—the more color, the more phytonutrients that support your immune health¹. These don’t have to be the only things you eat, of course, but you can get creative and add them in to your current meals.
- Mushrooms have polysaccharides called beta-glucans, which boost the immune system and modulate it as well², meaning it can bring it up/down as needed. Why would you need to bring it down? For those with overactive immune systems (like autoimmune disease), beta-glucans can help regulate that increased response. You don’t need the expensive powdered reishi and chaga superfoods (though they’re fun to play with if they’re in your budget)—culinary mushrooms like shiitake and maitake are great too.
- Garlic. Best used raw (if you’re looking for the benefits), garlic is antiviral, and its perks are boosted when you smash it first and let it sit for ~10 mins before using. The volatile compound allicin increases during that time, which may increase white blood cells that battle viruses³,⁴.
- Fermented foods. Foods like yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. are advised because the probiotics help your good gut flora thrive. This is important because 70% of your immune system lives in your gut⁵, so we want to keep that balance in check—gut-friendly foods are then immune-friendly foods. If you’re new to fermented foods, start off small with ~1/4 cup/4 oz, otherwise you may get an upset stomach.
- Protein makes antibodies that fight infection, and its amino acids increase immune cell function, so make sure you’re getting enough in your diet⁶. It’s preferable to use food vs. protein powder supplements to get your fill, but do what you need to. How do you know what’s enough? Math! Our baseline needs are 0.36 grams per pound of body weight⁷. So multiply the two to get your baseline. This is the minimum your body needs.
- Herbal support. The following herbs have immune-supportive properties. Please check with a trained herbalist or your doctor before starting any new herbal remedy, especially if you are on medication, because there’s potential for drug interactions. Here are a few to discuss with your health practitioner: astragalus⁸, dandelion⁹,¹⁰, echinacea¹¹ (taken before or at first sign of sickness), elderberry¹², ginger¹³, ginseng¹⁴, thyme¹⁵, turmeric (with black pepper—its active compounds help you to absorb the active compounds in turmeric¹⁶).
- Water! Proper hydration supports your mucous membranes (nasal passages, eyes, mouth) which are one of your body’s first lines of defense against illness. If those are dried out, your defense system is reduced and you’re more likely to get sick¹⁷. So chug away! If you get bored with plain water, you can infuse it with fruit and herbs for more fun, or you can use herbal tea as your water source. Caffeine sources (and alcohol, obviously) have a dehydrating effect, so they don’t count!
And one last tip…. WASH YOUR HANDS AGAIN!
Stay safe out there folks. And if you want updates on when I’ll be offering online workshops, sign up for my email list below and you’ll be the first to know!
- Gupta C., Prakash D. “Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents.” Journal of complementary & integrative medicine. 2014 Sep;11(3):151-69. Link.
- Volman, JJ. et al. “Effects of mushroom-derived beta-glucan-rich polysaccharide extracts on nitric oxide production by bone marrow-derived macrophages and nuclear factor-kappaB transactivation in Caco-2 reporter cells: can effects be explained by structure?” Molecular nutrition & food research. 2010 Feb;54(2):268-76. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200900009. Link.
- Nantz, MP. et al. “Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention.” Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland). 2012 Jun;31(3):337-44. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2011.11.019. Epub 2012 Jan 24. Link.
- Arreola, R. et al. “Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds.” Journal of immunology research. 2015;2015:401630. doi: 10.1155/2015/401630. Epub 2015 Apr 19. Link.
- Vighi, G. et al. “Allergy and the gastrointestinal system.” Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2008 Sep; 153(Suppl 1): 3–6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x Link.
- Daly, JM. et al. “Effect of dietary protein and amino acids on immune function.” Critical care medicine. 1990 Feb;18(2 Suppl):S86-93. Link.
- Pendel, D. “How much protein do you need every day?” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard University. June 25, 2019. Link.
- Qin, Qiaojing, et al. “Astragalus Membranaceus Extract Activates Immune Response in Macrophages via Heparanase.” Molecules, vol. 17, no. 6, 13 June 2012, pp. 7232–7240., doi:10.3390/molecules17067232. Link.
- Jia, YY. et al. “Taraxacum mongolicum extract exhibits a protective effect on hepatocytes and an antiviral effect against hepatitis B virus in animal and human cells.” Molecular medicine reports. 2014 Apr;9(4):1381-7. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2014.1925. Epub 2014 Jan 29. Link.
- Han, H. et al. “Inhibitory effect of aqueous Dandelion extract on HIV-1 replication and reverse transcriptase activity.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2011 Nov 14;11:112. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-112. Link.
- Kim, HR et al. “Immune enhancing effects of Echinacea purpurea root extract by reducing regulatory T cell number and function.” Natural product communications. 2014 Apr;9(4):511-4. Link.
- Hawkins, Jessie, et al. “Black Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) Supplementation
Effectively Treats Upper Respiratory Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol. 42, Feb. 2019, pp. 361–365., doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Link.
- Grzanna, Reinhard, et al. “Ginger:An Herbal Medicinal Product with Broad Anti-Inflammatory Actions.” Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 8, no. 2, 2005, pp. 125–132. doi:10.1089/jmf.2005.8.125. Link.
- Scaglione, F. “Efficacy and safety of the standardised Ginseng extract G115 for potentiating vaccination against the influenza syndrome and protection against the common cold [corrected].” Drugs under experimental and clinical research. 1996;22(2):65-72. Link.
- Salehi, B. et al. “Thymol, thyme, and other plant sources: Health and potential uses.” Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2018 Sep;32(9):1688-1706. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6109. Epub 2018 May 22. Link.
- Gupta, Subash C et al. “Therapeutic roles of curcumin: lessons learned from clinical trials.” The AAPS journal. vol. 15,1 (2013): 195-218. doi:10.1208/s12248-012-9432-8. Link.
- Moeller, Karla T et al. “The effect of hydration state and energy balance on innate immunity of a desert reptile.” Frontiers in zoology vol. 10,1 23. 4 May. 2013, doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-23. Link.