We are passing through difficult times. A pandemic affecting the entire world, and not yet an end in sight. So far there are no effective remedies, and the development of a vaccine is at least a year away. Health professionals are struggling to keep the pandemic under control. But there is a protection available for everybody, this is our immune system.
Our immune system is like an army of soldiers inside of us, that is prepared to fight off any invader that is coming along. Each cell of the immune system has a very specific function. There are T-lymphocytes who are like a special intelligence force trying to identify the invaders, and producing antibodies to recognize them faster in the future. There are phagocytes that work to engulf invading germs and dissolve them with powerful enzymes. Some cells have specialized weapons against germs, like the natural killer cells.
In short, the immune system is well prepared to protect our body against an infection. We just need to help the immune system, so that it is able to work effectively and with peak performance. It is good to remember, that elderly persons and those with chronic diseases need to take extra care to keep their immunity strong. Let’s dive right in to see what we can do to keep our immune system bullet-proof against any invader.
Focus on balanced Nutrition
Making nutrition a priority is something that you need to constantly pay attention to. Be sure to focus on variety in your diet. There are many restrictive diets that can get you in trouble. A keto diet for example can give you several side effects like bad breath, fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles and sleep issues. Carbohydrates are essential for energy, though you should focus on unrefined sources and avoid excess. If you are on raw food, you may have a hard time getting sufficient protein, which is crucial for the production of immunity cells. In the realm of fats, focus on healthy sources like avocados, olives, nuts and especially Omega 3 sources like flaxseed and chia. Making nutrition a priority during a pandemic means making sure everyone in the house eats healthy by having a balanced diet.
Nutrient-rich foods such as beans or lentils, whole wheat foods, and foods high in fiber should be on your grocery list. The best thing about such foods is that they can be prepared in various ways and they can be mixed with other foods. You not only enjoy your meal, but you get the complete nutritional benefits as well.
Foods from animal sources tend to weaken your health and should be avoided. A study found that a vegetarian diet increases Natural Killer cell activity by a factor of 2.34 compared to an omnivorous diet. And the fiber content in all-natural plant foods can do a lot to control inflammation in the body. A balanced natural diet has also a beneficial effect on gut microflora. Going vegetarian and focusing as much as you can on natural food sources can go a long way to strengthen your immune system.
Avoid Refined Sugar
One of the greatest enemy of the immune system is refined sugar. Sugar quickly inactivates the germ-killing foot soldiers—the phagocytes. For example, just one soft drink, containing 12 teaspoons of sugar, is enough to weaken the protective ability of our body’s white blood cells by 60%, for a period of 5 hours. In plain English, a phagocyte that normally kills about 14 germs, will now tackle only 5. That’s not going to protect you enough. If you are drinking 2-3 cans of soft drinks per day, your immune system will be literally without any defense.
Some people think they need to avoid only refined sugar but can indulge freely on honey, maple syrup, raw sugar, molasses, agave syrup, fructose and other sugar substitutes. While these options are slightly healthier, all of them will cause the same damage to our immune system, when used in excess.
Unfortunately, our sugar consumption has increased drastically during the last centuries. While in 1870 the average American consumed around 10 teaspoons of sugar a day, this figure has risen to 43 teaspoons in 1991. And sugars are hiding everywhere, including breakfast cereals, ketchup, tomato sauce, yogurt, and bread.
There is no way around, if we want to stay healthy, we need to train our taste buds to a gentle sweetness in our food. Appreciate the natural tastes of your fruits. To give a little zest to your recipes, a moderate dose of dates or dried fruits can help. The consumption of honey or other sweeteners you may want to limit to 2-3 teaspoons per day.
You may find these measures very restrictive. You may find out that you are addicted to sugar and have a hard time to quit. But think about it. Does it come easy to stay at home and avoid contact to other people? Is it easy to follow all the other restrictions? We are going at great lengths to avoid any exposure to the virus. But if there is anything that can keep you save in this crisis, it is avoiding sugar. It will be surely worth your efforts.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of high-nutrient foods that will keep you healthy during a pandemic. By eating natural foods that contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals, you can help keep your immune system operating smoothly. They are loaded with lots of phytochemicals and antioxidants, substances that are able to protect you in many different ways. Each one has a different function, that’s why it is recommended to eat a rainbow of different colors and varieties of our fruits and veggies.
There are many concerns that may arise when it comes to best ways of treating your groceries, such as safe ways of washing and preparing them. Some social media posts have suggested even to keep groceries for 3 days in the garage before bringing them in. Nonetheless, this is not something that you need to worry too much about.
Experts say that in a period of 8 hours half of the germs have already died off. Continue washing your fruits and vegetables the same way you always do. There is no need for using sanitizers to wash your fruits and vegetables like most people assume. Soap should never be used to wash your food. Experts advice though to take extra precautions to wash hands after coming home from shopping, before and after preparing your meals, and before eating.
Ideally you should get your vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Governments recommend a minimum of 5 daily portions to keep you healthy. If your consumption is below that level, there are good chances that you can develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Elderly people tend to have less absorption, and certain conditions like alcohol and tobacco consumption, stress and the use of contraceptive pills can increase the demand of those essential vitamins.
Further aggravating is the production of many fruits and vegetables based on chemical fertilizer. Lacking the supply of essential micronutrients, the soil gets depleted over time, and lacking adequate organic matter, most of the soil is sterile, without essential microorganisms that help in the absorption of nutrients at the root level of the plant. If you have access to fresh organic produce, it is definitely going to have much higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals then your conventionally grown veggies.
Vitamins are sensitive to light, heat and oxidation. Therefore, the fresher you can get your vegetables, the better for you. Overcooking will greatly reduce the vitamin concentration in foods, and it is recommended to eat 50 to 70% of your fruits and vegetable in raw. Sprouting some of our seeds can be very powerful to potentialize their vitamin concentration.
If you need to complement your vitamin intake with supplements, it is beneficial to combine them with their natural sources. Several studies have shown that the body absorbs and uses vitamins better when they are coming from a dietary source. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytochemicals that show beneficial effects way beyond the realm of vitamins. It was discovered that a single tomato contains more than 10,000 different phytochemicals, many of them being antioxidants or protecting the body in some other manner.
Vitamin C is probably the most popular supplement to increase immune system function. It supports a variety of immune system cells and serves as a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown the efficiency of Vitamin C to reduce the duration and severity of a common cold. A hospital in Shanghai used intravenous Vitamin C to successfully treat coronavirus patients. Being a water-soluble vitamin, any excess is excreted by the kidneys, and since it is not stored by the body, it needs to be consumed daily.
Common food sources are all citrus friuts, papayas, kiwis, mangos, strawberries, bell peppers, rucola, spinache, cabbage and broccoli. Kale is an excellent option, and it will increase in Vitamin C concentration when it is slightly steamed.
For supplementation, a daily dose of 500 mg is recommended. A higher dose will just put an extra burden on the kidneys, and very high levels can lead to diarrhea.
Zinc is essential for immune cell development and communication, and plays an important role in the inflammatory response. A deficiency can significantly affect your immune system and make your more susceptible for viral infections. The probability of zinc deficiency increases with age, and about 30% of older adults are considered to be deficient.
The main plant sources of zinc are legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas and peanuts. Flaxseed and sesame are good sources as well. If you plan to supplement, a daily dose of 20 mg would be fine.
This is the only vitamin that you rarely get from food sources, but acquire it normally by exposure to sunshine. The hours for optimum vitamin D production are between 10 am and 2 pm. If you expose a substantial amount of your skin to the sun, you need about 15 minutes of exposure on a hot summer day, without using any sunscreen. If you have a darker skin color or your area of exposure is less, you need to increase this time. Elderly people tend to have lower absorption as well. Be sure to start slowly and increase your exposure gradually to avoid sunburn.
It is a good idea to get your Vitamin D levels tested, since deficiency is very common in our days. If your sun exposure is not sufficient, most people do fine with a supplementation between 1,000 and 4,000 UI, though those with more serious deficiencies often require much higher doses. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. For better absorption, take the supplement together with a meal, since it will depend on the fat present in the meal to be transported into the bloodstream. Be cautious about the right dosage, since any excess is stored in the fat tissues and can accumulate in the body.
Magnesium is important for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, among them it supports a healthy immune system. About 57% of the US population does not meet the recommended daily intake of this mineral.
Common food sources are various types of nuts, sesame, flaxseed, soy, beans, chickpeas, peanuts, spinach and several whole grains. If you need to supplement, a dose of 400 mg per day would be adequate.
Selenium has an important function for our immune system, and in certain areas of the world, the soil is deficient in selenium. For that reason, selenium concentration in food sources can vary widely. One of the best sources are Brazil nuts, and a daily dose of just 2 nuts will already exceed your daily requirements.
B vitamins, including B12 and B6, are important for healthy immune response. Many adults are deficient in them which can negatively affect the immune system. A B12 deficiency is quite common among vegetarians and elderly people, and regular testing is recommended to avoid adverse side effects for the nervous system as well as immunity.
The digestive tract serves as an immune organ by protecting your body from harmful microbes, that you may have consumed with your food. Having a healthy flora of beneficial microorganisms in your gut can go a long way to protect you against those invaders. You can find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha. Probiotics are available as supplements as well.
Herbs and Spices
Garlic has powerful anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It stimulates several immune cells like Natural Killer cells and Macrophages. Together with onion, they are probably the best spices to strengthen your immune system.
Tumeric is known for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and studies indicate it may improve immune function.
Echinacea has been shown to improve immune health and may have an antiviral effect on several respiratory infections.
Propolis is a resin-like substance produced by honeybees and is known for its immune-boosting capacities.
Elderberry has been shown to improve immunity, reduce upper respiratory infections, and demonstrates potent antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Licorice is another good option to try. According to test tube research, it was shown to provide antiviral activity against the SARS coronavirus. However, individuals who have high blood pressure, eating disorders, diabetes, heart and kidney conditions, and low potassium should avoid taking licorice. Avoid licorice candy because of the adverse effects of sugar, and use licorice for no more than 2 weeks, since it will lower postassium levels.
Drinking lots of water will keep your body hydrated and will drain any accumulation of bacteria or viruses in your mouth or throat. Avoid drinking sugared or soda drinks – the sugar will only contribute in dehydrating your body. Did you ever try to wash your hands with coke? Just imagine! Or did you try to wash a pile of plates with only one cup of water? Does not work too well either! So what you need to clean your body is nothing else than pure water, and plenty of it.
The bloodstream, which is the highway to transport the immune system’s troops, is kept flowing freely by adequate amounts of water. In addition, the mucus membranes of the nose and mouth also need plenty of water to maintain a protective barrier against invading germs. A generous consumption of water helps also the kidneys to clean out toxins from the body.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Exercise makes the circulatory system stronger—this includes
the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. The circulation is the carrier that will transport the immunity cells to their field of labor. A vigorous exercise guarantees that the stale capillaries are getting nourished with fresh blood and the circulation of the entire body is getting revitalized. This results in an improved communication of the various cells of the immune system. The lymphocyte activity is greatly enhanced as well.
Exercise also neutralizes the harmful effects of stress by stimulating the release of natural “feel good” chemicals like endorphins. Stress is especially counteracted when exercise is combined with the immune system’s allies—fresh air and sunlight.
What exercise is best? You can do anything that is fun for you, but walking would be a good starting point. And don’t be afraid about getting infected when leaving your four walls, if you maintain distance to other people, you are pretty safe. If you prefer a home workout, that is fine as well. But whatever you do, be sure to implement a daily exercise routine. Start slowly and build up your forces gradually. And you don’t need to run a marathon, actually any excessive activity that leaves you exhausted can even weaken your immune system.
Avoid Addictive Substances
It makes a lot of sense to avoid anything that can harm your body in order to strengthen your immune system. That said, we should shed some light on some common pratices of substance abuse.
Alcohol cripples the body’s internal army. This suppression of the immune system is seen even with moderate amounts of alcohol. Its use increases the risk of diseases such as tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, cancer, and AIDS.
Tobacco also contains harmful chemicals that immobilize the immune forces and stimulate the development of cancer. The large airways contain cilia, which are special hair-like cells that keep sweeping germs and injurious particles away from the delicate lung tissues. Tobacco smoke paralyses these protective cilia, so that germs and particles can easily enter the lungs and cause serious damage. Smokers and those with respiratory disease have a higher risk of serious illness and complications from coronavirus.
Caffeine, one of the world’s most popular drugs, is found in coffee, tea, and soft drinks, as well as some traces in chocolate. Recently caffeine has been on the news, touting the health benefits of your daily cup of coffee. However, few people tell you that caffeine contributes to mental stress, irritability, anxiety, and depression, which stimulate chemicals that further weaken the immune system.
Many prescription medications may also be injurious to the immune system. Be aware of the dangers and don’t use them unnecessarily.
Working your circulation with a contrast shower can do much to improve your immune system. Start your shower with 3 minutes of hot water, as hot as you can stand. Then finish off with 30 seconds of cold. If you need an extra boost, you can repeat the hot and cold cycle for 3 times. Resting for a few minutes after the shower will potentialize the immune system boost.
Get more Sleep
Rest plays an important role in immune function. The hours of deep sleep before midnight is prime time for the repair and replacement of worn-out cells and tissues. During this period, the body’s housekeepers and work best to restore its guardians to top fighting shape. Under ideal sleep conditions, damaged immunity cells are more rapidly replaced by new ones.
This immunity restoration takes place starting at 9:30 pm, if you manage to get to bed in time. If you are staying in front of the TV until midnight, you have already lost out on the immunity repairing phase of your sleep.
Excessive stress can do a lot of harm to your immune system. When the stress response kicks in and the body focuses all the energies to deal with a crisis, the immune system is considered to be of secondary importance. This is fine for a short term reaction to an emergency, but gets problematic if stress levels are chronic.
Chronic stress will increase your cortisol levels, which in turn will reduce various functions of the immune system. As a result you are more susceptible to colds or even the COVID-19 coronavirus. Stress can also affect your sleep, causing even more prejudice to the immune system.
Stress will have a cumulative effect on the immune system the longer we experience it. Think of the immune system as a firewall; the longer it is down, the greater the chances that some sort of infection can take hold of us and complicate our recovery.
The Coronavirus regulations brought substantial change to our lives. For some, it brought a much-needed break from the rat race of life, for many others it brought quite an amount of additional stress. Any change in our daily routine is causing us stress, and the uncertainties of what is going to happen, and how we are going to pay the bills, are quite stressful for many. When facing such challenges, maintaining an optimistic attitude is doing much to keep your stress under control.
It is important to take all necessary precautions, but after you have done your part, watch your thoughts to maintain a positive attitude. If you are fearful about this pandemic, make an exercise to challenge your thoughts. You have done all the necessary precautions, so what is the probability of you catching this virus? And if you really got infected, what is the chance of you dying from this disease? If you are below 40 and have strong immunity, chances are rather slim. With age, the risk will increase, but there is still quite a lot that you can do to prevent it.
So the best thing you can do, after having done your part, simply stop worrying about it. Jesus is giving us the following counsel:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.Matthew 6:25-34
This is really a timely counsel for us today. Think about it. What do you gain by worrying about something that you cannot change? Just do your part, and for the rest simply trust that you have a Heavenly Father who is well able to take care of you. If He provides food for the birds every day, how much more will He provide for your needs?
Then take some time and think about the purpose of your life. You have made some achievements, maybe you have even gathered some wealth. But a crisis like that can show us how fast the world around us can change. What we have done today may not be helpful for tomorrow. Just think for a moment, at the end of your life, what would you like to be remembered for? What makes your life really worthwhile?
Maybe take your eyes a bit away from yourself and look around you. Who is there who needs some help? Is there somebody that you can help to transform their life? Are there maybe some elderly around you who need your help to do shopping or other chores? Are there some people you can call and give some words of encouragement? Do you have the opportunity to make somebody a pleasant surprise? Cause the joy the other one feels that you have helped, will result in satisfaction for yourself. And this is the best you can do to strengthen your immunity.
We have a special opportunity just for you. If you want to receive practical and up to date advice on how to implement an immunity-boosting lifestyle, simply join the Coronavirus Immunity Challenge and prepare yourself to face the pandemic with a bullet-proof immune system.
Coronavirus Immunity Challenge
Sermon: How to thrive in a time of crisis – Mark Finley
The 15 Best Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
Viral Kindness – Find a Facebook support group near you and get involved in helping others
Martin Neumann was trained in Lifesyle Medicine in 1998 at Wildwood Lifestyle Center & Hospital. Since then he has lectured in different part of the world about a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies. He is the founder of the Abundant Health website.