The 8 Best Tips to Boost Your Immune System Right Now
Author: Katherine McCune, RD, MA | SHC Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist
This journal entry is the second newsletter in a six-part series that will help Pepperdine students discover some of the ways we have some control of our immediate environment. Last week's newsletter, "The 411 on Eating Well While Remaining 'Safer at Home'," discussed what a typical "lockdown" menu looks like. Students shared their food cravings and what they keep stocked on their shelves and in their fridge.
This week's topic is: "The 8 Best Tips to Boost Your Immune System Right Now."
Your immune system consists of a complex collection of cells, processes, and chemicals that constantly defend your body against invading pathogens, including viruses, toxins, and bacteria. Keeping your immune system healthy year-round is key to preventing infection and disease. Making healthy lifestyle choices like eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and exercise are the most important ways to bolster your immune system.
An entire world of medical experts is learning more about this novel "new" coronavirus and how we can stop the contagion. Until then, we can rely on some basic principles that will boost our immune system.
Note: #1 through #5 are not food-related but important for ramping up your immune system.
#1: Handwashing Can Keep You Healthy
Washing your hands frequently is a simple and effective way to prevent the spread of respiratory infections like coronavirus, colds, and flu. It's easy to transfer germs from your hands to your nose, eyes, and mouth when you touch them – it is so hard to avoid doing this!
Follow these five steps every time:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
#2: Wear A Face Covering
A cloth face covering may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others. COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Studies and evidence on infection control report that these droplets usually travel around 6 feet (about two arms lengths).
When using a cloth face covering, make sure:
- The mouth and nose are fully covered.
- The covering fits snugly against the sides of the face so there are no gaps.
- You do not have any difficulty breathing while wearing the cloth face covering.
- The cloth face covering can be tied or otherwise secured to prevent slipping.
#3: Alcohol—Is It Safe To Drink?
Alcohol depresses the immune system, so it is best to drink in moderation or not at all. Alcohol consumption can interfere with mindfulness and make it easy to forget things like wearing a face covering and social distancing.
#4: Sleep Your Way To A Better Immune System
Make sleep a priority. Poor or lack of sleep has been suggested to be as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Another one I have heard is poor sleep is worse than eating a horrible diet. Being well-rested improves the function of white blood cells, so you are less likely to get illnesses like respiratory infections, colds, and flu. Avoid caffeine found in coffee, some teas, and dark chocolate several hours before bedtime. Establish a relaxing evening routine before bedtime. I tell students to keep electronics out of the bedroom, if possible. Stick to light reading rather than cramming for an exam right before bedtime. Listen to calming music or use one of the popular apps like Calm or Headspace to help you drift off to sleep.
#5: Physical Activity Will Boost Your Immunity
Physical activity is an immune booster and doesn't have to be "exercise." Exercise often implies that you have to run, jog, lift weights, or take an exercise class to get benefits. I tell students to just move. Dancing, walking the dog, playing in the park with a friend or younger sibling, and gardening are great examples of physical activity.
#6: Eat "Treat" Foods, But Not Too Much
Treats foods are meaningful because they give us enjoyment. I call them "sometime" foods. You know what they are: candy, soda, and fast foods with lots of sugar, fat, and empty calories. Try replacing treat foods for healthier options that are plant-based like fruits and vegetables; protein foods like nuts, seeds, eggs, lean meats, and legumes; and healthy carbs like potatoes, corn, rice, or whole-grain pasta or breads to name a few.
#7: Vitamin Supplements, Do You Need One?
Some experts believe that taking a daily multivitamin can help ensure you are at least meeting the minimum daily requirement for certain nutrients. Vitamins that are critical for immune function include vitamins A, C, D, and E. Zinc, selenium, and magnesium are minerals that are necessary for optimal immunity. Vitamin D enhances the pathogen fighting effects of white blood cells that are an important part of your immune defense. Vitamin D, in particular, is a vitamin that many people are deficient in. Those that are deficient in this vitamin may have an increased risk for upper respiratory tract infections. The best way to determine a low vitamin D level is through a blood test. Depending on blood levels, a daily vitamin D intake of 400–2,000 IU is sufficient for most people. Foods that are good sources of Vitamin D include fish, eggs, fortified milk, yogurt, and mushrooms.
#8: Antioxidants – They Protect Your Cells
Colorful fruits and vegetables protect us because they provide antioxidants. These antioxidants fight against compounds (free radicals) that damage our cells. Fruits and vegetables like leafy greens, watermelon, carrots, berries, broccoli, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, and other brightly colored produce boost the immune system naturally. Homemade chicken soup with carrots, celery, and other veggies can do this too.
I have added these other immune boosters:
- Laughter is one immune booster, especially a "belly laugh." Watching a funny YouTube video or finding things to laugh about with friends does make a difference by triggering our "feel good" hormones.
- Find a positive attitude in a situation. This is an immune booster, however, quite difficult to do during these unprecedented times. Reach out to family, friends, or health care professionals when you need help finding something positive to reflect upon.