As COVID-19 infections sweep the globe, you may be asking yourself…
How can I boost my immune system right now?
While there is no COVID-19 cure or vaccine, you can take several actions right now to up your body’s immune system. These include changes to your diet and lifestyle.
When you have both a healthy immune system and emotional state, your body is more resilient to disease.
Here are some adjustments you can make that will help strengthen your immune system against viruses and bacteria. Make these changes today and practice them year-round.
Protect and Prepare Yourself
First and foremost, stay home.
Seniors and persons with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable, at-risk group.
If you can, you should self-isolate as much as possible until the threat has died down. Follow the guidelines of local and state officials to practice social distancing and avoid gathering in groups of 5 or more.
It’s a good idea to have at least two weeks’ worth of groceries, hygienic products, medications and household essentials stocked up in your home. We recommend you use a delivery service like Instacart or Shipt to get your groceries rather than going to the store. Check if your local grocery store offers a delivery service.
Supply your body with these nutrients
Your body needs certain nutrients to perform at its best. You can increase your levels of these nutrients by taking a daily supplement, by eating more of the suggested foods, or by doing both.
If you need to order supplements, consider purchasing online. For each vitamin and mineral listed below, we’ve provided a recommended daily amount.
Vitamin A plays a pivotal role in building and deploying your body’s immune response. There are two ways to get Vitamin A: from animals or plant foods. We recommend the type that comes from plant foods, beta carotene. Look for a supplement with beta carotene and other mixed carotenoids. Recommended daily amount: 15,000 IU.1
Vitamin D3 helps keep your immune system in balance, especially during cold and flu season. Get vitamin D from 15 minutes of outdoor, midday sunshine. This works even in winter. Make sure to follow any regional self-isolation measures before you go into public. You can get vitamin D from eating beef liver, organic egg yolks or cod liver oil. Take vitamin D3 as a daily nutraceutical. Recommended daily amount: 5,000 IU when healthy. Take less if you’re in the sun a lot during the summer. Take 10,000 IU in winter. When sick, take 20-25,000 IU per day for up to 3-5 days
Vitamin K2 works with vitamin D3. Without it, your body doesn’t use vitamin D3 as effectively. Get vitamin K2 from butter, dark chicken meat and cheese or in supplement form. Recommended daily amount: 120 mcg.
Whole Food Vitamin C: Your immune system uses vitamin C to launch its pathogen response, but it doesn’t produce it. Some foods rich in vitamin C include broccoli, cantaloupe and beets. If you take vitamin C as a supplement, make sure it’s a whole food supplement. This means it came from real foods with real nutritional value. Some vitamin supplements contain synthetic nutrients, which have hardly any nutritional value. Recommended daily amount: 5,000-8,000 mg.
Selenium is a potent antioxidant. It’s essential for upping your body’s immune and inflammation response. Up your levels by eating brazil nuts, eggs, sunflower seeds, brown rice, spinach, meat and fish. Recommended daily amount: 50-100 mcg.
Zinc is another essential nutrient for your immune system. Studies show zinc helps your body fight off viruses and bacteria. Get it from shellfish, beans, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs and whole grains. Recommended daily amount: 30-50 mg 1-3x per day.
Echinacea can help ward off the cold and flu if taken when symptoms arise, according to research2. However, it may not be as effective days after the first symptoms arise. Echinacea also has antimicrobial properties that can fight off some pathogenic bacteria and fungi3. Do your research before you buy a nutraceutical, as some products don’t contain the real ingredients. Look for products that contain echinacea purpurea or echinacea angustifolia. Recommended daily amount: Refer to product recommendations.
Elderberry has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years. It is a potent antioxidant that supports natural immune system response4. Research shows it can reduce the severity of flu symptoms5. Take it as a syrup or nutraceutical. Recommended daily amount: Follow the supplement manufacturer’s guidelines.
L-lysine boosts your immune system by upping your body’s levels of antibodies called IgG. It is particularly effective when used with high doses of vitamin C. Recommended daily amount: 500mg-1gram, 1-3 x per day
Garlic is a healthy and delicious food that has antiviral and immune -properties. It’s also packed with vitamin C, selenium and other nutrients. You must crush or chop garlic in order to get its health benefits. Doing so releases an enzyme that your body breaks down into smaller compounds that go to work. Recommended daily amount: 2-4 cloves, chopped or crushed.
Supplement Your Diet with Proteolytic Enzymes
We talk a lot about proteolytic enzymes, and for good reason. They have powerful health benefits. Research shows they help your body’s inflammatory response and may stimulate your body’s immune system6,7.
There are many types of proteolytic enzymes, but bromelain and papain, which come from certain fruits, are most often used as dietary supplements.
Research suggests that bromelain, found in pineapple, may boost the body’s innate and adaptive immune system8. Bromelain helps activate white blood cells, which your body uses to attack pathogens and bacteria.
How you can get healthy levels of proteolytic enzymes
Your body produces these enzymes in your pancreas, but production decreases once you hit 27. Once you hit age 50, production plummets. And exposure to modern-day toxins reduces your body’s proteolytic enzyme levels.
You can get healthy levels of these vital enzymes in a couple of ways. You can eat fruits rich in proteolytic enzymes, such as pineapple, kiwis, papaya, and figs. But to reach healthy levels you’d have to eat pounds of these foods a day. To get enough bromelain, for example, you’d have to eat many pineapples every day.
Alternatively, you can take them as a daily supplement. Look for enzyme supplements that contain bromelain and papain. The brand you choose should also include a blend of herbal ingredients that support the function of your immune health and inflammatory response.
Make These Lifestyle Changes
To boost your immune system right now, you should consider making these lifestyle changes today.
Sleep: Get 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night. Your body relies on quality sleep to repair itself. You also need rest to stay focused and relaxed during the day. If you’re sick, your body needs rest. If you’re healthy, your body needs rest to stay healthy.
Practice mind-body techniques: Your mental and spiritual health affects your body’s immune system. Practice meditation, prayer, breathing-exercises or quiet reflection to reduce anxiety, fear and stress.
This isn’t woo-woo talk. Research shows that negative emotions adversely impact your immune system and even inflammation 9. Practice staying centered and heart-open every day to improve your body’s immune defense. Choose love, not fear…
Exercise more: Exercise is one of the best ways to keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Regular exercise can:
- Reduce your stress: the endorphins released after exercise will help you unwind and destress.
- Increase white blood cell circulation. White blood cells attack pathogenic viruses and bacteria in your
- body. Flush bacteria from your lungs and airways.
If you struggle with any kind of joint pain, exercise is probably the last thing you want to be doing right now. But there are ways to make the exercise with joint or back pain comfortable and beneficial. Be sure to read our 7 Rules You Must Follow for Exercise and Joint Pain, and consult your doctor before you begin a regimen.
Stop smoking: Smoking is terrible for your immune system. Smoking depletes your body of antioxidants. It damages your respiratory system. And it increases your risk of contracting infections like the flu and pneumonia.
There’s no conclusive evidence yet that smokers have a higher predisposition to severe COVID-19 infections. But, those with respiratory conditions are at higher risk10. And it’s well known that smoking damages your respiratory system and immune system.
Limit your alcohol intake: If you’re going into lockdown for a while and are stuck at home… you probably want to drink. But during this time, you should refrain from heavy and even moderate drinking.
Alcohol use, like smoking, damages your immune health. The more your drink, the more you damage the microbiome in your gut that regulates immune health and healthy digestion11.
But it’s not only your gut bacteria that get hurt. Alcohol can also damage the immune cells in your respiratory system. Heavy alcohol consumption leads to greater risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections12.
Heavy alcohol consumption, even occasional binge drinking, reduces your immune cells. These cells are the first responders to bacteria and viruses.
You may have heard “everything in moderation,” but if you want to do everything you can to boost your immune system, put the bottle down for a while.
And don’t forget, alcohol is a depressant. While it may feel like it’s temporarily taking the edge off, it’ll leave you feeling more down, especially during more stressful times.
Wash your hands frequently: You should wash your hands throughout the day, especially after you go out in public and touch commonly used surfaces.
Home surfaces, such as your keyboard, phone, sink and toilet, are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with hot water. Make sure to soap up the backs of your hands and interlace your fingers. Rub your fingertips into the palms of your hands, including each thumb. Then wash each thumb and rinse. In a pinch, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
This may sound like simple advice, but it’s actually one of the most effective ways to keep your body from contracting and spreading viruses. Only after you wash your hands can you touch your face, (eyes, nose, and mouth.)
While none of these steps alone will prevent you from contracting COVID-19 or any other virus, they are important steps you should be taking to strengthen your immune system.
Right now, it’s important to stay as healthy and strong as you can. But it’s also important to keep in mind that these are habits that should become part of your daily routine forever.
The coronavirus pandemic will eventually subside, but adopting these healthy habits will help protect you no matter what illnesses you’re confronted with in the future.
1 Andrew Weil MD. “How Much Vitamin A Is Safe?” 28 Nov. 2014.
2. Keith I Block MD, Mark N. Mead, MS. “Immune System Effects of Echinacea, Ginseng, and Astragalus: A Review” 1 Sept. 2003
3. M. Sharma, S. Vohra, J. T. Arnason & J. B. Hudson (2008) Echinacea. Extracts Contain Significant and Selective Activities Against Human Pathogenic Bacteria, Pharmaceutical Biology, 46:1-2, 111-116, DOI: 10.1080/13880200701734919
4. Cleveland Clinic. “Elderberry: A Natural Way to Boost Immunity During Cold and Flu Season?” 6 Nov. 2018.
5. Jefferson, Thomas et al. “Oseltamivir for influenza in adults and children: systematic review of clinical study reports and summary of regulatory comments” BMJ 2014;348:g2545
6. Pavan, Rajendra et al. “Properties and Therapeutic Application of Bromelain: A Review.” Biotechnology Research International 2012 (2012): 976203. PMC. Web. 20 Sept. 2018.
7. H, Barth et al. “In vitro study on the immunological effect of bromelain and trypsin on mononuclear cells from humans.” Eur J Med Res. 2005 Aug 17;10(8):325-31.
8. H, Barth et al. “In vitro study on the immunological effect of bromelain and trypsin on mononuclear cells from humans.” Eur J Med Res. 2005 Aug 17;10(8):325-31.
9. E. Graham-England, Jennifer et al. “Negative and Positive Affect as Predictors of Inflammation: Timing Matters” Brain, Behavior and Immunity. Vol 74. 222-230. Nov. 2018.
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) If You Are At High Risk.” 12 March 2020.
11. Sarkar, Dipak et al. “Alcohol and the Immune System”. Alcohol Res. 2015; 37(2): 153–155.
12. Sarkar, Dipak et al. “Alcohol and the Immune System”. Alcohol Res. 2015; 37(2): 153–155.