7 Science-Backed Ways to Build Your Immunity Against Viral Infections like Coronavirus
Last updated: 7/2/2020
Can your immune system help you fight COVID19? Experts say that people with good immune systems are less likely to have a severe impact from the disease. There's no silver-bullet boost. But these 7 science-backed ways will help you build lasting immunity from viral infections like coronavirus. (Includes updates from latest studies)
Infection from the novel coronavirus has spread to more than 10 million people globally as of this blog's update. We still don't have an effective vaccine to prevent this virus and no full proof method to prevent the spread of the virus from person to person. It is natural to ask a question at this time: "What can I do to minimize the severity of infection, or avoid it all together?"
It helps to follow the CDC's basic recommendations - wash your hands hands, don't touch your face, stay away from infected people, and if you are infected, self-isolate.
But what if you could have a more robust defense in the first place? Good news. According to Harvard Medical School, experts believe that infectious viral diseases are less likely to affect people with higher immunity levels.
Let's be clear about one thing, as there are a lot of snake oil salesmen on internet. There is no silver-bullet boost. You cannot just magically leapfrog your immune system overnight with some supplements. However, building immunity over time will put you far ahead in the race against viral infections including coronavirus.
We scoured through tons of studies including latest COVID-19 specific studies between March and June 2020, and came up with 7 science-tested ways to boost your immunity. We picked those that were particularly effective against symptoms caused by infections of coronavirus family.
Follow these steps and put yourself in a much better position during this and future viral outbreaks.
1. Eat these foods:
1. Ginger: Ginger is an antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory healing powerhouse. It is a great immunity booster. Study after study has proven this fact. This study supports ginger's anti-viral capabilities against respiratory viral infections, one of the common factors in coronavirus symptoms. You can chop some raw ginger and eat it with sea salt. If eating raw is not your thing, you can mix it with your meal during cooking, or enjoy a cup of ginger tea.
2. Black Tea: Black tea is rich in these compounds: theaflavins and tannic acid. Studies have found that these compounds have potent effects against infection from a family of coronaviruses. They can be found abundantly in black tea extract. There are three studies that particularly illustrate the potency of black tea compounds against the infections (here, here, and here).
Pro tip: If you are planning to drink black tea, it would be best not to add milk, or add very little milk. This maximizes the positive effects from the tea's polyphenols.
3. Whey Protein: Whey protein contains bioactive compounds that offer protection against infection, viruses, and enhance immunity according to several studies (here, here, and here) Lactoferrin, one of the whey proteins that falls in the group called "micro fractions", has shown powerful potency against similar viral infections like the prior coronavirus SARS. Several studies (here, here, here, and here) have also shown that Lactoferrin exhibits antiviral activity against a wide range of viral infections.
Tip: Go for grass-fed whey concentrates and cold processed whey. There are multiple studies (here and here) that show that grass-fed whey has higher amounts of Lactoferrin and other bioactives as compared to regular whey.
4. Turmeric: If turmeric wasn't a natural spice, some pharma company would have made a trillion dollars by packaging and marketing it by now. Turmeric is one of the most studied spices, with largely favorable results. The main beneficial compound in turmeric is called curcumin. There are several studies (here, here, here, and here, just to name a few) that reinforce antiviral, antifungal, and the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Couple of these studies particularly highlight curcumin's anti-infective potency as well as its antiviral effects against respiratory viral infections common to the coronavirus family of viruses. Want to know another cool thing about turmeric? It is a member of the ginger family. Guess the apple didn't fall far from the tree. :-)
Pro tip 1: if you are consuming whole turmeric, make sure you add black pepper to make the curcumin bio-available to your body.
Pro tip 2: If you are sensitive to high salicylate or oxalate-rich foods, reduce or avoid eating whole turmeric. Instead, try curcumin extract-based supplements.
5. Blueberry: Blueberries have the highest amount of antioxidants among fruits. Specifically relevant to viral infections is the fact that blueberries are rich in flavonoids. This study shows that flavonoids reduced incidence of upper respiratory tract infection, a common factor in diseases like coronavirus, as compared to the control group.
6. Bell pepper: Fun fact: A cup of chopped red bell pepper contains almost three times vitamin C than an orange! Studies (here, and here) show that bell peppers have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds protecting us against oxidative stress and inflammation-related pathological processes, a common factor in viral infections.
Caution: If your digestive system is compromised by an autoimmune condition, or if you are sensitive to nightshade vegetables, then you may want to stay away from bell peppers.
7. Wild Salmon: Wild salmon boosts immunity against respiratory illnesses because it is rich in omega-3 and zinc. Research shows that Omega-3 helps reduce inflammation in your body. A meta-analysis of several studies shows that zinc can be an effective antiviral agent for several respiratory viral infections. We would like to make an honorary mention of other zinc-rich foods like oysters, legumes, and nuts.
8. Supplements: Normally, we don't recommend taking supplements unless you have tested for deficiency. But there are two supplements that recent studies suggest could offer a meaningful degree of protection against coronavirus based on latest studies.
Vitamin D3: Several more studies have come out between March and June 2020 on the link between Vitamin D and COVID-19. This review published in June 2020 and a detailed study done by Trinity College of Dublin, Ireland in April 2020 concluded that Vitamin D deficiency can increase the chances of contracting the COVID-19 infection and worsening the symptoms. The Dublin study and another study published just before it concluded that Vitamin D can mitigate the backfiring of a hyperactive immune system - a cytokine storm which causes the most severe symptoms of coronavirus such as acute respiratory syndrome. Additionally, there are several prior studies that have demonstrated Vitamin D's efficacy in upper tract respiratory infections. Recently, a large meta analysis study of 25 trials conducted in 15 countries concluded that Vitamin D had a significant protective effect against acute respiratory infections when it was given regularly to people with low Vitamin D levels. In summary, supplementing Vitamin D can be important if your levels of the vitamin are low. Other than sunlight, one of the most bio-available forms of Vitamin D is the Vitamin D3 supplement.
Dosage: This study suggests an "optimal dose was between 1000 IU to 4000 IU/day and the benefit was greatest in those living at latitudes greater than 40 degrees". Vitamin D3 consumption is especially important for dark-skinned individuals.
Zinc: We have already mentioned about Zinc when discussing wild salmon above. But it would be worth looking into Zinc supplementation, especially during the outbreak and if you have zinc deficiency. We still don't have any direct evidence to claim that zinc can prevent COVID-19. However, a recent review study published in April 2020 suggests: "increasing zinc intakes may be useful against COVID-19 infections by reducing viral replication and reducing the effects of the gastrointestinal and lower respiratory symptoms." Also, a new study published in April 2020 concluded that "zinc deficiency in patients with COVID-19 infection may be associated with the loss of smell and taste in these patients".
Dosage: This study suggests that 30-50 mg/day might aid in the control of RNA viruses like coronaviruses.
2. Reduce stress, increase immunity:
A couple of researchers studied over 300 independent published studies and came up with a hard conclusion - stress weakens your immunity system. Worse, stress of any meaningful duration - a few days to months or years forced immunity to go downhill. The study showed that people who are older or already sick, are more prone to stress-related immune changes. So, please take stress seriously. Wait a second. Please don't stress about reducing stress! That would defeat the purpose :-). This post gives some practical and effective tips to reduce stress. And this post offers 29 science-backed ways to increase your happiness levels and reduce stress.
3. Do moderate intensity exercise:
Almost any kind of exercise that involves moving your body is the best form of immunity booster. Even better than most supplements and diet changes. A recently published mega research study looked at research discoveries from 1900 through 2019 on the relationship between exercise and immune system. Their conclusion was clear - exercise substantially contributes to improved immunity. One of their conclusions that is especially relevant to the current environment is, "...physical activity is associated with decreased mortality and incidence rates for influenza and pneumonia." A question then arises - what kind of exercise would be best to fend off viral infections? This study found evidence "to support the hypothesis that moderate intensity exercise reduces inflammation and improves the immune response to respiratory viral infections." So, what are some good examples of moderate intensity exercises? Very brisk walking, lawn mowing, light bicycling.
Lack of hydration can severely affect your ability to fight viral infections. So how does water specifically help with viral infections? Water increases immunity by delivering oxygen to cells, balancing blood volume, and boosting lymph fluid volume.
5. Get proper rest:
Insufficient sleep has been directly associated with increased likelihood of upper respiratory infection. In general, studies (here, here, and here, to name a few) show that lack of a meaningful amount of sleep can significantly affect your body's ability to regulate its immune functions. Equally important is the quality of sleep. Unless you won the genetic pool lottery and belong to a very small fraction of population whose genetic mutation allows them to get by with less sleep, the bottom line is clear and simple. Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep.
6. Fast (but only if you don't have the infection):
If there was one trick that could do justice to the now-overused term "biohacking,” it would be fasting.
If you are building your immunity while you are healthy (which is the major focus of this article), fasting is good! It boosts your immune system. In fact, this study came up with a remarkable conclusion. It showed that the immune system could be regenerated by simply fasting for three days. If starving for three full days isn't quite your thing, look into intermittent fasting as a more practical substitute.
However, if you already have a viral infection, then you should avoid fasting. This study shows that fasting worsens viral infections. Fasting works best for bacterial infections if a person already has it. For viral infections, once contracted, it is better to listen to your body's cravings and feed yourself with healthy non-refined carbohydrates. Which brings us to our last recommendation.
7. Avoid refined carbohydrates:
Refined carbohydrates degrade your body's natural immune functions. In fact, according to this study, a western diet comprising of refined carbs can make the body's immune system hyper-responsive to inflammation triggers. Two studies recently published in April 2020 and May 2020 reviewed the link between western diet, inflammation, and COVID-19. Their conclusion was: "there is a high prevalence of type II diabetes mellitus and obesity, thus potentially putting these particular populations at increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications".
We would be the first to admit that it is hard to avoid refined carbs in today's world. They are in our faces all the time! But there are practical ways to eliminate or significantly reduce addiction to refined carbs. This answer on Quora by our team gives you a step-by-step and practical approach to end your addiction to refined carbs.
Bonus Hack: Sunlight!
Hot off the presses! In June 2020, The Journal of Infectious Diseases published a study that concludes that sunlight was found to inactivate severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19. Previously, there have been studies that have shown a component of sunlight - UVC being able to effectively counter coronavirus. But this is the first time, a study was able to simulate all levels of natural sunlight and show that it is effectively in inactivating the virus.
How to use this info: Not only is this good for surfaces during summer, but in general it reinforces getting out of house regularly for a walk or exercises. When you couple this with what we covered earlier on Vitamin D, this is a no-brainer. Exposure to sunlight for 15-30 minutes every day is a great idea.
Pro-tip 1: According to this study, it is best to get your sunlight exposure before afternoon no matter where you live. The closer you are to equator, the earlier in the day should you get your sunlight.
Pro-tip 2: Prolonged exposure to sunlight can be a cause for skin cancer. One rule of thumb is to stop the exposure as soon as you start feeling your skin burning or apply sunscreen at that point.
Don't wait until it is too late. Build your immunity now with the practical and easy-to-manage recommendations given above. These recommendations are well supported by published studies, geared specifically towards fending off viral infections.
The above article does not replace medical expertise or urgent medical care. It is prevention-based, offering a long term strategy based on published studies. If you think you have symptoms of coronavirus, please seek immediate medical attention.
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