Boosting immunity is a top priority for Americans who want to stay healthy amid the outbreak of COVID-19, the serious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. While we don’t yet know how to fully prevent COVID-19, there are practical steps Americans can take to support optimal immune function.
Immunity and COVID-19
The novel coronavirus causes a serious respiratory illness medically known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). It’s important to understand how the immune system combats pathogens to keep you healthy. In addition to creating a barrier to prevent pathogens from entering the body, the immune system detects pathogens that do get into the body and tries to eliminate them before they can set up shop and replicate.
Because COVID-19 is a new, unrecognizable virus to the immune system, it’s impossible to build up immunity against the virus without being exposed to it. Once you come in contact with the virus, the immune system creates antibodies to combat it. This is why someone who gets sick from a virus like the chickenpox usually won’t get sick from it again.
As researchers race to develop a vaccine and experts learn more about how to best treat COVID-19, it’s recommended that you practice social distancing habits to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus. It’s also helpful to take steps to support overall healthy immune function.
Eat immune-boosting foods
A diet high in refined sugar and saturated fat is detrimental to your health, and that includes your immune system. Fueling your body with nutritious foods is a good way to support your immune system. Sticking to wholesome, fresh or frozen, minimally processed foods can go a long way in promoting your immune health.
Some ideas for immune-boosting foods are:
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy greens
Drinking green tea may also provide substances that boost your immune system.
There’s no one miracle food or drink, but eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet provides the body with the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs for optimal immune function.
Get good quality sleep
As many Americans work from home or experience being furloughed from their jobs, it’s easy to get thrown off your routine. Without your normal day-to-day structure, you may find yourself staying up later than you normally would or allowing stress and anxiety to interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Poor sleep quality and not getting enough sleep impairs the immune system. Conversely, a good night’s sleep can boost immune function by increasing your T cells that fight off infection.
Whether you’re working from home or waiting to go back to work, practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed at the same time each night. It helps to turn off televisions and digital devices an hour before you plan to go to bed to help the mind and body wind down and prepare for sleep.
With the country in a state of uncertainty, it can be tempting to turn to alcohol, smoking, unhealthy eating, and other vices to cope. Unfortunately, these substances are bad news for your immune system. The best way to keep the immune system strong is to avoid vices.
Developing healthy coping habits helps avoid the lure of vices. Stress-busting activities can keep you on track.
Some ideas for relieving stress are:
- Walking outside
- Taking a warm bath
- Listening to soothing music
What’s more, stress-relieving activities boost the immune system.
Are you at risk?
Individuals whose respiratory, cardiovascular, or gastrointestinal system is compromised are more susceptible to severe consequences of COVID-19 infection.
People with the following conditions are at an increased risk:
- Respiratory allergies
- Autoimmune diseases
- Kidney or liver disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory diseases (asthma, COPD)
- Gastrointestinal disorders (inflammatory bowel disease)
There’s no need to panic. The most important things you can do to keep yourself and your family healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak is practice good hygiene, stay home, and follow a health-promoting lifestyle that includes eating nutrient-packed foods that support the immune system, getting enough sleep, and keeping stress levels down.
Your health and well-being is our top priority. If you have questions about COVID-19, we’re here to support our community in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City every step of the way.
If you’re feeling unwell, call our office to schedule an appointment with board-certified, primary care provider and internist Dr. Jonathan Leibowitz. Or you can book your visit online.