By Dani Rodriguez-Brindicci, MS, RDN,
Director of Clinical Nutrition
Currently, there are no known cures for coronavirus (COVID-19), though
research is underway to develop a vaccine. The lack of immediate medication
for the current coronavirus outbreak is a reminder that sometimes, the
way we care for ourselves is our best line of defense. One way to start
is by simply eating right to put our bodies in a better position to fight
back. Although you may not be able to fully prevent an illness this season,
a healthy immune system is one way to give your body extra protection.
Focusing on nutrient-rich foods and healthy lifestyle behaviors can help
you and your family stay a step ahead. Good nutrition is essential to
a strong immune system, which offers protection not only from novel infections
(e.g., COVID-19), but also seasonal illness such as the flu and other
health problems including arthritis, allergies, abnormal cell development
and cancers. There is no particular food or supplement that can prevent
illness but here are some suggestions for boosting your immunity:
Focus on Vitamins & Minerals
Zinc is a mineral with anti-viral properties that can help the immune system
work properly and may help wounds heal. Furthermore, zinc can alleviate
symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including
the common cold. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk,
whole grain products, beans, avocado, seeds and nuts. While food sources
of zinc are safe to include in your diet, it’s important to note
that high doses of zinc supplements can interfere with absorption of other
Vitamin C protects you from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies
and boosting immunity. As an antioxidant, vitamin C fights free radicals
in the body which may help prevent or delay certain cancers and heart
disease and promote healthy aging. Vitamin C also seems to reduce the
progress of cartilage loss in those with osteoarthritis. Though it may
not keep you from catching a cold, there is evidence that high doses of
vitamin C may decrease the length of cold symptoms by as much as one to
one-and-a-half days for some people. Include more of this healthy vitamin
in your diet with foods such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell
pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice or foods fortified with vitamin
C, such as some cereals.
Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects from infections by keeping
skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system
healthy. Get this immune-boosting vitamin from foods such as sweet potatoes,
carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs or foods labeled
"vitamin A fortified," such as milk or cereal. Since too much
vitamin A can be harmful, consult with your doctor before taking vitamin
Remember that food sources of vitamins and minerals are always preferable
to over-the-counter supplements.
Cook with Herbs and Spices
Garlic and onions have long been touted as immune boosters. In a double-blind study published
in "Advances in Therapy," volunteers who received a daily garlic
supplement were less likely to get a cold and recovered faster if they
became sick. Add to soups, stews salads etc. for an extra immune boost.
Ginger contains potent chemicals which target stuffy noses and works to suppress
coughs. In a study at the College of Medicine at Kaohsiung Medical University,
researchers found that ingesting fresh ginger inhibits the attachment
of rhinoviruses to cells and promotes the secretion of antiviral chemicals
to help fight viruses found in mucus membranes
Hydrate with water
Hydration is critical during the drier winter months to keep our mucous
membranes soft and moist, preventing tiny cracks that allow viruses and
bacteria to enter. Additionally, drinking enough water ensures that your
blood will carry plenty of oxygen to all the cells of your body. All your
organs and muscle fibers need oxygen to function optimally. How much water
you need depends on your size and weight, your activity level, and the
season. One good way to encourage hydration while getting in some extra
nutrients is to store bone broth in your fridge. When you want some, heat
it up and sip it from a mug for a warm, nutrient-dense drink.
Get Some Sleep
Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep
are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep
can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. During sleep,
your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help
promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection
or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may
decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting
antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get
Between electronics at our bedside and news about a pandemic, it’s
no surprise many Americans are losing sleep. So how much sleep do you
need to bolster your immune system? The optimal amount of sleep for most
adults is seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. Teenagers need
nine to 10 hours of sleep. School-aged children may need 10 or more hours of sleep.
Maintain Physical Activity
Exercise, particularly, moderate physical activity is a powerful immunity
booster. For example, 30 to 60-minute walk most days per week is considered
moderate exercise. Too much or not enough exercise can weaken immune systems.
Try dancing around the house, walking around the neighborhood, stationary
biking, or similar activities to move more during this time of self-quarantine.
To Supplement or Not
Many supplements and natural or other alternative treatments are being
promoted to prevent or treat coronavirus (COVID-19). None have been proven
to work, but some have a potential benefit. When people are afraid, they
can easily be convinced that a product can prevent or treat disease. If
you are considering any supplement do your research, be aware of contraindications,
and ask an expert for the appropriate strength, recommended dose, and
effectiveness of the supplement.
When it comes to coronavirus (COVID-19) and other flu-like diseases, there
is no proof that supplements actually work. That being said, some supplements
may have a limited benefit. Some examples of these include vitamin C,
zinc lozenges, elderberry extract, vitamin D, and garlic supplements.
Vitamins and minerals can help if you’re not getting enough in your
regular diet and supplements may assist in reducing symptoms.
Lastly, continue to control hypertension and blood sugar fluctuations if
you have diabetes, as these conditions are associated with more severe
disease if infected with novel coronavirus. Take the necessary steps to
stay healthy by getting adequate sleep, remaining physically active, eating
a healthful diet, and as always…wash your hands!
If you have questions or are interested in learning more techniques to
help build a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, contact one of our
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at the
Outpatient Medical Nutrition Therapy Office or our
Diabetes Self-Management Program located in the
Torrance Memorial Specialty Center, 2841 Lomita Blvd., Suite 335, Torrance. Call 310-891-6707.