Immune Support During the Pandemic

Posted by on Dec 15, 2020

Immune Support During the Pandemic

COVID-19 infections are spiking higher than ever. Social distancing and masks are still the most effective approaches while we wait for a vaccine. Supporting your immune system so it can maintain normal virus-fighting activity can also help you stay healthy and well during the long, cold, dark winter season. Here are simple steps you can take to support your immune system.

Dish up colorful plates. Aim to consume a rainbow of colors from vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, seeds, teas, spices and other whole plant foods throughout the day. The different colors represent different phytochemicals, each with its unique set of health-promoting properties. Some act as antioxidants and others have anti-cancer or anti-inflammatory benefits while still others promote brain, heart or immune health. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of eating the same foods over and over again. Instead, vary your choices every week to broaden your intake of a large variety of beneficial nutrients. The photo shows my dinner salad from last night.

Consume plenty of fiber. Soluble fiber from fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans feeds your gut microbiome. Friendly bacteria in your gut thrive on the prebiotic fiber present in plant foods. In contrast, animal foods and most processed foods are bereft of fiber. Since two-thirds of your body’s immune cells are located in your intestinal lining, the health of your gut microbiome plays a huge role in maintaining the health of your immune system. Regularly consuming soluble fiber from plant foods helps supply your microbiome with what it needs to stay healthy.

Seek some sunshine vitamin. Studies show vitamin D helps ward off upper respiratory infections. Most people in northern climes are deficient in the sunshine vitamin, especially in winter. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IU daily of vitamin D for most adults, and 800 IU for those over age 70. These are general recommendations for the U.S. population as a whole. Talk to your health care provider about the amount of vitamin D from food and supplements that’s right for you. An individualized dose can be determined based on your blood level of vitamin D.

In southern climates another alternative for getting vitamin D is to let sunshine fall on your skin. Experts generally recommend limiting sun exposure to 10 to 15 minutes twice a week since excess amounts can cause skin cancer. When out in the sun for more than a few minutes, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen to avoid cancer and skin damage.

Learn to manage stress. You can choose between a wide variety of techniques for promoting relaxation. Popular choices include meditation, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, hypnosis and biofeedback. Chronic stress raises levels of cortisol, a hormone known to suppress the immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. Relaxation helps lower cortisol levels. Research shows that practicing relaxation techniques regularly provides the biggest cortisol-lowering benefits.

Get enough Zs. It’s important to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily to rejuvenate your body. All of your cells, tissues and organs repair themselves during sleep including your body’s immune system function. Conversely, lack of sleep impairs your immunity. To improve sleep quality, take at least an hour before bedtime to turn off all screens and do something relaxing. It could be meditation, journaling, quietly playing a musical instrument, listening to music or reading a book. Go to bed and arise at about the same time each day for optimum shut-eye.

Find time for movement. Moving your body every day helps keep your immune system functioning in top form. Avoid prolonged sitting by taking frequent stretching breaks, getting a standup desk or walking while using a treadmill desk. Even 10 minutes of physical activity repeated a couple times throughout the day can add up to health benefits, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If you are unaccustomed to exercise, first get your health care provider’s approval before starting. Then find ways to move frequently such as walking, biking, weight training, yoga, Pilates, dancing, household chores or yardwork. The key is to do a variety of physical activities you enjoy.

This post is written by Elizabeth S. Smoots, MD. Dr. Smoots’ blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this blog consult your healthcare provider. ©2012 Elizabeth S. Smoots, MD, LLC.
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  1. All good suggestions. What are the ingredients in your salad?

    • My salad consisted of mixed baby greens, carrots, radish, jicama, extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I often add chopped red bell pepper, purple cabbage or green onions when we have them on hand. The main course was turkey-egg casserole loaded with collard greens, onions and red bell peppers served on the plate with yams and green beans. Dessert was a Fuji apple.

  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    I enjoyed your article, all good suggestions! My “Go-To” for my reluctant body is: “The greater the muscle contraction, the greater the subsequent relaxation.” When I have an ache, the tendency is not to move when one should really be moving. We have been adding fresh blueberries to our breakfast, yummy, healthy and doesn’t feel like a grey winter day. Loved seeing your colorful salad and healthy suggestions! Are most of your veggies home grown? Be well! B

    • Blueberries are a wonderful way to add color at breakfast! Thanks for your comments. All of the veggies in the pictured salad were bought at the grocery store. I am growing kale, chard, mustard greens, parsley and onions in the winter garden and I have a cold frame full of romaine lettuce and Italian dandelion greens. We enjoy supplementing our diet with home-grown veggies throughout the year, and they are especially appreciated in the winter and early spring when the quality of grocery store produce often wanes.

  3. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for publishing this important information. Our family grew up with “eat your vegetables” but even better as you mentioned is eat a “rainbow color” of vegetables. It’s amazing all the different flavors that vegetables can have…and not just limited to green vegetables. I live near a Korean grocery store and found that they have isles of vegetables both familiar and new, that I found delicious. Purple eggplant, red beets, orange squash, are all nutritious and colorful. In fact, I discovered that sunroot (aka Jerusalem artichoke), tastes quite good. It tastes like French fries, but with a delightful nut like flavor when baked, and is packed with potassium – great for recovery from outdoor (socially distant) exercising! Thanks for the encouragement to seek out colorful vegetables. Please continue these informative blog posts.

    • Thanks for pointing out the colorful array of vegetables you have found at your local market. And thanks for sharing your discovery that Jerusalem artichokes are delicious when baked. I usually eat them raw, but now I’m going to have to try them baked to find out if they really taste like French fries.