As many of us learned from the past week or two, the coronavirus (COVID-19) is nothing to be messed with. Although a healthy immune system won’t protect us from all ailments, it does reduce our risk of catching every flu, cold, and virus that goes around.
Although genetics play a role, a healthy lifestyle translates to a stronger immune system. Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet can boost your immune system.
But what exactly determines the strength of your immune system? Well, according to medical lead at Forward, Dr. Nate Favini, your diet, how much you exercise, the amount of sleep you get, and your stress levels are the biggest factors to consider when trying to strengthen your immune system. However, factors like medications; health conditions, like HIV or autoimmune diseases can hurt it. “It’s also worth noting how much smoking can impact your ability to fight off respiratory infections. We’ve seen smoking emerge as a big risk factor for severe illness during the COVID outbreak in China. If you are thinking of quitting smoking, now is the time,” he says.
And as it turns out, you can take the “healthy diet” approach, according to Dr. Favini. “I believe the immune system can be boosted. There are studies showing, for example, that people who take higher doses of vitamin C (1000 mg per day) may be at lower risk of getting upper respiratory infections,” he says. “Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods like sugar is good for your immune system too.”
However, it’s important to keep in mind no specific foods or drinks can protect you from the coronavirus. “COVID-19 is so new that we’re still learning a lot about how it works and how we can combat it. We don’t know why some people become so ill with the virus while others have mild infections,” Dr. Favini says.
Integrating the following foods and drinks into your diet may mean catching one less cold or virus, (and a speedier recovery when you do get sick). Here are the different foods and drinks you can incorporate into your diet to help boost your immune system.
6 foods that will boost your immune system
“Fermented veggies and dairy products increase antibodies that fight disease, thus providing a boost to our immune system,” Dr. Sean McCaffrey, D.C., I.H.S., L.D.H.S. of McCaffrey Health Clinic explaines. “The foods’ flora protects the small intestines from unhealthy organisms and also produces antioxidants that cleanse our bodies. The fermentation converts glucose into healthy bacteria that helps strengthen our immune system and digestive functions.”
Foods and drinks that fall into this category include kombucha, sauerkraut, unpasteurized dairy products (such as raw cheeses, milk, and yogurt), tempeh, and miso.
Because they are high in antioxidants, helium, and vitamin D, mushrooms protect and cleanse our bodies as they boost the immune system. “There are several types of mushrooms that have been thought to boost the immune system, including enoki, shitake and maitake mushrooms. There are some studies that suggest that mushrooms modulate immune markers, but there’s not any scientific evidence that they truly help improve immune function overall when it comes to fighting infections or preventing illness,” Dr. Favini says.
McCaffrey also recommended vegetables with similar properties, such as carrots, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and pumpkin.
Garlic has many health benefits, and McCaffrey says boosting the immune system is one of them. “It is rich in antioxidants, and has multiple antibacterial and antiviral properties,” he explains
Amandeep Bajwa, MD, a family medicine physician with Mercy Medical Group, emphasized the importance of drinking plenty of fluids — especially water. “Your body needs plenty of water to help your cells and immune system function properly,” Bajwa says.
Dr. Favini adds that water plays a vital role because it makes sure that all the cells in your body are operating in top conditions.
Bone broth has recently seen a surge in popularity, but it’s been around for thousands of years. Because it’s full of collagen, it supports digestion and boosts the immune system. “The gelatin in the bone broth repairs our intestinal lining and reduces inflammation,” McCaffrey explaines. “Approximately 80% of our immune systems cells are within the digestive system so as the bone broth heals the gut, it also strengthens our immune system in a powerful way.”
6 Foods with Zinc
“It’s not totally clear why zinc helps to fight off the common cold. One thought is that it may stop rhinovirus (which causes most colds) from multiplying. That’s the reason why it may be more effective if you take a zinc lozenge—it stays in your throat where it can contact the virus,” Dr. Favini says.
While Zinc is great to fight off the common colds, it might not be suited for the coronavirus. “Although, I have heard reports it is being used in combination with other medications for treatment in Korea,” Dr. Favini says. If you’re looking to add more Zinc into your diet, opt for beans, nuts, oats, and dark meat chicken.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, HelloGiggles is committed to providing accurate and helpful coverage to our readers. As such, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage you to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments, and visit our coronavirus hub.