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Powerful Immune Support During COVID-19: Diet and Beyond

Immunity is the capacity to resist and combat infection.

Luckily, there are many ways we can improve immune function, and by contrast there are also ways we commonly suppress it.

During the current Coronavirus pandemic, a strong immune system may go a long way in protecting you and your family.

Research from The Lancet which looked at pneumonia associated with the 2019-nCoV virus in Wuhan, China, showed that the virus was more likely to affect people with comorbidities.

Co-mor-bi-di-ty: the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a person.

As lowered immune function increases chronic disease, it makes sense to do our best to improve immunity. Your body is an intelligent self-healing organism designed to maintain balance. Healing begins the moment you feed the body nourishing foods and create a healing environment around it.

How Does The Immune System Work?

The immune system is made up of proteins, cells, organs and tissues working together to protect against disease.

The first line of defense of the immune system are physical barriers:

  • Skin which protects the internal blood, tissues and organs.

  • Mucus lining the interior tubes which can trap microorganisms and kill bacteria through the enzyme action of lysozyme.

  • Acidic stomach gastric fluid can kill many swallowed microorganisms.

  • Strong salts in the small intestine can kill organisms that pass through the stomach.

  • The flushing action of urination and diarrhea rid the body of unwanted bacteria.

This is why it is recommended to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and avoid touching your face, so viruses, bacteria and pathogens do not enter the internal body.

The second immune response, innate immunity, activates with immediate general responses if a microorgansim does enter your body:

  • Phagocytosis: living cells including phagocytes, neutrophils and macrophages engulf and kill bacteria, microorganisms, cell debris and other particles.

  • Inflammation: acute inflammation is a healing response increasing blood flow to affected areas and allowing phagocytosis to to clear invading bacteria and infected tissue. Chronic inflammation is not a normal condition and does not benefit the body.

  • Fever: Body temperature over 37 degrees is a response to infection or serious injury. Fever enhances immunity, speeding the production of white blood cells while stressing infected and cancerous body cells.

The third line of defense, Adaptive immunity, tailors immune response to specific pathogens:

  • Antibody-mediated response: B cells produce antibodies that bind to pathogens and/or toxins within blood and tissue fluid.

  • Cell-mediated response: Intra-cellular threats (viruses, some bacteria and fungi that produce inside body cells) are detected and destroyed by cytotoxic T cells and Natural Killer NK cells.

10 Dietary Ways To Increase Immune Function

  1. Heal Your Gut: A healthy community of microbes in the gut regulate immune balance. The contrast is also true, as this study demonstrates how an unhealthy gut contributes to auto-immune disease. The lining of the gut houses 70% of the cells that make up the immune system. A healthy gut is a healthy immune system. How to nourish a healthy gut? Include probiotics, fermented foods, slippery elm, aloe vera and gentle non-irritating foods to soothe the gut and colonize healthy bacterial populations. The American Gut Project is the largest study of the human microbiome to date. It concluded that the single most important aspect to a healthy diverse gut microbiome is the amount and diversity of plants in a persons diet. Which brings us to our next point.

  2. Eat a large variety of vegetables and fruit, a rainbow of them every day. Not only are whole vegetables and fruits loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids and other immune building components, they also nourish a healthy gut. The more you eat, the better.

  3. Garlic... And more garlic. Eat as much garlic as you can, especially raw. Yes, you may smell, but its incredible healing properties are worth a bit of odor. Garlic maintains the homeostasis of the immune system, protects against microbial infection, is antibacterial, cardioprotective, anti-inflamatory, anti-tumor, anti-fungal and anti-cancer. This article explains how to use garlic as an antibiotic.

  4. Flavor your food with medicinal herbs and spices which increase immunity and have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and antioxidant effects. Some of these include: ginger, tumeric, thyme, rosemary, oregano, corriander and tarragon.

  5. Eat carotene rich food. Yellow and orange squash, carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, red peppers and tomatoes. The carotenes in food protect the thymus gland from damage. The thymus gland is the major gland of the immune system and is very susceptible to free-radical and oxidative stress caused by poor food choices, drugs, infection and chronic illness. Carotenes enhance white blood cell function, and increase antiviral and anticancer properties of the immune system.

  6. Eat from the brassica family, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard greens, radish and turnip. The list of their health benefits is long, they: "prevent oxidative stress, induce detoxification, stimulate the immune system, decrease the risk of cancers, inhibit malignant transformation and carcinogenic mutations, as well as, reduce proliferation of cancer cells...affect the elimination or neutralization of carcinogenic and mutagenic factors, and consequently inhibit DNA methylation and cancer development".

  7. Include medicinal mushrooms: Shiitake, Maitake and Reishi. These mushrooms power up the immune system, have anticancer and antitumor activity. Maitake mushrooms have beta-D-glucans, which activate white blood cells and increase immune activity, can attack tumor cells directly and prevent the spread (metastasis) of cancer. Reishi mushrooms can be used in the treatment of viral infections.

  8. Consider adaptogenic herbs suchs as astragalus, ginsing, maca, licorice root and holy basil. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress by supporting the nervous system, immunity and vitality. They can be added to soups, salads, stir fry's and brewed into soothing teas.

  9. Eat food sources high in Vitamin C. While oranges, strawberries and kiwis are definitely good to eat, and provide high amounts of vitamin C (which enhances immune function), there is another, lesser known, superstar fruit: acerola cherry. Acerola cherry is often bought and used in powdered form, and according to research, has 50-100 times more ascorbic acid than an orange or a lemon. It is also high in phytonutrients, antioxidants and has anti-aging and anticancer properties. Camu Camu powder, derived from a small cherry-like fruit from the amazon rainforest, is another great whole fruit sold in powdered form. It also is high in vitamin C, and reduces inflammation and oxidation which deteriorate cell function.

  10. Consider bee products: bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly and manuka honey. These products are highly medicinal and protective. This study demonstrated how bee pollen is "antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, anticancer, immunostimulating, and local analgesic." Propolis is described as bee glue, a resin collected and made by bees used to seal open spaces in the hive. "Propolis and its extracts have numerous applications in treating various diseases due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antimycotic, antifungal, antiulcer, anticancer, and immunomodulatory properties." Royal jelly is a gland secretion from worker bees, which the worker bees feed only to the queen bee and immature young larvae. it is considered a superfood, and has demonstrated "many pharmacological activities such as antibacterial, antitumor, antiallergy, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory effects." Manuka honey kills bacterial pathogens. This study reports how "in vitro assays have found manuka honey can effectively inhibit all problematic bacterial pathogens tested". Studies also demonstrate how manuka honey can inhibit the progression of cancer cells, and has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties as well as an ability to modulate the immune system.

Foods That Inhibit The Immune System

As powerful as food can be to support the body and increase immunity, the opposite is also true. Certain foods decrease immune function and increase susceptibility to disease, bacteria and viruses.

  1. Poor nutrition. Vegetables increase immunity, and lack of them decrease it.

  2. Refined sugar is harmful to immune function. Studies have shown reduced ability of white blood cells to engulf and destroy bacteria after ingestion of 100g of sugar - about 2 sodas.

  3. Excessive animal protein promotes inflammation and reduced immunity.

  4. Processed/fast foods, excessive salt, saturated fat, gluten, fried food and GMO's can all reduce immunity

  5. Alcohol and tobacco

Supplements To Increase Immunity

The foundation of immunity should be a healthy diverse diet. However supplements can help to boost immune function.

  1. Vitamin C: is critical to immune function. It enhances white blood cell function and activity, while also increasing antibody activity. Vitamin C supports both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Therapeutic amount 1000-4000 gram/day.

  2. Probiotics: a healthy gut is critical to a healthy immune system. Probiotics stimulate immune function, reinforce the intestinal barrier and suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

  3. Zinc: supports proper immune function and is vital for normal thymus gland function. The thymus a hormone-producing gland central to immunity. Most diets supply enough zinc, if considering supplementation, recommended intakes are here.

  4. Glutamine: has been shown to boost immune function and decrease infection.

  5. Vitamin D: this vitamin modulates immune response and deficiency is associated with autoimmune reactions. 1000-4000 IU/day.

  6. Echinacea: studies show echinacea to be an immunomodulator. According to the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, experts consider Echinamide by Natural Factors to be a superextracted product of high quality. The company also has specific anti-viral preparations. I have no affiliation with this product. Dosage is on the label.

  7. Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE): studies show that GSE has "significant antiviral and antitumor effects" as well as immunostimulating properties. Proper dosage will be on the bottle.

Lifestyle Factors For Strong Immunity

  • Stress management: stress depresses immune function, find healthy ways to manage your stress. This may be a walk in nature, time with family or friends, a calm yoga practice, or recognizing that stress is often a reaction of an overactive mind, not necessarily reflective of what is actually taking place.

  • Restful sleep: sleep "exerts a strong regulatory influence on immune functions." Create a calm sleep environment and try to have 6-8 hrs of sleep per night.

  • Exercise: moderate exercise can benefit immune function, while strenuous exercise can actually temporarily lower immunity as the body recuperates from the exercise.

  • Practices of the mind and heart: such as kindness and compassion, prayer, mindfulness and laughter all can help to relieve stress and tension which will beneficially affect both the nervous and immune systems.

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