As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, cases may be skyrocketing where you live. In addition to vigilant mask-wearing, social distancing, and proper hygiene practices, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself is improving the health of your immune system.
Maintaining a nutrient-dense and whole-food diet that is rich in an abundance of fresh and colorful produce is the most effective way to ensure you’re getting nutrients that are critical to optimal health, along with sufficient physical activity and adequate hydration! A processed-food diet promotes inflammation, is lacking in vitamins and minerals, and increases your risk of illness. The more you are able to minimize your intake of processed foods, the better off your immune system will be.
Having said that, there are also some superstar supplements that could further boost your immunity in addition to a healthy diet during this public health crisis.
Antioxidants are substances that can help to slow or prevent your body’s cells from being damaged by environmental triggers, such as toxins, bacteria, and viruses. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a potent antioxidant that can help to prevent illness. Research has also found that vitamin C can reduce the incidence of respiratory infection1 and can boost immune function. It is found widely in citrus fruit, bell pepper, kiwi, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, and many other foods, but can be taken as a supplement as well. If taking it as a supplement, aim for a dose of 1000mg/day.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in regulating the immune system and how your body responds to viruses. Vitamin D deficiency can result in compromised immunity2. Even just 15 minutes of daily sun exposure can ensure your vitamin D levels are adequate. Taking a vitamin D supplement in the form of Vitamin D3 at a dose of 5,000IU/day can also help strengthen your immune system, especially during the colder winter months. Recent data has shown that low vitamin D levels are significantly associated with poorer prognosis and outcomes among COVID-19 patients3.
Selenium is an antioxidant that is particularly helpful for protecting against influenza strains and boosts your body’s ability to fight off viruses. Research has shown that dietary supplementation with selenium may strengthen the immune system among individuals infected with viral diseases.4 Therefore, taking a selenium supplement of 200mcg/day could be wise! If you prefer to get your selenium from food, Brazil nuts have the highest amount of selenium compared to any other food. You can eat approximately 3-4 Brazil nuts/day as a method of selenium supplementation.
Zinc is very effective in decreasing inflammation and reducing cell damage in your body as well as reducing the frequency and duration of infections. In fact, studies have shown that using zinc lozenges can significantly decrease the severity and duration of colds. It is suspected that zinc would do the same for other viruses and respiratory infections5. Zinc can be found in meat, shellfish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seed, and legumes, as well as in a pill form supplement in a dose of 30mg/day.
Elderberry is the dark purple berry of the European elder tree. The flowers and berries are packed with immune-boosting antioxidants. Elderberry is reported to have antiviral activity, and elderberry extract is a safe, efficient, and cost-effective method of treating influenza. Studies have shown that, when compared to placebo treatment, influenza patients receiving elderberry extract demonstrated relief of symptoms approximately four days earlier6. Since elderberry has antiviral and immune-boosting activity, it may help to strengthen your body’s defense system against COVID-19.