Strengthening your host immune defense is the best strategy for preventing, fighting, and mitigating the severity of COVID-19, according to a new paper from the Institute for Functional Medicine’s COVID-19 Task Force.
A systems-oriented, science-based approach, functional medicine considers a patient’s biochemistry, physiology, genetics, and environmental exposures in seeking the causes of medical conditions, rather than merely treating symptoms.
The task force’s recommendations follow this “playbook” for warding off many chronic diseases. “For the most part, lifestyle is a factor in many chronic diseases, so several of these modalities could be used across different symptoms and conditions,” explains coauthor Deanna Minich, PhD.
Below are five recommended ways to boost your immunity:
1. Food and nutrition
Nutrition is a key component of your health and well-being. Food-derived nutrients can help reduce viral infection and severity by balancing inflammatory pathways, reducing oxidative stress, increasing antioxidant levels, and harmonizing the gut microbiome.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Aim for nine to 13 servings daily of a variety of produce to get an array of phytonutrients to enhance the gut microbiome. To combat COVID-19 in particular, Minich recommends plenty of vitamin C, zinc, and quercetin (a flavonoid found in onions, green tea, apples, and berries).
- Increase your dietary fiber intake. Aim to consume a minimum of 28 to 35 grams daily, preferably from whole foods.
- Reduce or avoid added sugars, salt, high-glycemic foods such as processed carbs, and excessive saturated fat that inhibit immune function.
- Choose fermented vegetables and other probiotic foods to maintain gut health. “We all know that the majority of the immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract,” Minich explains, “so tending to the health of the gut establishes a more favorable terrain for systemic-wide effects.”
Exercise supports immune-system function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation, and decreasing the production of stress hormones. Physical activity provides the movement the body needs to oxygenate, circulate blood and nutrients, and eliminate cellular waste. And blood vessels play a key role in aiding the lymphatic system’s transport of immune factors.
- Get moderate, regular exercise daily. Mix things up by designing your own personalized exercise program. And get out in nature regularly to enjoy its calming, immune-supportive effects.
Chronic stress can dysregulate and suppress your immune function, making you more susceptibility to illness.
- Calm yourself with techniques like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, tai chi, qigong, relaxation response, breath regulation, and gardening.
- Monitor stress through heart-rate variability (HRV) and other markers to help you determine when to implement stress-management strategies.
Quality sleep is essential for immune function and maintenance, overcoming inflammation, and aiding recovery from illness thanks to its restorative powers.
- Get seven to eight hours of quality sleep, including ample deep sleep.
- Practice good sleep hygiene and maintain consistent sleep hours by turning off screens; ensuring the room is cool, quiet, and dark; and setting reminders to retire each evening at a consistent hour.
5. Social connection
Our relationships are a significant determinant of immune health: Isolation, loneliness, bereavement, or conflict can lead to inflammation and reduced immune functionality.
- Reduce hostile and nonsupportive interactions while emphasizing and encouraging time with others who are positive or affirming.
- Seek out regular social connection as part of your routine, especially if you’re feeling lonely or isolated.
- Participate virtually in local community events or in a religious or spiritual group.