Coronavirus. There’s little else people are talking about today, and one of the most pressing questions flooding social media and news channels is how to protect against this global pandemic. In this article, we’ll be covering the lifestyle factors and dietary adjustments, including natural antivirals, that can help boost your immune system against coronavirus to keep you, your loved ones, and all whom you come in contact with safe.
Symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, are on everyone’s watchlist: fever, cough, shortness of breath.
There are lifestyle habits you can adopt that can help protect against the coronavirus outbreak and its symptoms, and they’re important habits to develop, as they strengthen your immune system against all manner of bacteria and viruses.
Let’s start with the one that everyone is talking about most: hygiene.
The first line of defense against COVID-19 according to health organizations worldwide is to wash your hands with soap and water often and for at least 20 seconds.
In addition to handwashing, health officials from the CDC also recommend regularly disinfecting high-traffic surfaces that have more frequent contact with germs.
You’ve probably all seen the memes on social media reminding you, in humorous fashion, to steer clear of touching your eyes, face, and nose. Being cognizant of where your hands are and what they are touching is a necessary habit during this health crisis, and one that will serve you well once the pandemic is under control.
When you’re stressed, your body responds by elevating stress hormones, like the infamous cortisol. Cortisol is great in terms of short-term stress, like when we need to run from a bear or race towards the finish line. But when cortisol remains high while you go about your daily business, it taxes your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to viral infections.
Which is why managing stress is a top priority.
Stress is a pretty intangible measurable, so let’s try to get a better grasp on its effects by looking at what science has to say.
Carnegie Mellon researchers spent 20 years studying the effects of stress, and they discovered that when people exposed to a cold virus are stressed, they are far more likely to develop symptoms (1).
Stress often comes in the form of conflict with others. Ohio State University researchers conducted an interesting study in which they inflicted superficial wounds on volunteers, and then had them discuss either stressful or pleasant topics with their spouses. The participants who argued took a day longer to heal, and those with open hostility toward their partners took 2 days longer to heal than participants who got along with their spouses (2).
Moral of the story: managing your stress levels, your reactivity, and your emotions will help promote a strong immune system.
Techniques for lowering stress include exercising, practicing yoga or tai chi, meditating, and engaging in mindfulness activities like controlled breathing.
Don’t work yourself too hard. Slow down and take as many breaks as you need. Also, do your best to avoid stressors…like looking at your 401K. That does nobody any good right now.
Here’s another immune-boosting lifestyle habit that shouldn’t come as a surprise: getting enough sleep (7-9 hours a day), helps protect you from colds and flus and optimizes immune function.
According to the Sleep Foundation, if you don’t get enough sleep, your body cannot make enough cytokines, which are a type of protein that regulates the immune response (3).
One study showed that of 164 people exposed to the cold virus, those who slept fewer than 6 hours a night were more than 4 times more likely to catch a cold than people who got more than 7 hours of sleep a night (4).
Give your body a chance to reset itself by prioritizing sleep. Also, there’s never been a better time to nap, so don’t feel guilty for stealing 30 minutes of Zzzzs. You’ll be all the more productive…and healthier…for it.
Low-to-moderate exercise is proven to lower cortisol levels, so it’s a ready-made stress regulator that we should all be engaging in. But you’ll want to strike a balance. High-intensity exercise can increase cortisol levels and over-stress the body, which can deplete your immune system.
Make sure you’re keeping your body strong and your cardiovascular system primed, but don’t overdo it.
Let’s start with the list of dietary don’ts.
Now for the dietary dos.
Vitamins C, B, D, and zinc should be a part of everyone’s vitamin regimen who’s interested in boosting the immune system against viruses, from the common cold to COVID-19.
Vitamin C is the most well-known immune booster, and thankfully it’s present in commonly eaten foods such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, strawberries, spinach, kale, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Vitamin B6 supports your body’s immune response. In addition to taking a B-vitamin complex or a B6 supplement, be sure to eat plenty of chicken, salmon, or tuna. If you are a vegetarian, then green veggies and chickpeas are your B6 staples.
Vitamin D has recently stolen the spotlight as an immune-boosting vitamin that can help protect against respiratory infections by generating antimicrobial proteins that destroy viruses and bacteria. A recent study showed that older patients given higher doses of vitamin D had 40% fewer respiratory infections in a year (5). And an analysis of 25 trials made up of 11,000 patients highlighted vitamin D’s protective benefit against respiratory illnesses.
Zinc is another standout nutrient that has proven effective against cold viruses. Studies show that sucking on a zinc lozenge can reduce the duration of a cold by a day and potentially decrease the number of respiratory infections in kids.
If you’re serious about boosting your immune system against coronavirus you might want to add in some additional defenses brought to you by Mother Nature herself. Here are 5 of our favorites.
Oil of oregano fosters a healthy immune system with potent plant compounds such as carvacrol that have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses, including:
A test-tube study showed that oregano oil and isolated carvacrol suppressed activity of murine norovirus (which mimics human norovirus) 15 minutes after exposure (6).
This medicinal mushroom has been stimulating immune systems for centuries, but a word to the wise—it’s best as a powder or tincture, as reishi mushrooms don’t taste all that great when cooked like button mushrooms.
Reishi mushrooms have all sorts of influence on our white blood cells, which fight infection and disease. They also activate natural killer cells that wipe out infection and cancer. Reishis have even been shown to improve lymphocyte function.
Here’s a highly effective natural antiviral you probably have in your garlic keeper right now! Research shows that garlic exhibits antiviral activity against:
It fortifies the immune system by activating immune cells, but you have to crush, cut, or chew it to release its antiviral compound allicin. While we have no proof that allicin is a weapon against coronavirus specifically, we do have evidence that, when taken as a supplement for 3 months, garlic can reduce the risk of a cold by 63% and shorten the duration by 70%, which means it doesn’t hurt to add it to your immunity protocol!
Astragalus joins the ranks of echinacea and goldenseal as an adaptogen with immune-enhancing and antiviral properties. Research suggests astragalus is effective against:
Studies also show that astragalus can help patients recover from chemotherapy and radiation quicker and extend their lifespan, which earns it a place in your wellness arsenal.
It’s easy to boost your immune system with this antiviral because you can take it as a tea, a lozenge, or an elixir. Studies show it can help protect against:
Ginger protects with gingerol and zingerone, which block viral replication and keep viruses from entering host cells.
One last word before we go wash our hands and brew some ginger tea. We are all in this together. Be smart, safe, and sensible.