Although Americans are desperately hoping the New Year will bring an end to COVID-19, the reality is that we are facing what President Joe Biden has called a “dark winter.” While almost 5 million American health care workers and elderly have received the COVID-19 vaccine already, distribution in the United States still has a long way to go. In the meantime, COVID-19 cases are rising and officials across the country are working to mitigate its spread. Unfortunately, this means reverting to lockdown measures and the closure of non-essential businesses.
However, difficult decisions officials make should reflect all that we’ve learned about COVID-19, how it is transmitted and how it impacts our communities. We know that regular exercise can help prevent chronic health conditions that lead to more severe COVID-19 cases, boost the immune system and help alleviate stress and depression. Yet, fitness centers in Boston remain closed. Physical activity has never been more important, and can help play a key role in our fight against COVID-19. Further, large fitness centers with enhanced COVID-19 related public health practices are essential in providing access to exercise, especially in the coming winter months.
We have learned the initial lockdowns had severe impacts on the mental and physical health of the nation. Sedentary behavior increased by over 30% and a national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than half of adults reported that stress about the pandemic had caused a negative impact on their mental health.
Exercise can be part of the solution as it produces endorphins, which not only help relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety but are known to produce long-term mental health benefits. In fact, a recent survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association found that 65% of Americans who returned to the gym after the first lockdowns said they are doing so to improve their mental health.
Along with strengthening the body and mind, exercise has a critical role to play when it comes to fighting the virus itself, both lessening its impact and providing protection. COVID-19 causes severe symptoms, a higher chance of hospitalization and death for those who already suffer from chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. With over 70% of adults already considered overweight or obese, the pandemic has made physical activity critical to improving Americans’ overall health and saving lives. Exercise can help protect all of us from developing these conditions while also producing anti-inflammatory effects that boost the immune system to fight off viruses like COVID-19.
Many large fitness centers are working diligently to make their spaces safe for members to continue reaping the benefits of exercise. Employees wear face masks, equipment is sanitized after each use, locker rooms remain closed and capacity is limited. These precautions are proving to keep their members safe while they focus on what’s important — their wellbeing.
Large fitness centers are more spacious — optimal for physical distancing — and have control over their robust ventilation systems with the ability to replace air hourly. With winter weather in much of the country, large fitness centers are one of the best options Americans have to access indoor physical activity and the benefits that it brings.
This evidence should give policymakers reason to include large fitness centers that implement appropriate public health measures among essential businesses, to allow Americans to improve their mental and physical health in the face of a challenging COVID-19 winter.
Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., was the 17th surgeon general of the United States.
A bout of cold and flu can set alarm bells ringing during the pandemic. Boost your immunity with these foods and keep the common cold at bay
Winter means chilly mornings, sipping hot cocoa and snuggling under the blanket. But it is also the flu season, and with the pandemic around, you can never be sure if it’s just a cold or covid-19. “Some foods have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties which help us fight seasonal diseases,” says Dr Archana Batra who is a dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator. With the ongoing covid-19 situation, we are bound to take extra care to boost our immunity, so, here is a comprehensive list of foods which will not only boost your immunity but safeguard you against the flu and common cold.
For ages, honey has been used for its antibacterial properties. In ancient Egypt, it was used to heal wounds. “Honey plays a vital role in improving the immune system and in hydrating the body,” says Batra. The antibacterial properties in it help to suppress coughs and relieve sore throat. You can start your day with a glass of warm water with honey and lemon or you can add honey to your tea and milk.
It has anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. “Ginger helps to fight nausea which is a common problem when you have the flu,” says Batra. You can add raw ginger to your hot soup or brew it with
your tea. To avoid viral infections, you can boil ginger with other spices and can have it after the liquid has cooled.
It has antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties and has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. It also helps to boost the immune system. “It is medically proven that regular consumption of garlic lessens the chances of catching a cold,” she says. Even garlic supplements help to decrease the severity of a cold. If you have a bad cough and cold, you can have raw garlic every morning. Other than that, you can add garlic to your hot soups and broths. It helps to provide relief if you have a sore throat.
It is easy to digest and filled with all the necessary minerals, vitamins, protein and nutrients to help heal your system when you’re recovering from a flu. It is a rich source of electrolytes and fluids to restore your strength after a fever. “Hot chicken soup helps to clear the nasal mucus and thus acts as a natural decongestant” she informs. The amino acid cysteine in chicken helps to deal with the flu-causing virus.
Yoghurt is packed with calcium, vitamins, minerals, protein and beneficial probiotics. All these nutrients help to boost the immune system and decrease the chance of getting affected by the common cold. However, dairy products do not suit all during the cold. “You have to be cautious about the effects of yoghurt on your body. If you feel that it thickens your mucus, then you can skip it from your diet,” she warns.
The soluble fibre in it helps to boost digestion. It also provides all the nutrients to the patient who is suffering from a cold. “People have a misconception that bananas make a cold worse. It is false,” says the expert. So what are you waiting for? Load up on its goodness!
Green leafy vegetables
We all know the healthy benefits of green vegetables. Add vegetables with antioxidant properties like spinach, broccoli, kale, bell peppers to your diet. Winter is the best season to experiment with different green salads and soups by adding seasonal vegetables to it. “Vitamin A, K, C, fibre, and minerals help in rapid recovery from the common cold,” says Batra.
It is more than just a breakfast option. It is very high in soluble fibre that helps in boosting cardiac health and zinc helps in improving the immune system. “This fibre helps to reduce the inflammation in the guts which causes bloating, cramping and diarrhoea,” she informs. It is also rich in omega 3. Thus, oats provide all the essential nutrients to your body which you need to combat viral infections in the winter season.
“Apart from having the above foods, you must indulge in some sort of physical exercise like yoga, Pilates, aerobics, etc to improve the immune system,” concludes Batra.
Corresponding author Tony Reiman, MD, of the University of New Brunswick, and colleagues, explained that a wide array of emerging therapies, such as proteasome inhibitors, immunomodulatory drugs, and novel combination therapies, have significantly improved outcomes in patients with MM, but that the high rate of eventual relapse and the heterogeneity of the disease among patients have made it a particularly difficult cancer to fight.
“Additionally, MM is considered a disease of the immune system,” the investigators wrote. “Gradual immune dysregulation and impairment of NK cells, T cells, B cells, and dendritic cells allow malignant plasma cells to escape immunosurveillance.”
Reiman and colleagues proposed that a better understanding of the immune environment of MM could lead to strategies to reengage the immune system to inhibit MM growth. This is where NK cells potentially come into play.
These cells are considered the most active subset of innate lymphoid cells. Their name comes from their ability to target infected and malignant cells without prior sensitization. They cells have both activating and inhibitory receptors (IRs), and their activity is controlled by signals between the receptors.
One strategy for leveraging NKs is to use monoclonal antibodies to target IRs. This approach has shown benefits in other types of cancers, the authors wrote, and there is emerging evidence suggesting it is a viable option in MM as well.
They advocated paying particular attention “to understanding the heterogeneity of ligand expression both within and across patients with MM, the interplay between NK and T cells in response to IR blockade therapy, and how NK-targeted therapy can be combined with existing therapeutic options in MM patients.”
The authors said notable research has been published suggesting a role for several other IRs in MM biology: KIRs, NKG2A, TIGIT, TIM-3, PD-1, and LAG-3.
Of those, Reiman and colleagues singled out KIRs as the “most promising” target.“Not only were anti-KIR antibodies shown to be well tolerated, but they were also shown to enhance NK cell function,” they wrote.
Some of those IRs are also expressed on T cells, meaning therapies that target those receptors might boost the anticancer effects of both types of cells; however, the authors said most studies into the IRs have focused almost exclusively on T cells while ignoring NK cells.
Early failure of some clinical trials of IR blockades is likely due to intra- and interpatient heterogeneity, the authors noted. Any kind of IR-blockade therapy would likely need to be tailored to each particular patient’s expression of receptors, the investigators said, similar to what is done in solid tumors.
The investigators closed with a list of key steps they believe will need to be undertaken to bring NK-based therapy for MM close to fruition. Among those steps:
Profile NK cell receptors, subpopulations, cell activity, and cell function in MM
Profile the expression of NK cell receptor cognate ligands
Explore the integration of NK cell–based therapies and traditional therapies preclinically in order to optimize clinical trial design.
Alfarra H, Weir J, Grieve S, Reiman T. Targeting NK cell inhibitory receptors for precision multiple myeloma immunotherapy. Front Immunol. Published online November 12, 2020. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.575609
New year, new you. It’s a saying we’re all familiar with – along with the annual January deluge of adverts offering dieting programmes, exercise equipment, and miracle supplements that claim to “boost” our immune systems.
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed even more emphasis on that final goal. But how many of us really know anything about our immune systems? And is it really possible to improve our ability to fight off viruses and other threats?
According to Professor Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist at the University of Manchester, the subject first requires a bit of myth-busting.
“The idea of wanting to ‘boost’ an immune system is a bit of a misnomer, and a worrisome one, because it means your body is fighting itself,” she tells i. “People have a boosted immune system when they have autoimmune diseases or allergies. So rather, it’s about keeping your immune system working properly and in harmony.”
No magic pill
The immune system is effectively a network of white blood cells that exist all over our bodies, otherwise known as immune cells. It’s their job to fight off bacteria, viruses and parasites that find their way into our bodies and have the potential to make us ill. There are several different types of immune cells, each with their own particular tactics to fend off alien species, which means when they are working well, our bodies are able to illuminate threats quickly.
“They also help protect in other ways by regulating our bodies, making sure we don’t react against things that are good for us like our food or the healthy microbes that live in us,” says Cruickshank. “But your immune system should mostly be switched off, not reacting to all the things you come into contact with like your food. It’s mostly acting as a peacekeeper.”
So the bad news is that there is no magic pill to keep our immune cells in check. While supplements won’t harm you, they won’t deliver on any promises to give your immunity a makeover. The good news is that it is possible to improve our chances against fighting colds and infection – with some hard graft.
“Healthy diet, moderate exercise, better sleep patterns, lower stress – these are the immune system’s superpowers,” says Cruickshank.
The importance of balance
The details of how and why are uncovered in the BBC show The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System, which follows a group of volunteers as they change their diet, exercise and sleep habits for six weeks. Together with the documentary’s presenter, Dr Ronx Ikharia, Professor Cruickshank tests the impact on the volunteers’ immune health to help demonstrate what benefits can be found.
They focus on the Neutrophil-lymphocyte ratio (NLR) – the balance between two types of white blood cell. Lymphocytes determine what response is needed when a threat is found, while neutrophils offer the rapid response. A healthy person should have a low NLR, which means there’s a good balance between the two, allowing the immune cells to work most efficiently.
A high ratio can have the opposite effect, as it means our immune cells are overworked and unable to target real threats effectively.
“Almost like the cells are looking for a million fires all over your body but then they can’t see the real fire when it happens.” An imbalanced NLR is often indicative of an imbalanced lifestyle.
“People are quite sedentary, they eat badly; all this creates a state of consistent low-level inflammation in our bodies,” says Cruickshank. It is also a side effect of stress and tiredness – the familiar winter feeling of being rundown. Scientists are increasingly concerned about the long-term impact that poor lifestyle can have on ability to fight viruses. More recently, a study by researchers in China found patients with high NLR scores were more likely to suffer badly after contracting Covid-19.
But there is hope: through spending time with tribal communities in Tanzania, Professor Cruickshank’s research team have found evidence that a diet rich in fibre and low in processed foods can help our gut microbiome – and therefore our ability to ward off disease.
Sure enough, when the documentary volunteers adopted some of these eating habits, while aiming for better quality of sleep and moderate exercise, they were all found to have a healthier NLR balance after six weeks
If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, Cruickshank says, it is that Covid-19 has provided a “pause” for many of us to reflect on health and lifestyle. “What has heartened me is seeing lots of people go outside for walks or bike rides.
“It’s not about depriving yourself of nice things, it’s about balance and understanding nutrition. And that is going to be important for the survival of our species in the years to come.”
The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System is on BBC One tonight at 9pm
Astragalus has shown to boost the immune system of cancer patients, Turkish scientists said Tuesday.
Long-term studies observed that some of the molecules obtained from the herb increase the number of cytokines and strongly stimulate immunity.
A patent application made by a team for the discovery titled “A method to obtain Saponin molecules and using active molecules as immunomodulators” was registered by the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office.
Experts believe the discovery, whose international patent application is expected to be approved shortly, will make a significant contribution to cancer immunotherapy.
Molecules stimulate immunity’
Erdal Bedir, a professor of bioengineering at the Izmir Institute of Technology, told Anadolu Agency that the team started the study based on the use of a kind of astragalus by cancer patients in southeastern Turkey.
His team of researchers saw that the herb does not have a direct effect on cancer cells, but it did boost the immune system, he said.
“We found that some of the molecules we obtained increase the amount of some important cytokines and stimulate immunity strongly. The patent obtained by our team includes molecules and derivatives obtained from a type of Astragalus,” he said. “We have demonstrated that the molecules presented in this patent can be used as powerful adjuvant candidates in vaccine formulations and even in cancer vaccines because they trigger the immune system at the cellular level.”
He emphasized that molecules are also ideal adjuvant candidates for vaccine formulations developed for the coronavirus.
Researchers from the Izmir Institute of Technology also included chemistry professor Ali Cagir, Ph.D. candidate Nilgun Yakubogullari and Duygu Sag from the Biomedicine and Genome Center.
Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, E, and K, impact the skin’s health most directly and help to maintain a youthful appearance.
Beyond cosmetic effects, aging is associated with health conditions such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and dementia.
Curcumin, resveratrol, and CoQ10 are popular anti-aging antioxidants that may stimulate the immune system and help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that leads to many chronic, age-related conditions.
Getting older is a fact of life. As you age, you might see more wrinkles or your hair turning gray.
While there’s no way to turn back time, Trista Best, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements, says that some vitamins may slow premature aging.
Some vitamins have anti-aging properties — the ability to delay the biology of the aging process.
Scott Antoine, DO, physician and owner of The Center for Fully Functional Health®, says that vitamins can help slow the aging process through their ability to overcome toxins that accumulate in the body over time.
“Oxidation is a process in your body where you build up reactive oxygen metabolites over many years, and they are damaging to your body. Also, as you age, your immune system becomes less active. Fortunately, vitamins and minerals work with the immune system and have antioxidative properties to lower the risk of age-related disease,” Antoine tells Insider.
Here’s a list of vitamins that have anti-aging properties.
While there are many vitamins on the market, Best tells Insider that the most effective ones are those that work to counteract the damage caused by oxidative stress. A majority of vitamins can be obtained through your diet or a supplement.
CoQ10:Coenzyme 10 is an antioxidant that promotes the production of collagen. According to a 2018 review, its anti-aging effect improves how cells transform energy, known as bioenergetics. However, Best says that CoQ10’s effectiveness in treating signs of aging is likely skewed by other products used in a skincare routine. “I do support adding it to an already existing skincare routine,” she says, “just not making it the foundation of your regimen and not going out of your way to make sure it is present.”
Collagen: This is a protein in the body that improves skin elasticity and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Best says women may start losing collagen in their twenties, some as early as 18 years old. “Collagen doesn’t exactly result in age reversal, but it can stop additional loss. The best collagen for anti-aging is a combination of the three types. Type 1 and Type 3 are the most effective at anti-aging and are ideally taken as a powder,” says Best.
Resveratrol: This antioxidant is found in red wine and is popular for its anti-aging effects, which are most effective in supplement form, says Antoine. Based on a popular theory of aging where the ends of human chromosomes, called telomeres, are linked to DNA damage, Antoine says that resveratrol’s anti-aging properties are likely due to its ability to lengthen chromosomes. In addition, Antoine says resveratrol can also protect the body against aging by activating a gene called SIRT1. Though not severe, gastrointestinal side-effects have been linked to resveratrol.
Vitamin C: A 2017 review reports that vitamin C helps boost the immune system by making more immune cells. In the skin, it protects against oxidative stress. With that in mind, another 2017 review finds consistent evidence that vitamin C is protective against premature aging. Not only is it a powerful antioxidant, but vitamin C can also be used as a lightener to address “liver spots” and darkening around the eyes, which are also signs of aging. Vitamin C can be found in food or taken in supplement form. The daily recommended amount for an adult is 65 to 90 milligrams. However, excessive amounts can cause side-effects, including but not limited to vomiting, heartburn, and diarrhea.
Vitamin E: The function of vitamin E, according to Antoine, is that it protects against collagen crosslinking, and stops the oxidation of lipids linked to both aging and the skin. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin —similar to vitamin D and K — that’s useful in treating wrinkles, dark spots, and skin elasticity, says Best. However, she says these vitamins E and other fat-soluble vitamins need to be closely monitored by a doctor, considering they can reach toxic levels in the body.
Selenium: This is a trace mineral that prevents vitamin E deficiency. Antoine says selenium helps by reducing DNA damage. Selenium can be found in food, especially Brazil nuts, or as a supplement with a recommended daily dose of 100-200 mcg. That said, long-term use of selenium supplements may be linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer — but there is conflicting evidence that suggests selenium may lower your cancer risk. More research is needed.
Aging doesn’t just produce cosmetic effects. The World Health Organization reports that aging is also associated with severe health conditions such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and dementia. For this reason, Antoine recommends increasing vitamin D and vitamin E levels, which can affect immune function.
“Chronic, low-level inflammation causes oxidative stress in the body that leads to many chronic conditions common to Western nations. Antioxidants stimulate the immune system and are responsible for reducing inflammation,” says Best. Curcumin, resveratrol, and CoQ10 are popular anti-aging antioxidants.
While there are many vitamins essential for a healthy body, Best recommends fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, E, and K, which impact the skin’s health most directly for maintaining a youthful appearance.
With the nip in the air and the chilly weather, comes the increased risk of infections. At such times, Ginger is a tried and tested ingredient to boost immunity and help fight the common cold and cough.
With the onset of winters, comes the risk of diseases and dwindling immunity. There is an increased proneness to infections and illnesses and it becomes essential for everyone to protect themselves. The nip in the air can weaken your immune system. At such times, trying out some home remedies to boost your immunity and fight infections like common cold and cough. While there are many home remedies to cure cough and cold, the most effective one is undoubtedly ginger. Ginger is the root of the plant called Zingiber officinale. Ginger is a commonly used ingredient in every Indian household and has several medicinal properties. For a person suffering from common respiratory diseases such as a cough and cold, ginger helps in expanding your lungs and loosening up phlegm as it breaks down and removes mucus so that you can recover fast from the difficulty in breathing.
When suffering from a sore throat, the pain you experience is because of the inflammation and itchiness in your throat. This inflammation can be due to an irritant or it can be your body’s immune response to fight infection. The anti-inflammatory properties in ginger help soothe a sore throat blocking pro-inflammatory proteins in the body that cause inflammatory pain and itchiness. It has been used as a herbal remedy for centuries to treat various medical conditions. Research proves that ginger has many such properties that could help ease the symptoms of a cold or sore throat. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that increase immunity and provide warmth to the body.
Ginger also has antiviral properties and is effective in fighting a fever and also helps in reducing throat pain. More often than not, drinking a cup of ginger tea has been a traditional and often used remedy to fight cold, flu and cough. It consists of gingerol that helps bolster your body from within and provide instant relief.
Here are some ways in which ginger can be used to treat cough and cold.
To consume more ginger in a day, another way to use ginger is to grind it into a fine powder. You can add this powder to your food while cooking it to reap the benefits of this magic ingredient in every meal. Ginger contains gingerols that help in treating the common cold. Consuming it daily will have instant effects on cold and cough.
Ginger and Tulsi
Tulsi is known since ancient times for its therapeutic power. Tulsi is rich in antioxidants and helps boost your immunity. Tulsi has various medicinal properties. To make this drink, grate some ginger without peeling it and add 3 Holy basil leaves in the water. When the water comes to a boil, turn off the gas and strain it. Ginger and Tulsi together alleviate the symptoms of sore throat and relieves cough and the common cold.
Ginger and Honey
To make this, in a pan of boiling water, grate some ginger and add it. Once it comes to a boil, add 1 tsp honey and lemon juice of half a lemon in it. Drinking this beverage will soothe a sore throat and will reduce the pain and inflammation. This combination of Honey and Ginger has been used for a long time for treating problems like cold and cough. Both honey and ginger have individual health benefits like having antioxidant properties and being good for digestion, which is why the combination of the two provides additional perks.
Lemongrass and Ginger
In boiling water, add some grated ginger along with some dried or fresh lemongrass. Let it infuse for some minutes and add honey if needed. Lemongrass just like ginger has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. Both these ingredients combined work as an instant remedy for cough and cold.
Ginger contains high levels of antioxidants which strengthen the immune system to prevent getting sick. By adding the combined ingredients of ginger and lemongrass into your diet, you can give your body the nutrients it needs to naturally get better.
Ginger and Lemon
Add ginger in some water and when it comes to a boil, add some lemon juice in it. Lemon alleviates pain and soreness and helps in getting rid of the mucus. While ginger helps in releasing toxins from the body to fight the infection.
Vitamin C in the lemon helps to protect cells from free radical damage. Lemon, therefore, makes a great addition to meals and hot drinks, particularly during the winter months. Ginger root is well-known for its warming properties and for supporting healthy circulation, thought to be due to its mild spice.
While having grated ginger in the form of tea is beneficial and sure provides relief from cough and cold. The most effective way to achieve the maximum benefits of ginger is to consume its root directly. It is recommended to chew on the root for 2-3 days regularly.
If chewing raw ginger is a little too difficult for you, you can always opt for ginger lozenges or candies. These are flavoured and are sweet in taste and are easily available at any store. 2-3 candies daily should be consumed to get the best results and relief from cough.
THE end of the year is upon us and, as it is a time when we all start to relax from the stresses and strains of the year – this year especially – it is the season when many South Africans fall prey to a variety of illnesses.
This year being what it is, we need to be extra cautious and boost our immune systems so our Christmas holidays are not marred by contracting any illness or bug. According to Alisha Mackintosh, Allergy and Immunity Portfolio Manager at Pharma Dynamics, we often pick up illnesses at this time of year owing to changes in our routine.
She referred to travelling, excessive eating out, shopping and partying, and said staying up later than usual and being more relaxed about hygiene could weaken the immune system, making it more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.
Mackintosh added common triggers for these illnesses, which included:
1. Consuming too much sugar The festive season is synonymous with sugar-laden temptations. This is said to weaken the white blood cells and makes your body more prone to illnesses. According to Mackintosh, ingesting sugar-laden food can have a long-lasting effect, which contributes to the immune system operating at a ‘distinct disadvantage’.
2. Excessive consumption of alcohol Gatherings and alcohol become more common during the festive season, but consuming too much alcohol can inhibit the body’s ability to fight infection. Mackintosh advised South Africans to drink in moderation.
3. Staying up too late No work and all play can lead to late nights and getting up later in the mornings, which in turn can trigger migraines. Healthy sleeping habits, explained Mackintosh, could reduce the frequency of headaches by 29% and the intensity of headaches by 40%.
4. Holiday shopping Handling and withdrawing money over the festive season happens more frequently, and money carries about 3000 different types of bacteria, which can lead to other illnesses. Stick to the gazetted Covid-19 sanitising regulations this festive season, especially when doing the shopping, and this should help keep you protected.
5. Travelling by plane Certain studies indicate that flying heightens by 80% the risk of catching a cold. The end of year usually means that deadlines need to be met before going on holiday, which puts strain on the immune system. This, coupled with the close quarters of an aeroplane, can make travellers susceptible to illness. Mackintosh advised the boosting of one’s immune system before a flight through correct eating habits, getting enough rest and managing stress, which could contribute to better immunity. Consider taking an immune boosting supplement to keep the common cold at bay.
As more vaccines are delivered and administered across the country, the days where things feel normal again are finally in sight. Until then, although there’s nothing you can do to make yourself fully immune to COVID-19, there are a number of foods you can eat that will boost your immunity. We learn more about how what we eat can help our immune systems every day—and in particular, a growing body of research is finding that food components called beta-glucans could be extremely helpful to our bodies in fighting infections like COVID.
Beta-glucans are structural components that are found in a number of foods, like oat, barley, yeast, mushrooms, and algae. In a recent comprehensive review of food ingredients that could help the body fight COVID, researchers examined preliminary evidence to support the potential use of beta-glucans to address COVID in the future. The review looks at one promising study done on beta-glucans extracted from shiitake mushrooms, led by Dr. Emma J. Murphy of Ireland’s Athlone Institute of Technology. “There are two main structures of beta-glucans; one type is found in grain sources which have proven effects in reducing cholesterol and modulating the gut microbiome,” Dr. Murphy tells Eat This, Not That! “The other type found in mushroom and yeast is known for its immunomodulatory activity. What this means is it can interact with our immune system.”
Beta-glucans can prime our immune system to be ready for an attack from invaders like bacteria or a virus. They can also relax the immune response during inflammation, Dr. Murphy explains, which is “extremely important as hyper inflammation can be more of a problem than the infection itself.” More specifically, the study found that beta-glucans reduce the inflammatory response associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is a type of lung damage that can be caused by a number of things, like pneumonia and severe cases of COVID-19.
“The exact way beta-glucans achieve this has not been fully established,” Dr. Murphy says. “However, when we eat beta-glucans in food such as mushrooms they are transported to Peyer’s patches in our small intestine.” From there, beta-glucans make their way to the immune system. Dr. Murphy points out that ingesting beta-glucans as part of our diet, such as through shiitake mushrooms, or in extract form as a supplement both have the potential to boost our immune systems.
Dr. Charis Galanakis, the lead author of the comprehensive review, told Eat This, Not That! in an email that in addition to following the promising research on beta-glucans, one other thing you can do to reduce your COVID-risk right now is to ensure you don’t have a vitamin D deficiency.
Naturally, even after you’ve loaded up on foods that contain beta-glucans and vitamin D, make sure to still practice the things that’ll prevent you from getting and spreading COVID: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and avoid crowds.
First things first: sadly, a healthy diet isn’t a cure for COVID-19. If you believe you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive or you are experiencing any symptoms as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, schedule a test as soon as possible. If you have contracted any strain of this virus, it’s essential to stock your fridge and pantry with helpful, healthy foods that can help you fight COVID, stimulate your immune system, and provide comfort. Here, we spoke with people who have had COVID and nutritionists on their top recommendations. And for more tips during COVID, here’s The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.
While she was sick, publicist Alexa Nikiforou has felt stuffy, making hot beverages a soothing remedy.
“We all know drinking tea is good when you’re sick but having lemon ginger flavor helps as they both have anti-inflammatory and immunity properties that help with the congestion,” she says.
While sure, you may not have much of an appetite; it’s important to still provide your body with the nutrients it needs to prosper. However, you may be tempted to blend up your veggies instead of cooking them since it’s less effort, making the frozen variety appealing.
Registered dietitian and quality manager at Onnit, Emily Winkler, recommends keeping broccoli, spinach, and other vegetables in your freezer, so you have options when you want them.
“Frozen veggies are flash frozen, so they are not cooked with a ton of salt like canned veggies, but they stay good so much longer than fresh veggies,” she says.
Truly, any soup will do, but Nikiforou raves about vegetable and lentil soups since they provide a reliable source of protein that other liquid meals don’t offer. However, if you’re more of a chicken soup type of person when you’re feeling under the weather, buy the ingredients frozen to have on hand.
When you need to give your immune system a fighting chance, bone broth is an incredible staple to have on hand for your quarantine, according to Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S, founder of Ancient Nutrition. How come? As he explains, it contains a number of compounds that help support a healthy gut microbiome, which is where 70% of our immune system is located.
“Plus, collagen and amino acids found in bone broth, as well as essential minerals and other compounds, help to repair the gut lining which supports immune function by aiding in nutrient absorption and defending against inflammation,” he says. “You can either sip on real bone broth daily or use a bone broth supplement for convenience such as powdered bone broth protein.”
When you are staying at home 24/7, recovering from COVID, you may lack the energy to whip up meals or complete complicated recipes. Instead, Winkler suggests having some quick oats or oatmeal in your pantry since it’s a high-fiber meal that you can make in two minutes.
“An added bonus is that it will keep you full longer so you can fight your boredom hunger craving,” she says.
Greens like spinach, kale, and chard are some of the best sources of antioxidants and vitamin C, which help to support a healthy immune system, according to Dr. Axe. “Including vitamin-C rich greens in your diet may help control levels of free radicals in a way that helps to destroy viruses and bacteria,” he explains. “Vitamin C can also renew the body’s antioxidant protection, which is used up more rapidly when someone is sick and recovering from an illness, plus it may help control inflammatory responses.”
After eating soup and liquids non-stop while on the road to recovery from the virus, Nikiforou says you will want some type of carb to help give you energy.
“I was constantly trying to find something that was anti-inflammatory, and that would be easy to make, especially since moving requires a lot of effort that your body doesn’t necessarily have,” she says.
To the rescue were gluten-free waffles that could quickly be heated up and enjoyed in a few minutes.
Winkler says protein bars and protein snacks can come in handy for those days when eating anything feels like a chore and uphill battles. Because they ensure we feel and satisfied for hours, we can rest without hunger pains.
“Keeping your protein intake high can support your energy levels, too,” she says.
While Dr. Axe recommends all berries since they have a rich content of vitamin C, A, and other antioxidants, his favorites are acai, goji, and camu camu.
“They help to manage free radical damage and oxidative stress which contribute to the aging process,” he says. “They boost antioxidant activity in the body and also help protect and repair connective tissues, such as those in the gut that are needed to maintain immune defenses.”
Brigid Titgemeier, a functional medicine registered dietitian, suggests adding at least one spice or herb per meal since it’s the easiest way to add an abundance of antioxidants to our diet. Specifically, the following seasonings support a healthy immune system and fight inflammation: dried cloves, mint leaves, oregano, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, garlic powder, and turmeric.