How to support your immune system this flu season in light of coronavirus
04 Mar, 2020
How to support your immune system this flu season in light of coronavirus
You may be worried about catching coronavirus. While there is still a lot of uncertainty about the trajectory and severity, there are certain things you can start doing today other than washing your hands, avoiding crowds and the other general safety suggestions out there, to strengthen your immune system to give it the best shot at fighting off the coronavirus if you do get exposed.
We will cover general immune system supporting strategies, followed by a few specific ones that aim at improving your response to viruses in particular.
1. Support your gut:
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense system against invaders such as harmful bacteria and viruses. The majority of your immune system lies in your gut. Your gut functions as a sort of immune system ‘trainer’. If your gut is healthy, you stand better chances that your immune system can react strongly to harmful invaders.
Below are a few of the many strategies to support your gut:
Eat adequate amounts of fiber to feed your good gut bacteria, including a variety of colourful vegetables (greens, cruciferous, purples), some nuts and seeds, and prebiotics such as a not quite ripe banana or papaya, cooked and cooled potatoes or (glutenfree) pasta.
Use organic butter (unless dairy intolerant) for its butyrate content that feeds your gut cells for a stronger gut lining.
Use coconut oil in your cooking, in bulletproof coffee or on its own for its natural anti-viral properties.
Include some fermented foods such as Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, yoghurt or take a high quality probiotic supplement.
Avoid processed foods with synthetic flavor enhancers and pesticides, as they hamper your gut health.
Incorporate deep belly breathing and take a few moments to slow down several times a day. When we rush from task to task, we are in ‘fight or flight’ modus, which doesn’t allow for enough blood to go into your gut. After all, it thinks you are running away from a tiger, and your gut and digestive health really is not that important in that instance ;). A few breaths into your belly stimulate your vagus nerve, which switch your nervous system back to ‘rest-and-digest’ and allow for a stronger immune system response in your gut (also called sIgA).
2. Get adequate amounts of sleep.
3. Get adequate amounts of exercise without overdoing it:
Exercising at moderate to high intensity 2-3x/ week, in addition to daily movement (such as brisk walking), strengthens your immune system. Over-exercising (moderate to high intensity workouts every day) lower your immune system.
4. Load up on specific immune system strengthening nutrients, through diet and lifestyle ideally. Supplement where that is not an option right now.
Vitamin D: one of our most important immune system modulators (it helps strengthen a weak immune system, but also calm down an overreactive (autoimmune) one. Get sun exposure where this is possible. Food sources are liver and other organ meats. If these are not viable options for you, add high doses of vitamin D3 (for most adults this can be 4000-5000 IU per day), but make sure it has vitamin K2 added to it to prevent adverse side effects like calcium deposition in the wrong places such as your joints and arteries.
Vitamin A: Loading up on the precursor beta-carotene containing foods like carrots and other purple, orange and red foods will not only increase your vitamin A levels, but also supply important antioxidants and polyphenols. However, many of us have SNPs (genetic mutations) in genes that are responsible for converting beta-carotene into the active version of vitamin A, and as such this may be reduced. In that case, adding in the active form is imperative for a strong immune system, such as found in animal products like cod liver oil, liver and other organ products, butter and cheese. You may want to supplement, but make sure not to exceed the recommended amounts as vitamin A can become toxic if taken at too high levels for too long.
Zinc: Another commonly known nutrient, zinc is crucial to our immune system (and many other areas in our bodies like brain and hormone health). If you are vegan or vegetarian you may be at a higher risk of being deficient in zinc, as the most absorbable varieties of zinc are found in animal products like oysters, other seafood, meats, coupled with the fact that vegan/vegetarian diets are often high in copper that competes with zinc for absorption (copper is high in many healthy foods like nuts and seeds, coffee, cacao). But even meat eaters can be low in zinc. If you haven’t had your blood tested for zinc (and ALP) levels, use a low dosage of 15mg. If you know for a fact that you are zinc deficient, you may want to supplement at higher doses (30mg+) for a few months and then get a blood test. Zinc is another nutrient that you can overdo and that can become toxic if supplemented at too high dosages for long.
Glutathione: This one is getting a lot of attention due to its use in the ‘trendy’ intravenous nutrient therapy. Glutathione is one of our body’s most important antioxidants, and very important to support our immune system. We naturally make it from foods like cruciferous vegetables and protein and it can get recycled back into its active version once used to fight off some invaders and free radicals. However, some of us have SNPs (genetic mutations) in our glutathione recycling genes, predisposing us to a faster depletion and increased need, or we have a lot of other ‘stressors’ (chronic conditions) concurrently going on that deplete it. Another common reason glutathione can become depleted despite adequate dietary intake of the precursors is the common vitamin B6 deficiency, as this nutrient is needed to convert the precursors into the powerhouse glutathione. You may choose to address the above, or supplement with high quality liposomal glutathione temporarily at ½ teaspoon twice per day.
Vitamin C: Last but not least, the well known vitamin C. Yes, this may sound ‘old and boring’, but vitamin C is crucial to our immune system and to fight off invaders. Due to its short life cycle, many of us are low despite potentially even taking a supplement daily. Best strategy is to divide the supplement into 2 doses and spread them out over the day (morning and afternoon, avoid too close to bed time as this may keep you awake!), and load up on foods high in vitamin C with your meals additionally (lemon, broccoli, bell peppers, raw red cabbage).
The above strategies are great to support your immune system against any kind of invader, be it viral or bacterial.
In addition, there are a few extra tweaks you can do specifically to increase your defense against viruses (such as the flu and coronavirus, but this also counts for other viruses such as the cold sore virus, HPV and others)
1. Make sure you keep a good balance of lysine to arginine.
Lysine and arginine are parts of protein (amino acids), and both are important for our health. However, we need them to be in a good balance. If there is too much arginine in relation to lysine, this tends to support viral ‘replication’ (the virus to get stronger and take hold in our cells). Much like the zinc-copper ratio discussed earlier, especially vegans and vegetarians may easily tip their balance towards arginine (and copper), as many health foods are high in arginine, such as nuts and seeds, cacao, coffee. We should aim to include a lysine rich food to counterbalance any arginine rich food we consume, plus add in some foods that already have a ‘balanced’ ratio of arginine to lysine.
Examples of foods higher in arginine: nuts and seeds, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, coffee, cacao.
Examples of foods higher in lysine: cheese, fish and meats, avocado
Examples of foods with a balanced lysine to arginine ratio: beans, cauliflower, broccoli.
During this current coronavirus outbreak and scare, you may choose to take a high dose lysine supplement temporarily, at 3000mg/ day.
2. Support methylation
Methylation, what? You may have heard about methylation, most likely in respect to a gene that has become somewhat ‘trendy’ called MTHFR. Methylation is a process that happens many times inside our cells every split second. It is important to balance our hormones, get rid of environmental toxins, protect our genes, decide which genes we ‘turn on or off’, but also for viral ‘replication’. A virus is only strong if it can start to implant its DNA into our cells and ‘reproduce’ that DNA. If our methylation is strong, we can reduce the likelihood of this ‘invader DNA’ to be replicated.
How do we support methylation? There are many factors involved in methylation, and concurrent conditions that should get addressed in the longer run like heavy metal toxicity, yeast overgrowth (‘candida’) can hamper this process, but some of the most important tools to take away from today’s post are having adequate amounts of vitamin B9 (folate), B12 and betaine. If you have that ‘notorious’ gene mutation (SNP) in your MTHFR genes, you need to pay even more attention to getting enough of these, and specifically make sure you get the activated version of vitamin B9 called methylfolate, rather than the synthetic cheaper version found in many multivitamins called folic acid. Folic acid may actually block the action of what it is supposed to help in people with the MTHFR mutation. If you don’t know your genes, just get the activated version regardless, it is higher quality for everyone.
Some foods sources high in vitamin B9 (folate): leafy greens, organ meats.
Vitamin B12: meats and fish, soil. If you are vegan you HAVE to supplement, unless you have a habit of eating soil on a daily basis that is.
Betaine: quinoa, beets, spinach, amaranth, sweet potatoes, turkey, veal, beef. Or you may choose its precursor choline, which is easily obtained in adequate amounts from eggs.
How can you check if your methylation is functioning properly? A simple blood test you can get from your GP that shows how well you are methylating is homocysteine.
3. Add anti-viral herbs and ‘superfoods’:
In Functional Medicine, we are believers in fixing the entire ecosystem to support and optimize health. As such, the above are the most important parts to the immune system and virus puzzle. However, if you have a tendency to a lowered immune system or viral expression (such as recurring cold sores), you may want to brace yourself with some additional tools that have been shown to have anti-viral and immune supporting properties temporarily until the coronavirus scare has faded:
Coriolus Mushroom. 3g of coriolus powder daily have been shown in studies to lower the expression of viruses, including HPV and herpes, and as such exhibit potential for the coronavirus also.
Bee propolis and Echinacea extract have been shown to support the immune system.
Now I would like to know from you, what are your favourite immune sytem and virus busting strategies? Comment below.