How to Support Immune Health
UPDATE 3-20-20: I am just adding THIS link to what I think is the best and most comprehensive article on what we are up against.
As we all struggle to understand this health crisis we’re are all in the middle of from the coronavirus (COVID-19), we wanted to make this post of the best actions you can take for you and your family. In times like this we all need to come together and help each other. We are saddened to see some of the hoarding and people trying to make money off of this crisis. There are people selling “COVID-19 Food and Supplement Guides”. We don’t think this is right. We worked long and hard on this post so you can have quality free information in the hope of helping as many people as possible in this challenging time.
This post is a combination of all our best information and tips to help you enable your immune function to be at its peak, and there is no charge. This is what we do ourselves and for our sons to help ensure they have a strong immune system and can fight any virus they get. You can even get $8 off any book as a bonus if you need something to read during this time of isolation. This makes many of our ebooks 99 cents. More on that at the bottom of this post.
But let’s talk about our immune system. There are many things that can effect our immune function. One of the big ones is sugar. Have you ever noticed our kids get sick a lot from Halloween until Valentine’s Day? HMMMM, there are a lot of Holidays in between that time that focus on candy. Sugar depresses the immune system. Vitamin C is needed by white blood cells so that they could phagocytize viruses and bacteria. White blood cells require a 50 times higher concentration inside the cell as outside, so they have to accumulate vitamin C. There is something called a “phagocytic index” which tells you how rapidly a particular lymphocyte can gobble up a virus, bacteria, or cancer cell.
In 1970, Linus Pauling, discovered that white blood cells need a high dose of vitamin C and that is when he came up with his theory that you need high doses of vitamin C to combat the common cold. We know that glucose and vitamin C have similar chemical structures, so what happens when the sugar levels go up? They compete for one another when entering the cells. And the thing that mediates the entry of glucose into the cells is the same thing that mediates the entry of vitamin C into the cells. If there is more glucose around, there is going to be less vitamin C allowed into the cell.
It doesn’t take much: a blood sugar value of 120 reduces the phagocytic index by 75% (compared to a normal blood sugar of 84). So when you eat sugar, think of your immune system slowing down to a crawl (source).
Our immune system is our bodies defense system. It is a complex system that can either be supported, or depressed by what we eat, our lifestyles and certain vitamins and minerals. A strong immune system can be the difference between becoming very sick from a virus or having mild symptoms. Here are our tips for helping fight viruses and keeping your immune system strong.
What You Can Do to Support Immune Health
When it comes to COVID-19, or any virus, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. There are things you can do to prevent getting the virus. These are primarily action you take, not food, vitamins, etc. (see myths below for more on this). Then there are things you can do to help boost your immune function once you have a virus. None of these things will kill the virus. That is up to your immune system to fight it. Let me repeat, once you have it, your immune system has to fight it. No food, supplement or herb is going to kill it once you have it in your system.
Let’s take a look at these two parts of the puzzle separately.
How to Prevent Getting a Virus (like COVID-19)
The only thing that will prevent you from getting it are the things recommended by CDC and others including:
- Social Distancing – Maintain 6 feet or more distance from anyone outside your home. Stay home as much as possible. This is the number one thing you can do to prevent getting infected and to prevent or reduce the spread of the virus.
- Frequent Hand washing (20 second or more) with soap. After touching anything outside the home, wash your hands. Even packages that are delivered, I would wash hands after opening. COVID-19 has been shown to survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours. I would open the boxes and dispose of the boxes. Then wash your hands.
- Limit how often you touch your face if you haven’t washed your hands. This one is hard but if out at the store and have touched doors, shopping carts, etc, don’t touch your face until you can wash your hands.
- Wear a Mask. There is some evidence that wearing masks won’t prevent you from getting COVID-19 as you might end up fidgeting with it more and touching your face more. But it can be a level of additional protection. We would use them if you have to travel or be around people say at the store. It is another level or protection. And even if it doesn’t prevent you from getting it, it could lessen the initial load of the virus. When the virus invades the body, if you get an initial small amount of it it gives the body more time to ramp up immune response before it gets over-run. Wearing a mask could reduce the amount of virus getting into your system initially and thus allow the immune system to respond before getting overloaded.
These are the best actions you can take to prevent getting a virus. Once you have a virus, it is up to your immune system to fight it. There are some things you can do to help support your immune function to help it better handle invasions like COVID-19 or any virus.
What You Can Do Once You Get a Virus (like COVID-19)
Supporting immune function, keeping inflammation down and supplying the body with certain vitamins and minerals are all great for enabling the body to better fight a virus. Be careful of claims to “Boost Immune System”. You can’t really boost your immune system. But there are plenty of ways to depress the immune system. There are our top recommendations to avoid depressing your immune system and get out of the way so it can do its job.
Foods for Immune Health
1. Low Inflammation Diet
Cutting out all sugar is important and should be step number one. But as we know, carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars in the blood. Cutting carbohydrates is step number two! Eating a keto or carnivore diet is a very low inflammation diet, especially if it is a whole foods approach with adequate protein and minimal carbohydrates. So, either keto or carnivore is a great option.
Sadly, I hear clients tell me that they are so depressed and anxious during this time that they have fallen off the wagon and are consuming copious amounts of carbs and sugar. This is the last thing you want to do as it will depress your immune function as shown above. Today is a new day! Start now!
2. Get Enough Protein
Getting enough complete animal proteins is important for everyone. But when dealing with virus like this it is even more important. Your body will be in a battle and it will need lots of complete proteins to rebuild and repair the damage being made.
Amino acids come from proteins. Specifically, amino acids from animal protein are essential to optimizing the immune functions of the intestine and the proximal resident immune cells.
3. Bone Broth
I remember when I was sick as a little girl, craving and eating Saltine Crackers with Campbell’s chicken noodle soup which is filled with trans-fat and sugar! Nothing healing at all! I almost cringe when I think of all the chemicals in Saltine Crackers and how I often see them given to little children.
When my boys were just 1 and 2 years old, I started them drinking homemade bone broth. Being from another country (Ethiopia), you might think that they would have been sick often; being exposed to all new viruses and illnesses here in the U.S. But they were never sick! I know it was mainly because of what they were eating! Healthy keto food, lots of healthy protein and they would drink bone broth daily! I even have a video of baby Kai begging for a bottle of bone broth.
Bone broths are one of the most nourishing foods. Bone broth is so medicinal that if I could bottle up into a pill, the pharmaceutical companies would be broke.
Click HERE to find Kettle and Fire bone broth to get mailed to you if you are unable to make your own. Kettle and Fire is also offering 25% off and free shipping to my readers!
4. Salt and Electrolytes.
Electrolytes are key to a keto or carnivore diet but they can also be beneficial for immune function. Several studies have shown immune benefits like THIS one that showed salt can enhance pro-inflammatory response which can enhance the clearing of invasive pathogens. It also showed that salt can effect immune cells because of its effects on the gut microbiome. THIS study showed that a high salt diet might be beneficial for fighting infections.
5. Don’t Drink Alcohol.
Many people are grabbing alcohol to help calm their nerves but in reality, alcohol can make anxiety worse, but it is going to hurt your immune health.
Most people know that alcohol can damage your liver, but it also causes damage your digestive system, as well as your immune system, increasing your risk of potentially fatal illnesses.
There are many ways alcohol impairs your immune system. The microbes living in your intestines, play an important role in fighting diseases. Here are a few ways alcohol lowers immune health:
- Alcohol reduces the number and function of 3 important kinds of cells in your immune system: macrophages, T and B cells. Macrophages are the first line of defense against disease. Macrophages sound the alarm if pathogens are present and they eat anything that’s not supposed to be there, including cancerous cells. T cells are antibodies to specific pathogens. They are the reason vaccines work and why you can’t get chicken pox twice. Your T cells already know how to kill those specific kinds of viruses. B cells are white blood cells that release cytokines that attack bacteria. When T and B cells are suppressed, your immune system is weak at identifying and terminating invading pathogens.
- When you drink alcohol, it damages the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb many nutrients which in turn will lower your immune defense.
- Alcohol also brutally disturbs your gut’s microbiome, significantly shifting the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria.
- Alcohol changes health gut microbe networks and their communicate with the immune system.
- Alcohol disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more harmful bacteria to pass into the blood. These unwanted bacteria can cause inflammation in the liver and may lead to liver damage.
- Alcohol doesn’t just affect the function of the digestive tract; it also upsets the respiratory system. Alcohol damages the function of immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system, leading to increased risk illness. Because the immunity of the mucus is impaired in both the lungs and digestive tract, any disease can become more severe.
So omit the alcohol if you want your immune system functioning at its peak.
Vitamins and Minerals for Immune Health
1. Vitamin D
Sunlight is the best way to get vitamin D, however, supplements are very important for many people. Seasonal effects (low sun exposure in winter) can make supplements an important addition to common sense sun exposure. Low vitamin D3 levels are associated with many disease states and lowered immune function. Check out this chart:
As you can see, low blood vitamin D3 levels are associated with more disease. Getting levels above 45-50 results in generally about 50-80% reduction in these diseases. For example, the incidence of kidney cancer (brown bar) was 23% lower with D3 above 38 and 48% lower with D3 above 48. One reason for this is because D3 is important in immune processes. It effects the body’s ability to activate T cells (source). T Cells are lymphocytes that play a central role in the immune response.
Interesting story, when we adopted Micah and Kai from Ethiopia, we immediately are required to take them to a doctor and get many tests done. One of which is vitamin D. Despite the boys living near the equator and being outside the majority of the time (the orphanage was very very small and the children played on a concrete slab), their vitamin D was in the low 30’s. That is too low. One reason may have been their diet, but it was also because of their dark skin; which is a natural sunscreen.
The tip for taking vitamin D3 supplements, it to take 1000 iu per 25 pounds you weight. Every cell of your body has a vitamin D3 receptor, even fat cells. So, if you are 150 pounds, you would take 6,000 iu daily just to maintain your levels. If it is summer and you are in an area where sun is intense (closer to equator), 30 minutes with as much sun exposed as possible will give you about 20,000 iu of D3.
Remember to always take vitamin D with food since it is fat soluble (another reason to not fast for many days). I also recommend taking towards the morning since vitamin D can raise serotonin which lowers melatonin (they are like a teeter-tottor, when one goes up, the other goes down.)
You lose a lot of zinc as you sweat, so athletes listen up! The thyroid screams for zinc! Low zinc can also cause extreme cravings for salty foods and sweets after a meal.
Beef and oysters have a lot of zinc but bio-availability is an important factor to think about! When you eat oysters on their own you get large amounts of zinc into the body. But, if you pair oysters with beans, the amount of zinc you absorb goes down by about 70%! If you eat them with corn tortillas, almost no zinc gets absorbed (source)! Check out this chart from The Carnivore Cookbook:
Do not increase zinc too fast or it will cause nausea. Start slow (maybe 15-20mg) and work up to maybe 50 mg a day.
Zinc is very important for immune function. It plays a central role in the immune system form the barrier of the skin to gene regulation within lymphocytes (form of white blood cell that is one of the bodies main immune cells). It is also critical for normal development and function of cells that are part of the immune system. (source)
Recently there is news that a cheap over the counter anti malaria drug called Chloroquine could be helpful for combatting COVID-19. Chloroquine is a zinc ionophore. That means it helps zinc get through the cell wall. This results in more zinc in the cells. Zinc can block viral reproduction. (source)
CLICK HERE to find Aussie Minerals that has a lot of ionic minerals including zinc and we add it daily to our water. Use the code: maria10 to get 10% off your order!
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is pretty well known for being good at enabling proper immune function. You can only absorb so much vitamin C at a time. Any excess is urinated out. So instead of large doses at one time, try spreading it out to 3-5 doses a day.
My boys are from Ethiopia and you would assume, not being exposed to American illnesses and viruses, they should have been sick often, but they were and are never sick! Their good gut bacteria help keep them healthy! Probiotics are so important for gut health and so much more. Most of our immune system starts in the gut.
A high-quality probiotic helps balance your bowel flora, which naturally can help eliminate Helicobacter (also known as H. pylori, an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria). A healthy gut contains good bacteria in the digestive tract, which helps digest food and combat harmful invaders. These healthy bacteria release compounds—such as vitamins D and K2— that we can then absorb and make use of.
I love that JustThrive probiotics don’t have to be refrigerated! Plus being non-GMO, dairy free, gluten free and more I know there isn’t any hidden junk in it that I don’t want in my body.
Niacin is helpful because of its ability to boost NAD+. This gets a bit more technical, but it is important.
At the most basic level, food is electrons. Glucose and fat are suppliers of electrons to our mitochondria (the thing in all our cells that produces energy). NAD is the transport mechanism for those electrons. NAD+ traps electrons from glucose or fat. It is now NADH. NADH delivers these electrons to the mitochondria to be used as fuel turning back into NAD+. It can then go get more electrons to transfer to your mitochondria. NAD is a derivative of niacin.
NAD+ also is involved in DNA repair which means it can help reverse or reduce the effects of aging. As we age, our NAD+ levels go down. It also can help the immune system as it increases NAD+ sensing nuclear sirtuin1 (SIRT1) activity. SIRT1 is an enzyme that regulates the immune response. (source)
In order to boost NAD+ levels, you can add the supplement linked below. It is a low dose (25mg), you don’t need much. Just a little will help tip the scales for NAD+. You can get a niacin flush about 20 minutes after taking it. Where you get hot and face gets red. It can be a little uncomfortable but is totally normal. At this dose it should be minor.
But in addition to the supplement, you need to activate the demand for Niacin by being in a ketogenic state. So, eating keto or carnivore is important.
6. Don’t take NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, etc).
NSAIDs are a common thing for people to take to lower a fever. They typically work in this respect for a normal flu. But there is evidence that with something like COVID-19, it lowers temperature which may actually be a protective process against COVID-19 as it doesn’t like too much heat. Avoid NSAIDs.
Lifestyles to Support a Healthy Immune System
1. Getting outside and getting sunlight.
Yes, staying inside helps, especially if you live in a busy city. But if you can get outside without getting too much exposure to other people or crowds (keeping 6-foot social distancing), it can be great for health and immune function. Even if it is just in your own back yard.
Getting enough common-sense sun exposure is so good for overall health. It is also good for our immune system (see Vitamin D section above). Vitamin D3 levels have a strong correlation to outcomes when it comes to things like the flu or COVID-19.
So, top up your vitamin D levels with some sun exposure with as much skin exposed as possible. 30-60 minutes a day is great, depending on your location and season.
Sleep is also great for overall health but especially for immune function. Not getting enough restful sleep leads to increased cortisol which can depress immune function.
Sleep deprivation reduces antibodies that help fight infection. It also can increase the likelihood of getting a cold or virus by up to 5 times! (source) THIS Study showed that those with less than 7 hours sleep were 3 times (300%) more likely to get a cold than those with 8 or more hours of sleep.
We have many posts about how to get good restful sleep. Adding blue light blocking glasses, a good mattress, setting bedroom colder at night, blocking out light and using a sound machine can all help you get better sleep. CLICK HERE for more articles about sleep.
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Exercise is also great for overall health, but it also supports immune function. Exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). White blood cells are our bodies cells that are the part of the immune system that fights disease or viruses. Also, the brief rise in body temperature can help the body fight infection. Exercise also slows down the release of stress hormones. In number 5 below we talk about how stress is bad for immune function (source below).
But we would keep exercise to moderate amounts. Very intense workouts that last hours could contract the benefits of exercise. It causes too much stress on the body and thus can put pressure on your immune system. One study in mice that were infected with the flu virus and separated into three groups. One group did no exercise. The second did moderate exercise. The third fan all out for two and a half hours a day. After a few days, 50% of the mice that did no exercise had died of the flu. Only 12% of the moderate exercisers died. An astounding 70% of the mice that ran for hours died of the flu! (source below)
So exercise can be helpful but keep it to moderate amounts in times like this where there is a threat of getting something like COVID-19.
4. Don’t Smoke, vape, etc.
Do we need any more reasons not to smoke? Just don’t do it. It’s terrible for your health and even worse for your immune system.
5. Reduce Stress.
Stress can really depress immune function. It can spike blood sugar (check out THIS example where Peter Attia goes to the dentist and his blood glucose spiked to 160!), increase blood pressure, and it can cortisol which depresses your immune function. As we have seen from the data of the coronavirus patients, people with high blood pressure and on blood pressure medications have worse outcomes.
Try reading a book, doing some yoga or meditation. Take some time to just destress and lower your overall stress levels as much as you can.
6. Don’t do Extended Fasts.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is great. And in a situation like this it is fine to continue your IF schedule (16/8, 18/4, etc). But we don’t recommend fasting longer than 24 hours if weight loss is the goal. Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF) is better and doesn’t have the downsides of long term fasting (muscle loss, etc.). We also don’t recommend longer fasting now with the COVID-19 risk. Longer fasting (2+ days) results in a cortisol spike which could dampen the immune system. So don’t fast longer than 24 hours.
Myths of Virus Protection
1. Celery Juice.
Celery Juice and celery are all the rage recently. Huge claims of boosting immune function, lowering inflammation and even “killing viruses”. But these claims are bogus and aren’t founded in any science. They claim that the “mineral salts” in it are somehow special and give it these properties. If that is the case, just get quality salt (like above) and you will get the same benefits. Plus, celery is filled with oxalates, especially celery juice, which causes lots of other problems. So, skip the celery and just get your electrolytes right.
2. Heat or Sauna
There have been people pushing saunas for COVID-19. The idea is that at 130 degrees it has been shown that the virus can be killed or reduced in numbers. That is true, but seeing people online blowing hair dryers up their nose is just silly. The body is an amazing heat sink and raising internal body temperature isn’t easy to do, nor do you really want to too much.
While there is evidence that heat can reduce the virus, this doesn’t mean a sauna is going to heal you. You can sit in a sauna at 150 degrees or more and your body temperature will only go up a couple degrees. In fact, the air in your lungs (where this virus camps out) stays below 100 degrees. If you did bring your throat and lung temperature to 130 degrees, you would burn your lungs.
Saunas have some great health benefits. But you aren’t going to kill COVID-19 with heat once it gets into the body.
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Exercise and immune function:
Abalos KC, Petri WA. Infectious disease and sports. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee & Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 20.
Murphy EA, Davis JM, Carmichael MD, et al. “Exercise stress increases susceptibility to influenza infection.” Brain Behav Immun. 2008;22(8):1152-5.