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Giving your immune system, a fighting chance against Covid-19

Overview

We see online claims that we can “boost” our immune system with just about everything from Vitamin C or Vitamin D to essential oils and silver nanoparticles. But how do we know which of these recommendations, if any, really work?

That makes knowing what to do challenging. Plus, how do we know if something that helps with another virus will help with this new coronavirus? As you can see, there is much we simply cannot know.

Finally, if you are older or have an underlying health condition (including diabetes and high blood pressure), you have an increased risk of severe symptoms, and potentially, loss of life from COVID-19. We recommend taking every precaution to avoid it.

If you’re young and otherwise healthy, your risk of complications is much lower. If you do contract the virus, you’ll probably have mild symptoms and fully recover within a couple of weeks.

However, it’s possible that you may be infected with the virus without showing any symptoms. So maintaining excellent hygiene and practicing social isolation are crucial to avoid spreading it to high-risk individuals.

With that in mind, here are some of our top tips to decrease your risk for catching the virus or having complications from COVID-19.

The Basics

These are things that you can do today that don’t cost anything. We recommend you prioritize these basic steps for protecting and improving your health — and potentially your immune system.

While these actions are always important aspects of maintaining good health, they may be crucial during times of increased risk, like now.

  • Proper handwashing: the coronavirus is killed by proper handwashing for 20 seconds with soap or using hand sanitizer that is greater than 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke: Smokers have an increased risk of catching infections and suffering severe complications from those infections. We shouldn’t need more reasons not to smoke, but a time like this highlights the importance even more.
  • Get adequate sleep: Sleep is important for health in general, and as a bonus it may also benefit our immune function. For instance, one study showed those with insomnia had, on average, less immune response to the influenza vaccine, while another study in twins showed those with worse sleep had altered expression of genes related to immune function. In times like these, you should prioritize sleep hygiene.
  • If you’re isolated at home, that likely means more time on electronics like tablets, phones, and TVs. This may be a good time to invest in blue-light blocking glasses and to look for non-tech related activities to do in the evening, like puzzles, crosswords, or reading an actual book (not an ebook!).
  • The right amount of exercise: Observational studies show that those who exercise tend to suffer fewer infections than those who do not.

Our advice? Stay active, but remember: now is not the time to start a new high intensity exercise routine. If you already enjoy strenuous exercise, consider decreasing the frequency or intensity by 10-20% (this is not scientifically backed but is recommended by some experts).

Also, try to focus on home or outside exercise. Shared gym equipment, like weights and cardio machines, may be surfaces that transmit the virus.

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Stress management

While acute stressors may temporarily enhance immune functions, chronic stressors likely diminish immune function. Worrying about the stock market, stressing about having enough toilet paper, and focusing on the uncertainties of the future can raise cortisol levels, which may negatively impact our immune function.

We can’t make this stressful situation disappear. But we can all take measures to control our response to stress. Meditation, mindfulness exercises, and getting outside and going for walks are all examples of activities that are free and relatively easy to do.

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If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation:

In times of stress, some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. While meditation, nature walks, and mindfulness exercises are likely healthier ways of coping, for some they aren’t enough, and alcohol adds a little something extra. There’s no judging here. We all have to do what we can to get through tough times.

However, studies show a relationship between chronic heavy alcohol consumption and increased susceptibility to infections.

The trick is knowing where to draw the line. While there is little science, most experts suggest that a reasonable daily limit is two drinks for men and one drink for women. Keep in mind that following a low-carb lifestyle may decrease your tolerance to alcohol, so you may need to adjust your intake.

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Nutrition: Fruits, veggies and seeds

Getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, and seeds is a common recommendation seen on many sites, but the evidence is inconclusive if it truly helps. In one often-quoted study, elderly volunteers were randomized to less than two or greater than five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

We cannot conclude that any one specific food will improve your immune function. However, as with many other potential health benefits, it makes sense to stick to a diet that provides adequate essential nutrition and is rich in minimally processed natural foods. It may not be more complicated than that.

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Photo Acknowledgment credit: Georgen Cooking/Health Today Malaysia

Nutrition: Good to do

A low-carb diet that minimizes high blood sugar and is rich with nutrients and whole, minimally processed foods may contribute to better overall health.

Remember, however, that a low-carb diet does not have some magical quality that will keep you safe from infection. You still need to wash your hands and practice social distancing to prevent the spread of this new virus. Eat low carb for life. Not for the coronavirus.

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Photo Acknowledgment credit: Georgen Cooking/Health Today Malaysia

Nutrition: Chicken soup/bone broth

Treating colds and the flu with chicken soup may be the most popular urban myth of all time. Surprisingly, it may not be 100% a myth.

One study showed chicken soup “inhibited neutrophil migration,” which the authors suggest could improve our ability to recover from infections.

However, this is one of those instances where laboratory findings may not translate to clinical improvements such as fewer or less serious infections. But it’s hard to argue with a tasty homemade soup with chicken, a few low-carb veggies, and plenty of real salt. Immune booster or not, it sounds like a great meal in self-isolation. We chalk that one up to good self-care.

Favourite Chicken broth for the soul

Ingredients

  • 1 (4-pound; 1.8kg) whole chicken
  • 3 quarts (2.8L) cold or room-temperature homemade chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
  • 6 medium cloves garlic
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large carrot (8 ounces; 230g), diced
  • 1 medium turnip (7 ounces; 200g), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion (9 ounces; 250g) or large leek (white and light-green parts only), diced
  • 1 large parsnip (10 ounces; 285g), peeled and diced
  • 2 medium ribs celery (5 ounces; 150g), diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Minced fresh dill, flat-leaf parsley, or other fresh herbs, to finish

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cover chicken breasts, legs, and carcass with stock. Add garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.
  2. Heat stock over medium-high heat. Cook thickest part of chicken breasts for about 1 hour. Remove chicken breasts and set aside.
  3. Bring soup to a simmer and continue cooking for 1 hour longer, skimming as needed. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Remove all chicken from pot. Pull meat from bones, shredding it into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones. If broth is cloudy, you can strain it through a fine-mesh strainer to clarify it.
  4. Return all chicken to pot except breast meat and return to a simmer. Add diced carrot, turnip, onion (or leek), parsnip, and celery and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add minced fresh herbs and remove from heat. Dice chicken breasts and stir into soup along with any accumulated juices. Serve hot.
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Over-the-counter pain and fever medications for coronavirus

Without having clear data, it is difficult to know what to do. But perhaps err on the side of caution for now until better quality data is available. Instead of taking an OTC pill for a headache or fever, consider starting with cool sponge baths, damp washcloths, and remember to rest and drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes.

The best advice is if you have a fever, see your doctor immediately and not self-medicate.

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Summary

In short, the reason that this new coronavirus is spreading so rapidly and having such a significant impact on people around the world is that we lack immunity to it. Our immune systems have never seen it before.

The more actions we take to keep ourselves generally healthy, the better.

Good hand hygiene and social distancing can help prevent catching the virus. Doing what you can to reduce specific risk factors may help your body recover quickly if you do become exposed.

Even if you don’t become exposed, your overall health may benefit from the following:

  1. Eating a nutritious diet that minimizes high blood sugar
  2. Prioritizing restful sleep
  3. Managing your stress
  4. Stopping smoking
  5. Participating in moderate exercise that you enjoy
  6. Getting sunshine and fresh air where possible

While there is not yet robust scientific evidence,taking some specific supplements may improve your overall health and are likely to not be harmful if taken as directed. If nothing else, we recommend taking Vitamin D and C because you may be deficient at this time of year.


Skin health and wellness is our passion which is why we specialize in the treatment of skin conditions and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. Our dedicated team of aestheticians will take you through extensive medical grade treatments available at our clinic to help you achieve the clearer, healthier and younger looking skin you've always wanted.

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