A Diet and Lifestyle Approach to Strengthening Immunity

immunity

Dr. Keith Vrbicky and Emily Truitt, PA-S (Creighton University)

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of improving our overall health as an approach to preventing and fighting disease. An emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet has always been an important aspect of care, but with the unprecedented times we are facing in the midst of the pandemic, we must look at these things more closely and take a proactive approach to our health. There is not currently an effective cure or vaccine for COVID-19, thus we must begin to approach the treatment of the virus from a different angle to best tackle it. Even with a possible vaccine approaching, we know these are never 100% effective and should keep the goal in mind of making our immune systems stronger and improving overall health.

By living healthier lifestyles and taking certain measures, we lower the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, and other comorbid conditions as well as improve our immune systems. We know that individuals with comorbid conditions have compromised immune systems and are at an increased risk for facing more severe consequences from all viral infections, including COVID-19. In knowing this risk, we must focus on the improvement of our immune systems as an approach for fighting off the virus. One way in which we have the ability to take control and strengthen our immune system is with our diet.

Eating a low-carb diet has been found to have numerous benefits to the immune system, including lowering blood pressure and blood sugars, reducing inflammation in our bodies, enhancing the recycling of healthy cells, and improving gut health. The microbiome present in our gut is an important aspect of gut health, and healthy diversity can be enhanced with a diet low in carbs and high in things such as fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, and Herring) and other lean proteins including eggs and chicken. Garlic, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and non-starchy vegetables all help lower insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes involving insulin resistance, which was once thought to be irreversible, has been found to have improvement and even reversal in those who eat low-carb diets. Some examples of low-carb friendly foods include avocados, strawberries, tomatoes, raspberries, peaches, and watermelon.

COVID-19 has been found to accelerate oxidative stress in our bodies, leading to thrombosis forming in some patients. Other reasons for increased oxidative stress include having a comorbid condition as well as consuming a diet high in carbohydrates. Eating diets high in carbohydrates further increases the oxidative stress placed on our bodies and makes one more vulnerable to the virus. The simple carbohydrates that contain mostly fructose are the most important to avoid, such as foods containing high fructose corn syrup. Fructose, a simple carbohydrate, inhibits enzymes that make Vitamin D, an important factor in strengthening our immune system, and glutathione production, an antioxidant important for the health of our cells and being able to fight off viral infections. Fructose also makes the coronavirus more difficult for our immune systems to identify and destroy. With all of this in mind, it is important we consume diets that promote our well-being and build up our immunity rather than put us at an increased risk for viral infection and severe illness.

While we can continue to practice social distancing guidelines and masking, taking a proactive effort to boost our immune systems is one of the best ways we can help combat this virus, as well as other infections and comorbidities.

There are other aspects of our health we can focus on along with our diet to promote a stronger, healthier immune system. One crucial factor is sleep. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is the optimal amount to be well-rested and allow our bodies to prevent as well as recover from illness. Practicing intermittent fasting is another way in which we can help improve our health and immunity. Intermittent fasting is done by picking an 8-10-hour window daily for eating. Eating only during these times can help to decrease oxidative stress in our bodies, give the gut time to rest, and decreases the time that insulin is being released, preventing insulin resistance and diabetes. Practicing nasal breathing is another way to support immunity. Nasal breathing, inhaling, and exhaling through the nose, can help oxygenate our bodies up to 20% more and fight off viral and bacterial infections. This can be done by taking a few minutes each day and bringing your breath to awareness. Getting sun exposure as well as taking a daily Vitamin D supplement helps promote the immune system (4000-5000 IU). Lastly, find time for meditation, prayer, and relaxation. While we get caught in the fast pace of life, decreasing stress and promoting our own mental health can improve physical health and well-being.

While we can continue to practice social distancing guidelines and masking, taking a proactive effort to boost our immune systems is one of the best ways we can help combat this virus, as well as other infections and comorbidities.