Will You Be Ready to Fight Off the Next Virus?
Over the years, you've probably seen many magazine articles and TV shows talking about unique herbs and exotic fruits that can boost your immune system. Unfortunately, there's no magic pill where your immune system is concerned. You’ll need to put in the work to get your whole body healthier.
The COVID-19 virus makes the need for a strong immune system more important than ever. People at highest risk for this potentially deadly disease typically have weakened immune systems. This includes people over 65 (our immune systems weaken as we age), and people with serious chronic health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A stronger immune system isn’t just important for the current pandemic. It helps fight disease-causing germs, including those that cause the common cold and seasonal flu.
To help your body’s immune system do its job, start with a visit to your MDVIP-affiliated physician – via telemedicine or in person. Find out what you can do to lower your risk for chronic conditions you don’t currently have and the best ways to manage any conditions you do have. You’ll also want to have your vitamin D levels checked. (Your doctor tests your vitamin D levels as part of your MDVIP Wellness Program annually. If you haven’t had your wellness program visit, contact your physician’s office to schedule it.) Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system. If your levels are low, your doctor may recommend a supplement.
There’s also plenty you can do on your own to support your immune system and lower your risk for respiratory infections like COVID-19. A healthy diet and regular exercise should be at the top of your list – as you might expect, since both measures promote health in so many ways — and, in particular, help your immune system. Here are five other steps you can take.
1. Eat more orange foods
Orange-colored foods, such as sweet potato and carrots, are rich in beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A supports your immune system and promotes healthy tissue in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system, protecting against infections.
You may not get the full benefit from vitamin A (or any other vitamin) in supplement form. That's because healthy immune systems are supported not by single vitamins but as part of a healthy pattern of eating.
2. Quit smoking
The chemicals and tar in cigarettes weaken your immune system, raising your susceptibility to infections such as COVID-19. Smoking also puts you at increased risk of certain autoimmune diseases and cancer. And of course, smoking causes lung disease – a COVID-19 risk factor. A study published in May determined that the risk of disease progression in patients with COVID-19 doubled in smokers and those who had previously smoked than people who had never smoked.
Talk to your MDVIP-affiliated doctor about different tools to help you quit. These may include a smoking-cessation program, nicotine replacement therapy or anti-smoking medications.
3. Cut back on alcohol
Alarmed by reports of increased alcohol consumption earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General and the World Health Organization (WHO) both released statements in April about the dangers of excessive drinking on the body’s ability to fight off infection.
While there’s no direct link between alcohol and COVID-19, studies show that too much alcohol can cause lung damage, which can worsen respiratory illnesses. Alcohol also causes inflammation and destroys microbes in your digestive tract that support your immune system. Talk to your doctor about how much you drink and find out if it’s a good idea to cut back for the sake of a strong immune system – and the rest of your body.
4. Get more sleep
Lack of sleep and poor-quality sleep can weaken your immune system. One reason is that sleep deprivation can decrease your body’s production of chemicals that protect you from infection.
In addition, research suggests that T-cells, a critical component of our immune response, do a better job finding and attaching themselves to viral invaders when you’re well-rested. Lack of sleep depresses this effect.
5. Stay up to date with vaccines
There’s no vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus yet, so it’s more important than ever to reduce your risk of other illnesses. Vaccines can help.
For one, they can prevent conditions that might land you in a doctor’s office or urgent care – where you could be exposed to someone with COVID-19. Also, by preventing (or reducing symptoms of) certain infections, your immune system won’t be temporarily weakened by them.
If you’re older than 50, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting vaccines to prevent pneumonia, shingles and seasonal flu. Ask your doctor if there are any others you need or should consider.
If you need a physician, consider partnering with MDVIP. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to help you develop a personalized wellness program that includes strengthening your immune system. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »