Boosting your Immune System against Coronavirus: How to Minimize the Risk?

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
October 30, 2020

Even as scientists hunt for a vaccine to the novel coronavirus, experience from the better half of 2020 proves that prevention is better than cure. Social distancing coupled with respiratory and hand hygiene is now the new normal. But, what about tactics like consuming immunity-boosting foods? The first thing to know is that no immune booster will render you invincible when it comes to COVID-19. The reason is that when you contract the virus, you have no existing antibodies to fight it with.

So, does that mean that immune system boosters are worthless? Not entirely true either. The WHO notes that what we consume can impact our body’s ability to ‘prevent, fight and recover from infections’. Further, while it can be tough to conjecture on the effectiveness of immunity foods against COVID-19 based on their previous performance with flu, who would argue against common sense advice such as getting adequate doses of sleep and exercise?

Here then are ways that could help you boost your immune system against the novel coronavirus.

Switch to a protein-rich, low-carb diet

Experts point to several health benefits from reducing unnecessary carb intake. Diet Doctor, for instance, says that low-carb and ketogenic diets are useful for not only treating metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes but also reversing them. A low carb diet helps keep blood pressure and sugar levels in check.

What does this have to do with COVID-19? Well, you’ve probably heard of the word comorbidity in the context of COVID-19. This refers to when you have an additional disease at the same time. Data pertaining to the COVID-19 fatalities in Gujarat during 23 March and 25 April indicates that ~71% of patients had some existing disease. A majority of cases boiled down to hypertension or diabetes. So, it makes sense to cut down on grain and other carbs to fight existing diseases and thus keep yourself better armed against COVID-19.

Also Read: High Blood Pressure Treatment at Home

Strive for sufficient essential nutrition

It’s not possible to single out a particular food to increase immunity in the context of the novel coronavirus. What makes more sense is to aim for well-rounded nutrition. The WHO has certain tips here. They include consuming a variety of foods, including, but not just, fruit and vegetables. So, your daily mix would have whole grains, such as rice, maize and wheat, legumes, such as beans and lentils, foods from animal sources, such as fish, meat, eggs and milk, and a lot of fruit and vegetables.

The WHO also suggests that you eat unprocessed millets, maize, brown rice and wheat, reduce salt, consume moderate amounts of fat and oil, and limit sugar intake. Certain experts say the Mediterranean diet, with its colourful variety of fatty fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil makes for a healthy gut and great nutrition. It is also sensible to opt for minimally processed natural foods.

Consider supplements to your basic diet

Are supplements the ultimate immune system booster foods? It’s hard to say yet, but they can certainly help.

Vitamin D:
A recent Lancet study probes whether the deficiency in Vitamin D could be behind the different COVID-19 fatality rates across countries. In Italy and Spain, where average levels of Vitamin D are low, death rates are higher than northern European countries, where Vitamin D supplements and cod liver oil keep Vitamin D levels high. What is also concerning is that as per a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Vitamin D deficiency in Indians ranges from 40% to 99% in the population.

Healthline also points to research that suggests that Vitamin D supplements can improve immune response and protect against infections of the respiratory tract. Since most individuals have low levels of Vitamin D, you can consider a supplement while you also get Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin C:
What about Vitamin C, the vitamin that helps prevent and reduce the severity of the common cold? Vitamin C is an antioxidant and it could help various immune cells fight infection. Will it fight COVID-19? One cannot say for sure. However, there’s no harm in some Vitamin C intake, especially if you are at high risk.

Also Read: Vitamin C Sources

Zinc is vital to immune system function, aiding white blood cells in their response to infection. Interestingly, low amount of Zinc is linked to susceptibility to cold, flu and viruses. Is Zinc then the immune booster everyone needs for COVID-19? It’s premature to conclude right now but it certainly won’t harm you to take this mineral supplement.

While considering Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc as supplements, it is best to avoid self-administration. Why? At certain levels, these can become harmful for you. Moreover, your immune system lives in a delicate balance and your doctor would have better insight into what to take and how much.

While you are consulting your doctor, also ask about supplements like:

  • Garlic
  • Turmeric
  • B complex

Live a healthy, stress-free life and carry a bottle of water

After a glance at the various foods to improve immunity function and what impact they could have on COVID-19, it’s fair to say that food is not everything. Today, a lot of the diseases people suffer from boil down to stressful and unhealthy lifestyles. These existing diseases won’t help if COVID-19 strikes. So, here are 5 actionable things you can do to live healthier.

  • Get ample sleep: Sleep is good for immune function and relieves stress. Also, studies indicate those who sleep less than 8 hours or more are more likely to develop cold or its symptoms (up to even 4 times if you curtail your sleep to 6 hours!).
  • Drink 2 litres of water: Water is key to hydration and the proper functioning of your body’s metabolic systems. It’s a better alternative to sugar-rich beverages and helps your body eliminate toxins.
  • Exercise often: It’s important to stay active and exercise has been linked to fewer infections and immune function. So, if you live a sedentary lifestyle and even more so with the recent increase in working from home, make sure you pepper your day with some activity. Yoga, cardio, weights, walking and running are all options you can choose from.
  • Reduce stress levels: Stress has been linked to dampened immune function. During a pandemic, where there is no shortage of reasons that cause stress, it is key to identify stress busters. Reflective reading, uplifting music, meditation, prayer, playing with pets or even a game of cards with the family can help!
  • Quit smoking and alcohol: Smoking makes your lungs weak and the WHO points out that excessive alcohol increases the immediate risk of injury. So, if you are a heavy smoker or consume lots of alcohol, remember to work on this area even as you add immunity foods to your diet.

Also Read: How to Increase Immunity in Kids

Even as you consider these potential immunity-boosting foods and healthy habits to protect yourself from COVID-19, remember that it is best to take steps that are based on your body’s unique constitution. Heeding professional advice is the best way to do so. Apps like Bajaj Finserv Health App make this process easier, as through it you can get medical advice via e-consultations without even stepping out of your home. What’s more, you can book a COVID-19 test using this app and even explore complete health packages as well as features like medicine reminders and a personalised health manager who is at your fingertips 24/7.

So, when you meet or speak with your doctor, make sure to discuss all possible immune system boosters to give your body the best chance of combatting COVID-19.