By Dr. Frank Lipman
Health crises of any kind—be they local, national or, like the current coronavirus, global in scale—are a wake-up call for all of us. As one of my patients recently said, “There’s nothing like a potential pandemic to make you think about upping your immunity.” Dark humor aside, she makes a good point: Boosting immunity needs to become a top priority.
In addition to closely following the protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to protect against infection, it’s also important to incorporate as many immunity-boosting behaviors as possible, the sooner the better. Your mission: to fortify your body against opportunistic invaders, making it harder for them to get a toehold into your system.
Start with a multi-pronged approach that includes health-supporting foods and immunity-boosting supplements, as well as reinforcing the behaviors and habits that can help keep you well. Here is a roundup of 30 of my favorite easy, do-right-now tips to help kick your immunity into gear, plus a helpful recent piece from The New York Times and the current recommendations from the CDC:
Think of food as an edible medicine cabinet
Food—it keeps us going, nourishes our bodies, and when we do it right, acts as health-supportive medicine. That’s when we’re also feeding the billions of beneficial bacteria that live in our gut—where roughly 70 percent of our immune system lives. Start your immunity-boosting program by giving the junky empty calories a wide berth—not good for you, or the bacteria in you.
1) Ditch sugar and processed foods now.
Sugar is, in a word, garbage, and when viruses are making the rounds, the sweet stuff can make getting sick far easier by starving your beneficial gut bacteria and overfeeding the bad. Processed foods have a similar impact, weakening immunity with gut-health-weakening chemicals, allergens and virtually no bug-fighting nutrients, so ban processed junk from your table, too.
2) Go heavy on garlic and onions.
Take advantage of the allium-rich veggies, known for their powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties…and they taste great, too! They feed your gut the fiber and prebiotics it thrives on, and they work just as well raw or cooked, so start chopping garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks and shallots, and enjoy daily.
3) Gobble up greens.
Think greens—and work them into every meal to front-load your system with the phytonutrients and fiber that make your good belly bacteria thrive, in turn, keeping your immune system defenses strong. In addition to salads at dinner, add a pile of spinach under your morning eggs. Add a fistful of kale to soup at lunch, and salads and stews at dinnertime. Got smoothies? Toss some greens in there too. Before you know it, you’ll be a greens machine.
4) Add prebiotics to your plate.
Fiber from plants feed the good bacteria in your gut, strengthening your microbiome, which is good for your immune system! Apart from garlic and onions, seek out radishes, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and tomatoes. In addition, the chewy part of the vegetable—like the stalks of broccoli or the bottoms of asparagus—are the most nutritious for the gut bacteria. So don’t chop off the stalks—eat them!
5) Have a scoop of fermented food.
Simply put, a healthy gut makes the rest of you less vulnerable to bacterial and viral invaders. To boost that health, put a scoop or two of fermented foods on your plate a few times a week to feed your gut the probiotics it needs to function optimally. You can ferment virtually any veggie you like, or buy items like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso or kefir to get your dose. Not a fermented food fan (yet)? Then try adding organic apple cider vinegar to salads, or add a tablespoon to a cup of hot or cold water with a bit of lemon juice and/or monk fruit sweetener to taste.
6) Have a hot cup of immunity.
For the next few weeks, ditch the cocktails and, for that matter, any form of alcohol. Instead, brew up hot tea drinks made with immune-boosting herbs like andrographis, elderberry and astragalus. Add bone broth to your repertoire as well. Broths made from healthy, grass-fed animals deliver amino acids like arginine, glutamine and glycine, all of which are excellent immunity reinforcements.
7) Make mealtime a lot spicier.
Ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme and cayenne pepper—pour them on! Not only will they add considerably more flavor to everything you eat, but they also pack a powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-viral punch.
8) Clue into coconut.
Another tasty, immunity-boosting add-in for smoothies or your morning Bulletproof coffee: coconut oil. Just a teaspoon a day will add extra flavor and healthy fats, while supporting immunity with its powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.
Boost Immunity Even Further With Supportive Supplements
In addition to eating healthy and well, I often recommend supplements as extra support for the immune system and overall well-being. At this time of the year, when everyone’s immune system can use a little extra TLC, try a few of these from my favorite immunity-boosting all-stars:
9) Anti-viral herbs: Add anti-viral and anti-bacterial herbs like andrographis, astragalus, olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano, elderberry extract and lomatium extract to your list.
10) Medicinal mushrooms: Look for a mixed formula that contains cordyceps, chaga and maitake. In addition to their many healing properties, mushrooms contain beta glucans, which have immune-modulating effects.
11) NAC (N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine): A precursor to the powerful immunity-booster glutathione, NAC also supports respiratory health by acting as an antioxidant and expectorant, helping to thin out and loosen mucus in the air passageways. Dosage is usually 2 to 4 grams a day.
12) Glutathione: It’s the master antioxidant, but most oral glutathione is foul-smelling and poorly absorbed, so look for s-acetyl-glutathione or liposomal glutathione.
13) Vitamin D3: Ideally, your D levels should be in the 50 to 70mg/ml range, so have your doctor check yours. Then you both can determine how much is needed to close the gap. For most people, a maintenance dose of 2,000 to 5,000 IU a day should do the trick.
14) Vitamin C: To protect against infection, take 2 to 3 grams of vitamin C every day.
15) Probiotics: Support your gut with a probiotic, preferably one with at least 20 to 50 billion viable organisms, and several types of good bacteria, like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, two of the most highly regarded strains.
16) Zinc: Add 25 mg of zinc per day on a short-term basis for an additional immune boost, and, if you feel a cold coming on, to help shorten its duration.
17) Fish oil: 1 to 2 grams of high-quality fish oils daily will help keep immunity defenses strong. Just make sure yours contain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, and no fillers.
18) Spirulina: Animal studies suggest spirulina may boost the immune system and have anti-viral properties. Dosage: about 15 grams per day.
Treat Your Body Right—Indulge in Healthy Habits
When it comes to immunity-boosting, eating right and adding additional supportive supplements are two pillars of the immunity pyramid, but the third pillar—treating your body right—is equally important. Being generous with self-care will not only help you keep your head on straight through these challenging times, but will also benefit your gut/immune system (aka ‘the second brain’) big-time:
19) Sleep a bit more than you usually do.
Even if it means ‘lights out’ a little earlier, make sleep a priority and shoot for 7 to 8 hours a night to give your body the time it fully needs to rest, repair and refresh you for the next day. When you fall short or your energy is flagging, take a brief 20-minute power nap, ideally no later than 4PM to avoid disrupting your nighttime routine.
20) Bust stress and boost immunity.
A steady diet of stress torpedoes your immunity, so up your unwinding time. One of the easiest ways to de-stress anywhere, anytime, is to meditate. Add to that a few moments of yoga at the start or end of your day for an added round of relaxation and immunity boosting.
21) Hit the sauna—doctor’s orders.
Time spent in the sauna—be it dry, steam or infrared—is also a wonderful, pleasurable way to de-stress. What’s more, sauna time raises the body’s core temperature by a degree or two, which revs up production of your disease-fighting white blood cells.
22) Move more, but don’t overdo it.
Keep moving to keep your immune system humming, but now’s not the time to go overboard. Movement boosts immunity, but overdoing it will have the opposite effect, so go easy on yourself.
23) Water your schnozz.
Regular spritzing of your nasal passages with an aerosol saline solution, or using a neti pot, helps keep passages moist and less prone to forming the tiny cracks through which microscopic viral invaders enter your body.
24) Keep well hydrated.
Whether you’re feeling thirsty or not, drink plenty of water to help keep lungs moist and mucus flowing, clearing lungs of the gunk that can collect and create conditions for opportunistic infections to thrive.
25) Soak up the sun.
If the sun is shining, find a nice spot outdoors and soak up the sun for a few minutes. Doing so will lift your spirits, help regulate your sleep/wake cycle, stimulate vitamin D production, and, you guessed it, boost immunity!
26) Create a barrier.
To minimize direct contact with germy surfaces, just add gloves. No gloves? In a pinch use coat sleeves as an impromptu barrier. And be conscious of where you put your hands. The less contact hands have with communal surfaces—think handrails, subway poles, doorknobs, etc.—the better. Other frequent points of contact? Shared office printers and copy machines, ATM machines, credit card pens, your phone, your desk, anything with a touchscreen…the list goes on.
27) Wash your hands—a lot.
Go with the classic soap-and-hot-water routine for at least 20 seconds, as often as you can. If you don’t have access at a given moment, be sure to avoid all contact with your eyes, nose and mouth to keep germs from finding their way into you.
28) Bypass the hand dryer.
Those deafening air blowers in public restrooms tend to blow germs into the air as they dry. My advice? Carry an extra paper napkin in your pocket and towel off instead, or drip dry.
29) Clean up on-the-go.
Anti-bacterial hand wipes and sprays contribute to antibiotic resistance, so they’re not ideal by any stretch. So, until you can wash with soap and hot water, clean up with a non-GMO alcohol-based wipe or sanitizing spray scented with essential oils, as a first line of defense.
30) Seal your skin.
With frequent hand-washing often comes cracked skin through which germs can enter. To keep cracks at bay, moisturize frequently with coconut oil or Weleda’s Skin Food or Beautycounter’s hand cream. Stay healthy and well!