There is a lot of attention put on strategies for decreasing exposure to the COVID virus but not as much emphasis on how to truly support a healthy immune system. Adverse outcomes from the pandemic are escalated by the alarmingly poor nutritional and metabolic health (heart health, blood sugar and body composition) of Americans. The CDC states that those with hypertension, diabetes and obesity have a higher risk of poor outcomes.
Your immune system and metabolic health require adequate nutrients levels to do their jobs which can be hijacked when it’s exposed to an overload of inflammatory ingredients. And beyond that, additional health-creating behaviors such as proper sleep, consistent exercise, stress reduction help arm your body with immunological resilience.
There is so much in your control when it comes to supporting the immune system and lowering inflammation. Here are four places to start:
Eat the Rainbow
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. Every nature-derived color of the rainbow has different immune-modulating properties. Load up on different colors in your produce to get a robust mixture of whole food phytochemicals. This can help promote a stronger immune defense and lower levels of inflammation. Aim for eating at least three colors with every meal. Purple cauliflower, yellow carrots, white asparagus, and orange bell peppers are good examples of foods you can incorporate into your meals.
Limit Added Sugars
No surprise here, too much sugar isn’t a good thing. High levels of added sugar may lower how white blood cells function and weaken your immune system. A diet high in added sugar can also deplete antioxidant levels and increase inflammation. One study showed that COVID patients who have elevated blood sugar upon admission to the hospital, even in those who don’t have diabetes, were more than twice as likely to die from the virus compared to those admitted with normal blood sugar levels. Acute stress can also increase blood glucose levels, but regardless, it’s important to try to improve your health by limiting added sugar.
Get Adequate Vitamin D
There is a strong link between D and the immune system. Research demonstrates a connection between vitamin D deficiency and a higher risk of poor outcomes in those who contract coronavirus. A recent study showed that the fatality rate among a vitamin D deficient group was 21%, compared to 3% in the group with ‘normal’ vitamin D levels. It showed that vitamin D deficiency was associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers such as ferritin, TNF-alpha and IL-6.
The three ways that you can get vitamin D are through sunlight, diet, and supplements. If you have access to sunlight, try to get 15 minutes of exposure each day. Consume foods rich in vitamin D such as wild sockeye salmon, canned sardines, oysters, and egg yolks. Many people also require a vitamin D supplement to meet adequate levels. The optimal dose varies for each person so you’ll want to discuss with your doctor, who may test your levels of vitamin D. You may also consider getting a genetics test to identify if you have a genetic variation to the VDR gene that may decrease your ability to activate this nutrient, if you’re concerned.
Go Beyond Nutrition
Yes, I’m going to tell you to sleep more. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep and incorporating stress reduction techniques such as breathing properly, meditation, or participating in activities that bring you joy are critical for supporting your immune, metabolic and mental health.
Remember, the key is to arm yourself with the tools that create immune resilience. The more that you do the work, the stronger and more balanced the armor becomes.