We are constantly exposed to hundreds of different strains of viruses that are capable of making us sick. These viruses are transmitted hand-to-hand (touching nose and eyes, then touching others or surfaces) and aerosol (coughing and sneezing). Our current fear is COVID-19, and while the information on this is changing daily, what hasn’t changed are the measures we can take to strengthen our immune system to prevent us from getting sick or less severely sick if a virus catches our immune system off-guard.
The symptoms of a cold can include a general sense of not being well, fatigue, achiness, nasal congestion, sneezing, fever, headache, sore or dry throat, and hoarseness. Usually a cold will start with a watery nasal discharge and sneezing. As the virus is killed, nasal secretions usually thicken with mucus, white blood cells, and dead organisms, and the nasal passages may feel swollen. The three hallmark symptoms of COVID-19 is fever (over 100.5), shortness of breath, and cough.
Most people who get a cold or even the flu should not need to seek medical care. However, if your symptoms last longer than a week or you develop shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, productive cough, or a fever sustained over 102 degrees, you should contact or see a health care provider.
Frequent hand-washing is highly important as most studies show that we are more likely to become infected with the virus from direct contact with a surface or person with the virus than from breathing in the virus. However, a strong immune function is our number one defense against catching cold. Ensure you are getting enough sleep and participating in activities that stimulate the immune system such as gentle aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation, tai chi, and other relaxing activities.
Reducing the intake of sugar and excess alcohol consumption can enhance your immune system. Eating healthy, balanced meals with adequate protein intake can’t be underestimated. Eat the rainbow color of foods, particular vegetables to obtain immune-boosting nutrients naturally. Change your coffee out for green tea or bring that into your diet. If you get more than 1-2 colds a year, consider taking supplements to provide your body with the nutrients that are well known to improve your immune system. Vitamins and minerals that promote, improve, and enhance your immune system include vitamin A, carotenes, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-vitamins, iron, zinc, and selenium. A good, quality multivitamin can provide these in a convenient manner.
More than ever, it is important to socially distance yourself if you or a family member have symptoms of a cold and it is extremely important to not attend daycare, school, or work until you are free of fever for 24 hours. The hallmark treatment for any viral infection is good hydration coupled with sleep and rest. Drink large amount of fluids that include water, diluted vegetable juices, bone broths, soups, and herbal teas. Good hydration improves the function of white blood cells, moistens the respiratory tract and repels viral infection.
Using humidifiers/vaporizers and steamy showers will help move mucus along. Some benefit from using a Neti pot or sinus rinse device using salt water with or without xylitol. Chewing xylitol gum after meals not only reduces cavities, but also reduces incidence of throat and ear infections.
When we sleep, rest, relax, or meditate, immune-enhancing compounds are released and immune functions are greatly increased. We now know that walks in nature boost the immune system for up to 1 week.
Besides the lifestyle measures mentioned to keep your immune system strong, Here are a list of nutrients/herbs one can use that help boost our immune system:
1. An herbal combination product such as EHB by Integrative Therapeutics that contains Echinacea, zinc, goldenseal, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and garlic. Each of these as a stand-alone are good at supporting immune function and together, work synergistically. We usually recommend taking this when we feel run-down or on the verge of getting sick. But for people who get more than 1-2 colds a year, it may be helpful to take more regularly to help rejuvenate your system. If you do decide to take Echinacea regularly, it is recommended to take a break/holiday periodically. Another product easy to find on local shelves is Super Lysine that has many of these nutrients as well as lysine (an amino acid that attacks viral walls).
2. NAC is short for n-acetylcysteine. It is an amino acid that will help the body produce a very powerful antioxidant called glutathione. NAC will boost your immune system and thin out secretions. It has been used in lung conditions such as COPD and is used in hospitals not only to loosen secretions but to treat drug overdoses that need the liver to process the medication (i.e. Tylenol overdose). It can upset the stomach so ease into the dose. Doses range from 500-1000mg twice daily and max out at 3000mg total daily. And in speaking of Tylenol, try to avoid taking this for fever or pain while sick unless absolutely necessary as it will stop your body producing glutathione – you want lots of glutathione while sick.
3. Vitamin D. There is a reason why we get less sick in the summer and this vitamin is as important to our immune system as it is about healthy bones. Adults can take 5000 units of vitamin D3 form without risk of toxicity, and for pediatric patients, one can safely take 1000 units per 25 pounds weight (up to 5000 units).
4. Probiotics. Yes, those beneficial bacteria that live in our gut not only helps us digest our food and produce vitamins, but also enhance our immune system which is largely housed in the gut. A good multi-strain is good, 25-50 billion units is a good dose. Eating fermented foods – yogurt, kimchee, kephir, sauerkraut, are all excellent ways to get beneficial bacteria.
5. Mushrooms. Eat daily or take a blended formula. These fungi are well studied as supporting the immune system and helping fight against invaders, including cancer.
6. Turmeric/curcumin. 500mg twice daily is adequate to boost the immune system and lower inflammation associated with illness. People take supplements, cook with curry, or make “golden milk” teas.
We hope you find this helpful and empowers you to support yourselves and your family not only for COVID-19 but for any cold and flu season. Also call your healthcare provider when you need help or support. May we all remain connected and supportive during these upcoming months – community matters!