A lot of people are in a state of panic over coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Many supplement companies have sold out of immune enhancing supplements such as elderberry, silver, and even zinc. While taking supplements can help to support the immune system, keep in mind that you can take a dozen different immune-related supplements and still end up out of commission due to a viral infection (and not just coronavirus). What I plan on doing is to first discuss five things you can do to improve your immune system health without taking any supplements. That being said, while I personally focus on diet and lifestyle factors, I do take some supplements to support my immune system health, and so for those who want to add a few supplements for additional support, towards the end of this blog post I’ll list a few nutritional supplements that I’m taking to support my immune system.
So let’s take a look at five ways to improve your immune system health without taking any nutritional supplements or herbs:
1. Try not to get stressed out. These are stressful times for most people, and for good reason. Many people are afraid of getting COVID-19, while others are stressed out due to the impact the virus has had on their job or business. Some people are stressed because their spring break vacation had to be cancelled. Some are stressed due to all of these reasons. Look, I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t more stressed than usual, as while I’m not afraid of getting coronavirus, there is no question that this has had a negative impact on my practice so far. I was also planning on visiting my parents for spring break and it looks like this won’t happen. On top of this my father is 82, lives in NY, and isn’t in the best state of health, and so while I’m not panicking like many others are, I’m still concerned about his health. But I’m in no position to complain, as I realize that many people have it much worse than I do.
The problem is that stress suppresses the immune system. This not only can make you more susceptible to coronavirus, but other infections as well. So what can you do? After all, we’re talking about some big problems here. Even if you’re in a situation where you can’t get rid of the stressful situation, which describes many people reading this, you can do things to improve your stress handling skills. For example, if you are out of work I understand you probably are concerned about paying your bills. While things might look bleak now and in the near future, it will get better, and you can use this time to improve your health…especially your stress handling skills. Practice deep breathing and meditation, yoga, or a different type of mind body medicine. Take a hot bath and do some reading.
2. Eat healthy. If you live in the United States, as well as some other countries that might be facing a lockdown, you probably have done quite a bit of shopping to make sure you have enough food to last for at least a few weeks, if not longer. While I understand people wanting to stock up on certain non-perishable foods, you want to try your best to eat healthy during this time. I realize this can be a challenge, especially when there are “slim pickings” at some grocery stores, with food hoarding a big reason for this. This past Tuesday morning my wife went to Trader Joes right when they opened, and while there was grass fed beef and organic chicken available, she mentioned that one woman took half the packages of organic chicken that were on the shelves.
Of course it would be great if you can eat organic meat and produce, but either way, the priority is to eat whole healthy foods. In other words, if you are unable to purchase organic food, at the very least try to eat whole healthy foods. And if you have to purchase non organic fruits and vegetables you can refer to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, which can be found on the website for the Environmental Working Group (www.EWG.org). This list should be updated soon for 2020.
3. Get sufficient sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is important for optimal immune system health (1). I would aim for at least 7 to 8 hours sleep each night. And this doesn’t mean 7 to 8 hours in bed, but actual sleep time. So for example, if you go to bed at 10 and don’t fall asleep until 11, I wouldn’t count this period as one hour of sleep. I’m sure this stressful situation with COVID-19 is interfering with many people’s sleep, which is another reason why it’s important to block out time for stress management.
4. Stay active. Another downside of being home most of the time for many people is that they will become inactive. I’m going to miss going to the gym, but I’m fortunate to have a treadmill in my home. Others might be even more fortunate and have exercise equipment in their home. But even if you don’t have any equipment in your home this doesn’t mean that the only option is to hang out and be on electronics all day. Of course you want to be cautious about any exercising you do, as you don’t want to overtrain or hurt yourself. But you also don’t want to be sedentary.
Research shows that regular exercise increases immunity and reduces the risk of infection when compared to a sedentary lifestyle (2) (3). Most people know that elderly individuals are more susceptible to coronavirus (as is younger people with certain co-morbidities). However, middle-aged and elderly individuals who participate in moderate-intensity exercise are less likely to develop an infection when compared to those who are sedentary (4).
5. Reduce your toxic load. Numerous studies demonstrate that heavy metals can have a negative effect on the health of the immune system (5) (6). This shouldn’t be surprising, and the truth is that other chemicals will have a negative effect on immune system health. And please don’t overlook the impact that electronic pollution can have on your immune system. At the very least you want to spend your resting hours free from electromagnetic fields, and so consider unplugging the Wi-Fi at night, as well as any electronics in your bedroom. And try to avoid being on electronics one to two hours before going to bed. In January I wrote a detailed blog post on how to reduce your toxic load, which I would recommend to check out.
5 Basic Supplements To Support Your Immune System
Before I discuss a few of the basic supplements you can take to support your immune system, just remember to focus on improving your immune system health through diet and lifestyle. Also, you of course want to make sure you take good quality nutritional supplements and herbs. If you’re not sure how to choose good quality supplements please check out my blog post from 2015 entitled “How To Choose Quality Supplements and Herbs For Your Thyroid Condition”.
1. Vitamin D. I’ve spoken about vitamin D in numerous articles and blog posts. Healthy vitamin D levels are important for a healthy immune system (7), and while some people are able to maintain healthy levels through getting regular sun exposure, supplementation is frequently necessary to correct a vitamin D deficiency. Also, you always want to take vitamin K2 when supplementing with vitamin D, as this helps to guide calcium into the bone. Ideally I would recommend to first test for vitamin D in the blood before supplementing with vitamin D3, and while I’m sure many people reading this already have done this, others haven’t and understandably don’t plan on visiting a lab anytime soon with everything going on. You might want to check out this video I put together entitled “How To Boost Vitamin D To Optimal Levels“.
2. Zinc. Although all of the minerals are important for optimal health, zinc is perhaps the most important mineral when it comes to immune system health. Once again, testing would be ideal, and while there are numerous ways to test for zinc, including doing an RBC zinc test or looking at zinc on a hair mineral analysis, a low alkaline phosphatase on a comprehensive metabolic panel can also be an indication of a zinc deficiency (8). You want to be careful about supplementing with very high doses of zinc for a prolonged period of time (i.e. >50mg), as this can lead to a copper deficiency, which can also compromise the immune system.
3. Vitamin C. Many people take vitamin C can to prevent and/or reduce the severity of the common cold, and research shows that vitamin C has an anti-viral immune response at the early time of infection against the influenza virus, which is associated with the flu (9). More recently I’ve been recommending liposomal vitamin C due to its superior absorption and bioavailability, although another option is to take a whole food vitamin C supplement. That being said, most of the research involves using “regular” vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid, and so even this can help to support the immune system. Unfortunately there isn’t a good test out there for vitamin C. The organic acids test from Great Plains Laboratory does have a metabolite related to vitamin C, but it’s not the most accurate marker.
4. Selenium. Selenium can help to support the immune system and to prevent viral infections (10) (11). It is a cofactor for glutathione peroxidase, which can help to decrease the oxidative stress associated with infections. If recommending selenium separately I’ll usually recommend for my patients to take 200 mcg of selenium, although some multivitamins have a good amount of selenium, including a multivitamin I commonly recommend to my patients. Since selenium toxicity is a concern you want to be cautious about taking too much selenium.
5. Probiotics. Having a healthy gut is necessary for a healthy immune system, and the research shows that probiotics can support the immune system (12). When choosing a probiotic supplement you want to make sure that you use a company that’s third-party tested, as a few years ago Consumer Labs discovered that many probiotic supplements don’t include the ingredients listed on the bottle. The truth is that it’s a good idea to use companies that utilize third-party testing for all of your supplements. In addition, you want to choose a probiotic supplement that lists the specific strains, and not just the species. Two of my favorite probiotic supplements are Xymogen ProbioMax Daily DF and Designs for Health ProbioMed.
The Truth About Other Immune Enhancing Supplements
Of course there are other supplements that can support immune system health, including elderberry, colloidal silver, and monolaurin. I mentioned these in a recent article I wrote on the “coronavirus and thyroid health“. Just keep in mind that nobody has an elderberry deficiency or a deficiency in colloidal silver. Once again, this doesn’t mean that these can’t be beneficial, as I’ve been taking silver since being diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2018. But if you have a deficiency in vitamin D, zinc, or any other nutrient, then without question this needs to be addressed in order to have optimal immune system health. One nutrient I didn’t mention above that’s also very important for optimal immune system health is vitamin A.
What Are You Doing To Keep Your Immune System Healthy?
I’d love to hear what you’re doing to maintain your immune system health. Are you focusing more on diet and lifestyle factors? Are you taking certain supplements to support your immune system? Perhaps you’re doing both of these, which is the approach I take. Please share what you’re doing for your immune system in the comments section below.
Update on My Overcoming Infections Masterclass
Before all of this chaos involving COVID-19 happened I was planning on having an overcoming infections masterclass, which focuses on the different infections that can be triggers of thyroid and non-autoimmune thyroid conditions. So this IS NOT a masterclass that focuses on COVID-19. Originally I was hoping to launch this in March, but it looks like it will be sometime in April that this will be available. If you want to be notified immediately when it’s released you can sign up for my “Overcoming Infections” VIP waitlist by clicking here.