Amid the COVID-19 pandemic having a strong immune system is an absolute must! The immune system’s number one job is to fight off disease and infections. It defends our body from unwanted invaders such as bacteria and viruses. However, there are several ways we can aid in this fight.
While we can accidentally weaken our immune system with things like too much sugar, poor eating, smoking, too much drinking etc., we can also intentionally help boost it in various ways!
Sleep is for more than just beauty! In fact, sleep can directly affect immunity and is probably the simplest thing we can do to aid our immune system in fighting and preventing illness. Cytokines are an essential part of the immune system. These proteins help immune cells communicate with each other as well as direct these cells toward the infection, helping form a quicker immune response to combat any dangerous pathogens. However, studies show not getting enough sleep weakens our immune system and decreases the production of cytokines as well as other infection-fighting antibodies and cells, slowing down our body’s response time to infection. Adequate sleep also boosts T cell production. T cells are white blood cells which play a critical role in destroying virus-carrying cells. This is why it’s so important to get a good night’s rest.
The recommended amount of sleep is as follows:
- 7 to 8 hours for adults
- 10 or more hours for teens and school-aged children
2. Nutrition and Hydration
They say, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and it’s true! Proper nutrition can help kick our immune systems into high gear. In fact, 70% of the immune system is housed in our gut so making sure our digestive system is in tip-top shape can be just the balance we need.
Proper nutrition includes proper hydration! The immune system uses lymph to help circulate white blood cells and nutrients throughout the body. Water not only aids in the production of lymph and helps oxygenate our blood but also assists with flushing out toxins. When we are dehydrated, toxins can build up and weaken our immune system. Recommended daily fluid intake varies by gender, age and breastfeeding status but general guidelines from the Institute of Medicine are as follows:
- 13 cups (about 3 liters) of fluid each day for men
- 9 cups (a little over 2 liters) for women
- 10 cups of water per day for pregnant women
- 12 cups of water per day for those who breastfeed
- 6 to 8 cups per day for children and teens
To calculate how much water is recommended based on your individual characteristics click here.
Likewise, what we eat is also very important! We can help boost our immune system by limiting processed sugars and filler foods and focusing on consuming healthy fats and foods high in nutrients. For example, we can swap pasta (which lacks nutrients) for high quality protein and veggies. These foods provide much needed nutrients and antioxidants to decrease inflammation and protect immune cell membranes from oxidation. Fruits and vegetables also provide most of our vitamin A and C intake which help protect us from germs.
Staying active helps you stay active! Devoting just a small amount of time everyday to work up a sweat can make all of the difference. Exercising helps the body detoxify and “flush unwanted bacteria out of the lungs and airways” (medlineplus.gov). Working out also helps our white blood cells circulate, aiding our body’s ability to detect illness and fight back against it faster. Additionally, exercise can help give our heart and lungs the workout they need to work as efficiently as possible.
According to the CDC, at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week is recommended. It may sound like a lot but it’s not when broken into manageable chunks. For example, that’s 30 minutes per day if spread out for 5 days! It also doesn’t have to be done through any particular exercise program or routine but could be something as simple as walking, biking, a quick game of basketball or even just dancing to jams for some fun cardio, the possibilities are endless! One study shows, “30 to 60 minutes of near daily brisk walking (at least 3.5 miles per hour, or a 17-minute mile) can improve your body’s defense against germs and improves the surveillance activity of the immune system.”
4. Avoid Infection
Another way we can assist our immune systems is to avoid infections in the first place! This can be attempted by avoiding potential exposure; through social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks (specifically during pandemics), washing hands and good general hygiene. While we mostly think of good hygiene practices consisting of hand washing and showering, something that often goes unmentioned is oral health. Teeth brushing is essential! When we allow the bacteria in our mouths to go unchecked, it can lead to gum disease and inflammation, causing our immune systems to weaken and not be able to protect the body to its fullest potential.
While we should always aim to get as much of our key nutrients from the foods we eat, supplements are a great way to boost the immune system and fill the gaps in our diet. Below are just a few vitamins and herbs that have been shown to help improve immunity and/or protect against illness:
Astragalus (otherwise known as Huang Qi): Astragalus is a herb regularly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat or attempt to prevent upper respiratory infections and flu viruses. It can be used alongside other herbs to stimulate the immune system. Studies have suggested astragalus helps increase immunoglobulin production and restore T cells.
Elderberry: Studies suggest elderberry supplementation can help reduce the duration of cold and flu viruses.
Vitamin C: Studies show vitamin C can increase antioxidant levels up to 30%, helping the body’s natural defenses combat inflammation and infection.
Vitamin D: A study shows vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity and susceptibility to infection.
Zinc: Studies demonstrate zinc to affect the immune system in various ways including helping cells mediate innate immunity as well as working as an antioxidant.
6. Minimize/Manage Stress
Stress can take a huge toll on our immune system. In fact, stress can decrease the number of lymphocytes and not only suppress our body’s ability to fight off illness but also leave us more susceptible to get infections. Especially in today’s uncertain times, it’s now more important than ever to do our best to minimize and manage our stress levels where we can.
Common ways to decrease stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, acupuncture or even taking up a new hobby. Time outdoors in nature has been proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation. During this time of social distancing it is also important to remember to stay in contact with loved ones, whether that’s through a call or video chat. Hearing a familiar voice and connecting with another person can make all of the difference!
7. Acupuncture, Cupping, and Herbal Medicine
Last but definitely not least, acupuncture, cupping, and herbal medicine have been shown to boost the immune system (for the last 1,000 years)!
Acupuncture and cupping can both regulate immune function, speed up healing, reduce symptoms and treat underlying issues through stimulating specific points on the body which trigger immune responses. Each can safely be used as a complement to other medicines or therapies as well as a standalone treatment. There’s many different ways these treatments can help the immune system including:
- Assisting with lymphatic drainage and detoxification
- Increasing circulation, blood flow and lymph production
- Strengthening lungs and respiratory system
- Aiding in digestion
- Reducing stress
- Reducing inflammation
Acupuncture has been shown to boost T cells, as well as red and white blood cells, enhancing the circulation of these tiny warriors throughout the body which help destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. An increased presence of these cells after acupuncture can actually help prevent the body from contracting infections.
Likewise, cupping assists our lymphatic system in transporting lymph and white blood cells which help fight against pathogens throughout the body.
Traditional herbal medicine is also used to boost immune function. Herbal medicine is tailored to the specific constitution and needs of each individual patient, as no two people are exactly alike. Herbal formulas can be used to boost our immune systems to protect us from getting sick as well as help our immune systems fight if we do come down with something. It’s unique ability to be tailored for each patient’s current condition is what makes it so effective.
When used together, these three techniques are a powerful punch for the immune system!
To learn more about acupuncture, cupping, and herbal medicine give us a call today at San Pedro Acupuncture Health Center!
While these tips are not meant to be preventative measures or cures for COVID-19, we can all take steps to boost our immune systems and be the healthiest we can be. Always consult with your doctor or acupuncturist before taking supplements or herbs and follow prescribed or recommended dosages.