This guide contains advice to support your immune system from a Functional Medicine standpoint. Supporting your immune system may help to defend your body from viruses such as COVID-19.
What can I do?
I find the idea of the “circles of control” useful when thinking about COVID-19.
This centres around the old idea of focussing our efforts on what we can control and letting go of that which we can’t control. This is also a great concept for maintaining a healthy state of mind!
The bad news is that unfortunately, we can not control 100% whether we get a virus or not. There is always a chance we may contract what is going around, despite our best efforts.
However, we can still work in our circle of control and we can influence the probability we will get sick.
We can largely control what we eat, and how we choose to live our lives. Therefore we can influence the chances that we will contract a virus, and we can influence how our body will respond if we do catch it.
So what do you have the most control over?
It’s not primarily supplements although they can help. Supplements will have little effect if you are still eating a terrible diet.
Diet, sleep, hydration, and stress management are non-negotiable fundamentals.
To prevent infection from any source (viruses, bacteria, fungal etc.), we want the systems of the body to functioning optimally. This is a key tenant of Functional Medicine – we need to zoom out and take a holistic view of the body as a landscape that needs to be supported in a variety of ways:
Sleep is my number one anti-viral and immune supporting recommendation.
Let’s make sleep hygiene is the new ‘binge watching’! This could be the best time you ever have to catch up on sleep.
Sleep supports a healthy immune system that can launch an appropriate response to threats, such as viruses. Melatonin, the sleep hormone and a powerful anti-oxidant, is released before sleep also may help with COVID-19.
There is currently nothing definitive in the science showing that melatonin can protect against the most serious effects of COVID-19. But there are indications that melatonin may reduce the severity of the disease, and the overblown immune response and subsequent severe damage to the lungs that is present in the virus’ most critically ill patients.
You can find my tips to get a good night’s sleep here.
People with a high psychological stress index, and animals that are put under stress, have been found to be more susceptible to infection from common cold viruses. Increased amounts of stress may also reduce micro nutrient concentrations in the body, often leading to vitamin and mineral depletion and deficiencies.
Chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that may ultimately manifest in illness.
But with all the changes we are seeing in our lives at the moment, with changes in our roles in society and even identities, isn’t stress inevitable?
Yes, I would say it is to some degree.
At this time in our history, there is an argument that it may be more beneficial to focus on adding enriching and grounding practices to our lives rather than trying to reduce stress which we have no control over.
However, it has been argues that it may not be stress itself that is the problem, but it may be our relationship to it. If we can make stress our friend, the effects on the immune system may be reduced.
It’s vitally important to spend time on our social and relationship networks. Call a friend on the phone or skype, send that email, play board games online with family. What can you do to foster your relationships and rekindle old ones?
In times of stress, we often reach for a simple high sugar snack for a quick boost of serotonin and dopamine. This however, is followed by a crash and feelings of anxiety or depression. This may also have an effect on our immune system.
So, what other non-food treats, can we turn too?
Here are a few suggestions:
👉DIY Face Massage
👉Start a home workout routine and get physically strong!
👉Read a good book
👉Listen to a good audiobook / podcast
👉Buy a voucher or something to support a local business or charity
👉DIY Face massage
👉Buy online a small tech or kitchen gadget
👉Start a Yoga practice (plenty of teachers on youtube)
👉Movie on Amazon / Netflix
👉Grow flowers or vegetables from seed
👉Bubble bath with epsom salts
👉A fun class online (cooking/art/community)
👉Make a vision board
👉Find purpose – plan for a career change or a new job
👉Start a gratitude journal
👉A home spa day (go on, a full day!)
👉Dry body brushing
👉Zoom/skype/phone a friend
👉Print out some mindful colouring sheets from the internet
👉Restart a hobby (a musical instrument, sewing ?)
👉Plan and cook yourself and those around you a multi course meal
👉Have a ‘Dance off’ with the kids
Lymph (from Latin, lympha meaning “water”) is the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system that can transport immune cells around our body. Lymph is where our immune system meets pathogens, and does battle with viruses.
You can think of it like this:
If you are single, and would like to meet a partner, it’s probably unlikely that you will meet them at a random place such as the library or the laundrette (though obviously this does happen!). Instead if you were keen to meet someone, it would be better to go to a singles bar where you are more likely to meet like minded people.
That’s essentially what goes on in our lymph. It’s where our immune system and pathogens, such as viruses, come together. There, the immune system can fight the virus in a contained space.
Some things you can do support your lymph system:
- Gently daily movement, particularly yoga which involves lots of twisting and high intensity intervals if you are able. This helps the lymph move around the body as unlike our blood, it has no pump. You may also be interested in the lymphatic mojo program (no affiliation).
- Hydration – lymph is 95% water and so it’s important to stay hydrated
- Dry brushing supports healthy lymphatic flow in the skin-associated lymphatic tissue. The coarse bristles of a dry brush encourage movement of the lymph and blood in the underlying tissues, which helps move out built-up toxins.
- Cleavers ( a herb)
- Red clover tea
A diet nutrient rich in anti-inflammatory whole foods is essential to good health and an appropriate immune system response to viruses and other pathogens. The Mediterranean diet is a good example of a balanced diet, low in processed sugars, and packed with vegetables and good fats. There is no point taking the supplements if your diet is poor. Make sure you are including adequate amounts of protein in your diet as protein is needed to generate all the white blood cells in an optimal immune response.
Include lots of onion, garlic, turmeric and ginger in your diet.
Avoid excess alcohol, refined sugars, and processed foods.
Use fire cider to make salad dressings or as a shot every day https://www.eatingbirdfood.com/how-to-make-fire-cider/
Fuel the body – Supplements
The key here is to give the body the resources it needs to generate an appropriate immune response. This means ensuring your have adequate levels of vitamins and minerals in the body such as iron, Vitamin D and A, particularly if you deficient in any of these. Remember, protein is also important.
Remember, our knowledge about infection from COVID-19 is still developing, and doses higher than those given below are not recommended!
Zinc and Vitamin C would be my key recommended supplemental nutrients, with zinc emerging as the superstar mineral for COVID-19 at this stage.
Dose: Up to 30 mg per day total (check ALL supplements for total)
Zinc supplement may have effect not only on COVID-19-related symptom like diarrhea and lower respiratory tract infection, but also on COVID-19 itself.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jmv.25707
Dose: 2g twice a day, up to 5g Twice per day if you have bowel tolerance (it doesn’t make you go to the toilet).
You can dissolve it in water and drink it throughout the day. Ascorbic acid is OK.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, supports immune function, and three human controlled trials have reported that there was significantly lower incidence of pneumonia in vitamin C‐supplemented groups. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jmv.25707
Dose: Up to 200mcg per day
Dietary selenium deficiency that causes oxidative stress in the host can alter a viral genome so that a normally benign or mildly pathogenic virus can become highly virulent in the deficient host under oxidative stresshttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jmv.25707
Dose: Up to 3000 IUs max, food sources such as liver are also good
Supports all aspects of the immune system, ranging from the production of mucus (which is helpful to protect the gut lining) to the production of antibodies.
Dose: 1-2,000iu per day max
Only supplement if you know you are deficient. Otherwise 30 minutes of direct sun on the body is recommended daily. Vitamin D in a multi vitamin is fine for everyone.
Vitamin D stimulates the maturation of many cells including immune cells and is widely accepted as having a significant impact on the immune system.
Only ever supplement iron if you have had your levels tested and you know your levels are below the recommended range.
Too much iron can be toxic to the body. Iron deficiency can impair host immunity, while iron overload can cause oxidative stress to propagate harmful viral mutations.
If you are supplement iron, but your levels are still low, you may want to read this article.
Dose: 100 – 150mg per day unless you already have high blood pressure
Rather than popping many separate vitamins and minerals, a good multi vitamin such as Seeking Health Optimal Multi will cover a lot of your bases with reasonable dosages that are unlikely to cause any harm.
The quality of your multivitamin is key here, as cheaper/inferior brands contain less than optimal amounts and also forms of vitamins which can’t readily be used by the body.
Some other ideas that are yet to be proben effective/ineffective:
- Stimulate the immune system: herbs such as Astralagus, Ginseng or medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi or Shitake
- Borrow immunity – from probiotics, Colostrum, propolois or lactoferrin
- Kill the virus: garlic, turmeric, or monolaurin from coconut oil
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Stephen Ward (MSc) is trained in assessing the root cause of chronic health issues through Functional Medicine.
He uses nutrition, lifestyle changes, and nutraceuticals (targeted supplements) to help you achieve your goals and improve your health.