Cold and Flu season is back and along with it the COVID-19 delta variant is causing an increased number of COVID infections.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were things we could do to decrease the risk of catching a cold AND at the same time decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19?
You guessed it! There are some basic lifestyle hacks and key supplements that can bolster your innate immune system and help prevent these viral infections.
Let’s start with learning a little about the innate immune system. This is our first line of defense against viral infections (acting within the first 96 hours of exposure). The cells of your innate immune system identify parts of viruses using what are called pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs). Once a virus is recognized, these cells send out signals to surrounding cells through a cascade of chemicals named cytokines and chemokines. These chemicals create inflammation and attract various types of immune cells to the area. These include natural killer cells, macrophages, and mast cells which begin to fight against the infection.
As a functional medicine provider, I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the important lifestyle strategies that can boost your innate immune system.
- Reduce stress – Increased stress weakens our immune system and makes us more likely to get sick. Take some deep breaths during your day, step outside for a short walk in nature, or do something more formal like meditation or yoga.
- Get enough sleep – It has been proven that lack of sleep increases the likelihood of getting sick after being exposed to a virus. It also makes it more difficult to recover from an infection. You should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise – Develop an exercise program. Moderate exercise 4-5 days per week helps strengthen your immune system and also decreases stress levels. Just try not to overdo it since over-exercising causes increased stress on your body.
- Eat fruits and vegetables. Colorful fruits and vegetables provide a variety of phytonutrients that benefit your overall health and your immune system. Challenge yourself to see how many colors of these foods you can eat each day.
Some key neutraceutical and botanical agents can then be added to further boost your immunity. Here are some supplements that have a proven track record:
- Zinc – Zinc deficiency is common and can be difficult to accurately detect with lab testing. All types of immune cells show decreased function when there is not enough zinc in the body. Zinc may also decrease the ability for viruses to attach to cells and to replicate. A zinc dose of 30 mg – 50 mg daily can help ensure that your zinc levels are optimal. Zinc comes in many different forms including acetate, citrate, glycinate and picolinate. I prefer picolinate since studies have shown it is better absorbed.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D has many important roles in the body. From the standpoint of your immune system, it stimulates the production of antimicrobial proteins in immune cells, helps modulate the immune response, and increases macrophage function. Many of us are also deficient in vitamin D. You can have your serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D level checked. You should shoot for a level between 50 and 80 ng/ml for the best viral protection. Most people do well with a dose of 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Taking 90 mcg of vitamin K2 once daily along with vitamin D3 helps with proper calcium deposition in your body.
- Vitamin A – Vitamin A supplementation has been shown to decrease the incidence of viral illness and reduce symptom duration if one becomes sick with a virus. Adequate amounts of Vitamin A are needed for macrophages and natural killer cells to function properly. Vitamin A also modulates cytokine production. A typical dose is 10,000 IU daily. This dose has little risk of causing harm, but pregnant women should not exceed a total intake of >10,000 IU per day.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C can both prevent and treat respiratory infections. It enhances the movement of immune cells, improves immune cells’ ability to ingest infected particles/cells (a process called phagocytosis), and helps immune cells generate reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are an important part of the inflammatory response against infection. The usual dose of Vitamin C is 1-2 grams per day. If you take more than 1 gram daily it is best to divide this into smaller doses (≤ 1 gram) 2-3 times per day.
- Beta-Glucans – Beta Glucans are a type of soluble fiber found in baker’s yeast, mushrooms, and cereal grains. These interact with the pattern recognition receptors discussed above and in doing so help prime and train the innate immune system. Human studies have shown beta-glucans decrease cold and flu symptoms. The usual dose is 250-500 mg per day.
- Medicinal Mushrooms – There are a variety of mushrooms including Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, and Lion’s Mane that have a positive effect on the immune system. These have been shown to increase gut immunity, activate innate immune cells, and increase the killing activity of natural killer cells. It is difficult to give any broad dosing instructions given these mushrooms contain various ingredients and extraction methods vary.
- Andrographis Paniculata – This herb has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulatory effects. It also decreases COVID-19’s ability to enter your cells. The dose is 100 – 600 mg per day of an extract that contains about 30% andrographolides.
How many of these should take? All of the above are beneficial but when taken together they have a stronger combined effect so choose to take at least a few.
If you would like to obtain these supplements at 20% off, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you a healthy fall and winter.
An article discussing things you can take to minimize the effect of COVID-19, should you contract it, can be found here.
This article is meant to identify supplements that can help bolster your immune system. It is not meant to recommend any of these treatments. Always consult your medical provider before using any of these supplements.