5 More Immune-Boosting Habits to Help You Fight Off COVID-19

Easy tweaks to your daily routine to arm your immune system against COVID-19.

Posted Jun 01, 2020

 Alexandra Koch/Pixabay
Source: Alexandra Koch/Pixabay

In my prior post, I outlined five simple changes you can make to your daily routine that will supercharge your immune system and help you fight off COVID-19 (not to mention a whole host of other illnesses). That post was so popular, I decided to offer five more science-backed recommendations.

1. Spice Up Your Life

No single food can “cure” you of COVID-19 or guarantee immunity. But there are lots of foods that, according to research, can boost your immune system and improve your overall health. Here are a few:

Mushrooms: People living in the Far East have been using mushrooms to boost their immune system for over 2,000 years. But this ancient technique is getting support from modern science. A 2015 study found consuming one 4-oz. daily serving of shiitake mushrooms reduced inflammation and boosted T-cells (the cells in your body that fight off pathogens). Mushrooms can be added to your diet whole, but an easier way is to add a mushroom powder to smoothies, salads, soups, or even your morning coffee.

Garlic: Garlic is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. A three-month study found that compared to people who took a placebo, those who took a daily garlic supplement (180 mg of allicin) were 35 percent less likely to catch a cold.

Turmeric: Turmeric (or curcumin) is another food high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Research shows that curcumin boosts the production of several key immune fighters (T-cells, macrophages, neutrophils) and reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines. Note that turmeric works best when taken with black pepper, so look for recipes that combine both or a supplement that includes black pepper.

Ginger: Not only is ginger anti-inflammatory, but it is also anti-viral. For example, a 2013 study found that fresh ginger (but not dried) was an effective treatment against a virus known to cause respiratory tract infections in children and adults.

2. Rely on Supplements

Ideally, we would all get our nutrients from whole foods. But let’s face it, this isn’t always practical or possible. That’s where supplements come in. One problem is that a lot of touted supplements don’t have research backing up of their efficacy. Thankfully, a few do.

Vitamin C: A review of 29 studies found taking daily Vitamin C (1-2 g) didn’t necessarily prevent people from catching a cold, but it did significantly shorten the cold’s duration (8 percent in adults; 14 percent in children) when compared those taking a placebo.

Vitamin D: Almost half of Americans (42 percent) are vitamin D deficient, according to a National Health and Nutrition survey, with rates even higher among African Americans (82 percent) and Latinos (63 percent). Research shows that having a vitamin D deficiency puts people at greater risk for a wide variety of diseases, but a daily supplement with a maximum of 10,000 IU/d of D3 can reverse this effect.

Zinc: Zinc is a crucial component for the development and functioning of your body’s key immune-fighting cells. A 2017 study found that people who took 75 mg of zinc per day (via a lozenge) had colds that were 33 percent shorter than those who took a placebo.

Probiotics: Taking probiotics populates your gut with good bacteria and is an excellent way to boost your immune system. In one study, people took a probiotic (Bifidobacterium animalis) or a placebo for a month, and then everyone was infected with the common cold virus. Results indicated that the people who took the probiotic had a stronger immune response and lower virus levels in their nasal passageways. You can add in probiotics by including naturally fermented foods into your diet (kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut) or by taking a probiotic supplement.

3. Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Sure, it’s a cliché, but one that’s actually backed by science. Researchers in a 2001 study had a group of healthy men watch an hour-long stand-up comedy and sample these men’s blood before, immediately after, and 12 hours after watching the video. Watching the funny video resulted in a significant boost to two key fighters in our immune system arsenal: natural killer cells (these help our immune system differentiate between infected and healthy cells) and immunoglobulin antibodies (these help fight off pathogens).

This boost was detected immediately after the video, but even better, it was still there at the 12-hour mark. Think about that the next time you “waste” an hour watching funny cat videos on YouTube.

4. Be Positive

Beyond just laughter, there is a strong link between mood and immunity, with optimists tending to have a stronger immune system than pessimists. In one study, researchers had over 300 people rate their positive emotions (e.g., happy, calm) and negative emotions (e.g., nervous, sad) every day for three weeks. Next, everyone in the study was exposed to the cold virus, and their responses were monitored. The people who regularly felt positive emotions were half as likely to catch a cold than those who rarely felt positive emotions. But interestingly, the prevalence of negative emotions had no impact.

The lesson here is that if you want to boost your immunity, don’t try to reduce negative emotions; instead, look for ways to boost positive ones.

5. Sing Your Way to Better Health

By now, we’ve all see those touching videos of people under quarantine serenading their neighbors from the balcony. Well, it turns out that act not only benefits their neighbors; it boosts their own immune system as well.

A German study took a group of choir singers and measured their blood before and after a 60-minute performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Singing resulted in higher concentrations of immunoglobulin A (a crucial antibody) and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone associated with inflammation). A week later, when the singers just listened to the Requiem piece without singing, there was no impact on their bloodwork, indicating the actual act of singing is key. So whether you have a great voice or you’re tone-deaf, consider singing as a way to boost your immunity.