COVID-19: How to boost your immunity and supercharge your system
Take care of yourself
Wash your hands, don't touch your face and practise social distancing. Since the outbreak of the novel COVID-19, tips like these have been repeated over and over like a mantra in our everyday lives as it becomes more crucial than ever for our community to work together to lessen the spread and "flatten the curve". The recently re-imposed Movement Control Order in Malaysia places social distancing at a larger, legal scale, putting all Malaysians—with the exception of those working in "essential services"—in a WFH status.
Facing a global public health crisis in the age of unprecedented and rampant information also means plenty of false claims and fake news have been spreading around through social media and chain messaging.
From drinking boiled garlic water to taking hot baths, the slew of health advice circulating online range from useless but relatively harmless, to some being downright dangerous. During this period of uncertainty, it is important to remember what is in your control and what isn't—and to always make sure you're reading from reliable sources, instead of believing what goes viral online.
As scientists and medical experts around the world race to find a cure and vaccine for the coronavirus, the best way we can protect ourselves is to think about how we can optimise our body's ability to fight infections. And that means boosting our immune systems so that it can function at its best—with stress, nutrition and tiredness all playing a part. The stronger your immunity is, the lesser chance you have of falling ill. Read on for tips to prime your immunity and bolster those defences against any sort of virus or disease.
It’s true: you are what you eat and powering your body with nutrient-based foods is important to stay fit, better cope with stress and assist our immune system against infection. But remember: while our first instinct may be to mega-dose on vitamin C and drink nothing but fresh juice, the key to proper nutrition is variety and balance.
There is no evidence specific foods help fight against the COVID-19 in particular so pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake to make sure you’re getting the right amount of each.
Look for antioxidants
An antioxidant-rich diet can help stave off cold and viruses as compounds like Vitamin C fights off free radicals (harmful molecules) and promotes the growth of white blood cells in our bodies. Other important immune-boosting antioxidants like Vitamin E and A play a key role in repairing damaged DNA and supporting cell growth and function. Fortunately, plenty of foods are full of these antioxidants: berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, dark chocolate, kiwis, green tea, apples, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and oily fish.
Our favourite spices
Other ingredients like garlic and ginger are popular when we feel under the weather due to the immune support it provides. Garlic contains antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties due to its sulphur-containing compounds like allicin that help strengthen our defence against harmful bacteria, while ginger is full of zinc, magnesium, iron and packs heat in the form of gingerol, which holds anti-inflammatory properties that reduces sore throats, nausea and chronic pain.
Not just for the soul
More than just a feel-good dish, chicken soup is also an immune-friendly meal due its high nutrient and water content and anti-inflammatory properties. Chicken protein contains sources of amino acids that help clear mucus and is important to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells, while bones have gelatin and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.
Don't forget your gut
It’s also important to maintain good gut health, as the balance of microorganisms that live in our digestive systems is vital to our immunity, physical and mental health. Working towards better gut balance means including pre- and probiotics into our diets. Prebiotics, present in fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, help ‘fertilise’ our existing gut bacteria and encourage the development of a diverse community of microbes.
On the other hand, probiotics encourage the growth of good bacteria in your gut, restoring the natural gut flora in our intestines which helps defend you from viral infections. This is typically found in cultured yoghurts, fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, miso and fermented drinks like kombucha and kefir.
HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE
Living in a hot climate country like Malaysia, we’re sure everyone already knows this. Drinking water and staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to keep your immune system functioning and good for overall health.
Dehydration is one of the most common reasons bacteria tend to stick around when you’ve been affected, so focus on drinking plenty of fluids to keep body temperatures normal and flush out toxins. According to the World Health Organisation, the adequate intake of water for a healthy adult requires averages 11 cups (2.7 litres) for women and 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) for men.
GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP
Sleep is crucial for your body’s ability to recover and defend itself, that's why our first port of call when we feel under the weather is to ramp up our rest. Getting a good night's sleep is important to keep your immune system running and responding at an optimum level.
Research has shown that ample of sleep and a balanced circadian system (the body and brain's sleep and wake cycle) helps bolster the T cells in your body, which improves the ability to fight off infections. In simpler terms, that means seven to nine hours each night for most people, according to Harvard Health. Removing cellphones and electronics from the bedroom = more peace for your body, mind and soul.
Being cooped up in our homes can make it easy to turn into a couch potato, whether you're working from home or bingeing shows on Netflix. It's important to remember to keep moving to improve our immunity as movement increases our heart rate and body temperature (another factor that contributes to killing bacteria), and can help lower stress hormones.
A study by the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal found that regular brisk walking increases the circulation of white blood cells and antibodies in our bodies, which means they may be able to detect and zero in on harmful molecules quicker. Again, the key here is to do so in moderation as overexercising can put too much stress on your body and depress your immune system.
Tip: Read our isolation fitness guide to keep moving at home.