Expert Recommends Focus on Immune System to Stay Healthy During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded the world of the importance of appropriate handwashing and disinfecting often-used items such as phones, computer keyboards, doorknobs and light switches, to avoid spreading harmful germs. But these are defensive moves according to Dr. Susan Blum, a functional and preventative medicine expert, who suggests we execute to empower our immune systems to help fight off viruses such as coronavirus, seasonal flu, and myriad others we come in contact with throughout our daily lives.

Blum, who in addition to her medical degree has a master’s in public health and authored The Immune System Recovery Plan, is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

“Your immune system is in charge of protecting you from this virus, but the immune system also has to do other things,” explains Blum. “It has to clear away dead and abnormal cells. It has to understand what’s foreign and what’s not. And it’s important that it turns on when it’s supposed to and then turns off when the task is done.”

COVID-19 Health Tips: Boost Your Immune System

Blum recommends adding antioxidants and probiotics to your diet to strengthen the immune system. Much like a military battle, the immune system is like an army of soldiers charged with fighting incoming enemies – infections and other toxic invaders.

When an invader enters the body, she explains, the immune system – the army – attacks it. Different ‘soldiers’ serve various roles. Some are considered ‘guided missiles,’ while others have a more hand-to-hand combat function. While they fight the invaders, they also end up damaging healthy cells. This damage is called ‘oxidative stress,’ or as Blum says, playing on her military analogy, “collateral damage.”

And that’s why, when you’re fighting a virus, you feel sick. “Your immune system’s reaction to the collateral damage causes your symptoms,” she explains.

To recover, your immune system needs antioxidants, which can be found naturally in foods as well as from supplements. As Blum puts it, “The soldiers need a lot of nutrients and antioxidants to keep them full of ammunition. That helps them go back into battle over and over again.”

Antioxidants have an added benefit. “Antioxidants have direct antiviral activity,” Blum says. “In addition to helping your immune system and protecting your cells, antioxidants prevent the virus from replicating.”

Probiotics and gut health

Blum stresses the importance of having a healthy gut as part of strengthening your immunity. “A healthy immune system is going to be critical for a healthy gut, and a healthy gut is going to be critical for a healthy immune system,” Blum says.

She points out that 70% of the lymphoid tissue that makes up the immune system is housed in your intestines, which is why it is so important to keep your gut – or make your gut – healthy.

“If you have any problems, whether it’s chronic constipation, gas and bloating after you eat, any digestive symptoms, you really should find someone to help you fix it because any kind of chronic problem is going to affect your immune system,” Blum advises.

Consuming probiotics – which can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, miso soup and pickles – creates a healthy gut, Blum explains. “Also, when you eat fiber rich foods and vegetables, your gut flora ferments them, and it is amazingly good for your immune system. It primes the army bases and helps the immune system develop. It also helps you make vitamins that are really critical to reboot and keep your immune system healthy, and keep your tissues healthy.”

Other COVID-19 Health Priorities

You’re not alone. But, after consuming the right foods, minimizing stress is the second most important factor to create a healthy gut. While it may be difficult to do during this pandemic, given the changes to everyone’s daily lives, the impact on the world economy and concerns for your own and your family’s health, try to find healthy ways to reduce your stress.

While adding antioxidants and vitamins to your diet and minimizing stress doesn’t guarantee you won’t contract COVID-19 or any other virus, Blum stresses it improves your chances to avoid it, or, if you do, to recover from it.

Please, continue to follow the recommendations from the World Health Organization, your local government officials and your doctor to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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A journalist-turned-content-marketer, Karen cannot get enough of words. Writing, editing, reading them – it’s a passion, not just a vocation. Karen is the senior editor of content for YPO.