Can You Boost Your Immune System?
With the outbreak of COVID-19 many individuals have been wondering what they can do to “boost” their immune system naturally. Unfortunately, there is no single food, nutrient, or exercise that has been proven to prevent or treat COVID-19. A strong immune system is maintained by lifestyle habits, not single actions.
You can work to support your immune system by practicing good nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management habits. All of these healthy lifestyle components support your immune system during times of illness or injury. While they won’t prevent you from getting sick, they may help reduce the severity of symptoms or duration of the illness.
Supporting your immune system with diet
Balanced nutrition is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. Focus on a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish and other lean proteins.
- Protein plays a key role in the body’s ability to heal and recover. Beans, tofu, soy products, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, poultry and lean meat are all examples of quality protein sources.
- Vitamin A functions as an antioxidant in the body and helps regulate the immune system. It can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables including sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, leafy green vegetables, cantaloupe, and mangos. Learn more about vitamin A here.
- While some believe mega doses of vitamin C can “boost” your immune system and cure common colds or viral infections, research studies have not supported these claims. Like vitamin A, vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant in the body and supports normal immune function. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, and red bell pepper, papaya and strawberries are all good sources of vitamin C to include in your diet. You can learn more about myths surrounding vitamin C and immunity here.
- Vitamin E is another antioxidant that may help support your immune system. Nuts and seeds are among the best sources of vitamin E, but it can also be found in vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil) and fortified cereals. Learn more about vitamin E here.
- Zinc is a mineral that may help with immune function. Food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, certain seafood, beans, nuts and whole grains. Learn more about zinc here.
There is no evidence at this time that any supplements prevent or treat COVID-19. In fact, some supplements may actually cause harm to people taking certain medications or with underlying conditions. Speak with your primary care physician before taking any new supplements.
Other lifestyle habits to support a strong immune system
Exercise. Being active and engaging in routine exercise is important for maintaining proper immune function. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults exercise for 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. This could include going for a walk, doing a workout video at home, taking a bike ride or playing with your kids.
Sleep. Lack of sleep may inhibit your body’s ability to fight off and properly recover from illness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Bottom Line: No single food or nutrient can prevent or cure COVID-19. Support your immune system by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising routinely and sleeping soundly.