Health Take-Away: Top 10 tips for building immunity against COVID-19

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If you ask anyone you know what they're doing to protect themselves against the COVID-19 pandemic, they'll probably recite the same list everyone else has heard: wearing a mask in public, washing their hands frequently and practicing social distancing. More often than not, they'll probably add a fourth piece to that list: hoping for the best.

The first three pieces — the masks, the hand-washing and the social distancing — certainly are things everyone should be doing to safeguard themselves. But the part about hoping for the best frankly reveals a mindset of surrender that's both troubling and unnecessary. The fact is, while we're all vulnerable to infection, there are many things each of us can be doing, through our own nutrition and lifestyle choices, to dramatically enhance our immune systems and actively build our natural resilience against the coronavirus and other forms of flu and infection.

We're learning a great deal about the metabolic risk factors that seem to place many at greater risk for COVID infection and complications. These risks include being overweight, having a higher blood sugar, having a higher blood pressure and having other medical conditions that compromise our immunity. While healthy people still can become infected and very sick, the overall odds are much lower for those in good health and with consistent healthy lifestyle behaviors.

The following 10 tips can greatly improve your health, happiness, quality of life and immune resilience during these challenging pandemic times:

- Reduce or eliminate foods and beverages with added sugar.

- Reduce or eliminate "fast carbs," those high-glycemic, flour-based foods which quickly raise your blood sugar. This includes grains like whole wheat. Eliminating wheat all together for just 30 days could serve you very well.

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- Consume plant-based whole foods. All vegetables have powerful nutrients that build your health and resilience at many levels. The fiber in plant-based foods will support your gut "biome", the ecosystem in our guts that impact our immune response and general health.

- Consume quality fats from unprocessed sources: meats, fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines) whole-fat dairy (butter, whole milk, heavy cream, sour cream), olive oil, pasture-raised eggs, nuts (macadamia, almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios), coconut oil.

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- Get outdoors in nature, particularly in the early-morning and late-afternoon, early-evening sunshine

- Enjoy laughter as medicine. It is a good time to watch the programs and share the stories that really make you laugh and lift your spirits.

- Be still. Even for just five minutes, whenever you are able, just sit quietly. Do nothing. Breathe slowly and deeply. Pay attention mindfully to what you observe and feel.

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- Go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Depriving yourself of sleep weakens your immunity. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible at night.

- At the end of the day, take a "positivity break". What was your best moment of the day? What are you grateful for?

- Some supplements have been shown to reduce respiratory infection risk and severity, including zinc (15-30 mg/day); vitamin C (1,000-2,000 mg/day); Vitamin D (2,000-4,000 units/day to achieve a blood level of 30 or greater.) Sunshine is your best source during the sun seasons.

It's all about self-empowerment. There's no need to simply hope for the best and become completely helpless bystanders in the coronavirus pandemic. As is true of every big challenge that rattles our sense of stability, this is a time and an opportunity to take control of our own health and destiny in the best way possible, to consider how the food and lifestyle choices we make can truly boost our resilience against this stubborn virus and other infections in general.

Mark Pettus, M.D. is director of Population Health and Community Care at Berkshire Health Systems


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