Dr. David Heber, M.D., PhD, FACP, FASN-Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute
The new 2019 corona virus, also known as COVID-19, has taken the world by surprise with its highly contagious nature and lethality. Relatively unknown until the outbreak, the virus has reached almost every part of the world.
Most worryingly, although we know that COVID-19 is part of a large family of viruses that includes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), there are many traits of this virus, which we are about to reveal, such as transmission dynamics.
Only an approved drug can treat or prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other diseases. The lack of a vaccine leaves us with only practical prevention measures, such as maintaining proper hygiene, wearing a mask when necessary, or maintaining social distance. It would also be helpful to keep our bodies strong so that our immune systems function well.
After all, our immune system is one of the most effective forms of defense against viral infections. There are two categories of immune functions in everyone’s body – innate immunity, which prevents diseases from entering the body, and adaptive immunity, which eliminates or prevents the growth of pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, in our body.
However, increasing the body’s immunity is not as easy as it sounds. .
How nutrition affects the body’s immune system
To understand how nutrition and diet affect a person’s immune system, we need to delve into the role of epigenetics, the science of the biological mechanisms that turn our genes on and off.
While the idea of epigenetics may seem complicated, consider the example of honey bees. Although they have the same DNA sequence, bees produce three different organisms – workers, drones and queens – and this depends on the food the larvae are fed. This shows that while all worker bees are born with the genetic ability to become queens, the worker’s diet ultimately affects how their genes are expressed and manifested physically.
By the same token, while all humans are 99.9% genetically identical, epigenetics makes us unique through the different combinations of genes that are turned on and off—which explains why some of us have red hair and others black, or why some of us have darker or lighter skin for example.
What we eat, where we live, how much we sleep, how we exercise and even who we live with all cause chemical reactions that can change our health. In addition is our microbiome, which are the microorganisms we depend on to protect us from germs, break down food for energy, produce vital vitamins and boost our immune system.
The largest part of the immune system – approximately 70% of it – is located near the gut, which monitors food intake and how the body uses it. This makes it extremely important to maintain a balanced diet with the right vitamins, minerals and nutrients while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This requires more than simply changing our intake of one or two nutrients, but also involves balancing our entire diet to ensure we have optimal nutritional intake at the cellular level.
Strengthen your immune system through nutrition!
Four main groups of nutrients that help people strengthen their immune systems:
Also known as one of the body’s main building blocks, protein allows the body to produce the antibodies it needs to defend itself against invading viruses and bacteria. To ensure we have sufficient levels of protein in our diet, we can eat more healthy protein foods such as fish, poultry, lean meats, soy foods and low-fat dairy products.
Vitamins and phytonutrients
Vitamins A and C, as well as phytonutrients, are key players in immune system health. As one of the most powerful immune system boosters, vitamin C encourages our body to produce disease-fighting antibodies. It is essential to maintain a daily intake of vitamin C, as the body neither produces nor stores it. Vitamin A supports the health of the skin, tissues of our digestive tract and respiratory system.
Phytonutrients found in vegetables and fruits reduce oxidative stress on our body, which can weaken its ability to fight disease. A number of phytonutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, fight inflammation, lower blood pressure and improve the overall health of our immune system.
Probiotics and prebiotics
The digestive system plays a central role in maintaining immune function. The intestinal tract is the main route of contact with the external environment and is a pathway that contains microbiomes supporting digestion as well as nutrient absorption. Having the right bacteria in your gut has been linked to benefits such as weight loss, improved digestion, healthier skin and most importantly enhanced immune function, although research in these areas is not conclusive or universally applicable.
Studies show that probiotics, which are “good bacteria,” are helpful in supporting the digestive system, and prebiotics, a type of fiber that the human body cannot digest, serve as food for these probiotics.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, are healthy and essential types of fat that can be found in foods such as chia seeds and supplements such as fish oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids can enhance the functions of immune cells, which play an important role in both innate and adaptive immunity that respond to infections.
Nutrition is not a substitute for effective medicine and will not prevent you from contracting COVID-19 or other illnesses. However, maintaining a strong immune system is something that all healthy people can do.