How to Increase Immunity Against the Coronavirus - Header Image
How to Increase Immunity Against the Coronavirus - Header Image
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How to Increase Immunity Against the Coronavirus

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As the number of positive coronavirus cases rises day by day, everyone wants to know how they can increase their immunity against the coronavirus. People are ready to do anything to not get infected and their biggest concern is their immunity. Right now, your immune system is your best defence since COVID-19 does not have a cure or a vaccine yet.

 

Misinformation, Social Media and the Internet

A lot of misinformation is being spread around the internet which proposes various methods to increase immunity against the coronavirus. While much of it is being spread by people simply trying to protect their loved ones, there are many who are looking to profit off of this fear by claiming that their products are exactly what they need to avoid this disease.

These range from superfoods to bogus supplements to drinking gomutra (cow urine). You might have seen posts on social media proclaiming, “Eat these 5 things to boost your immunity”. In this time of economic slowdown, it’s very important to avoid unnecessary expenses influenced by misinformation.

 

Introducing the Expert

Apart from an interest in the immune system, I have no professional qualifications to be making any claims on this topic. Fortunately, I know someone that does – Dr Vasudev Menon, who has a doctoral degree in immunology/inflammation and gene therapy. Apart from being an expert in this field, he is also one of the best teachers I know. During my bachelor’s degree, I had the pleasure of being his student for a few semesters during which time I learnt a lot about disease and immunology from him. I have consulted him for this post and verified all my information from him.

Before we proceed, I’d like to mention that when I use the word ‘immunity’ I am referring to the state of the immune system necessary to fight disease optimally and not anything else.

 

REMEMBER TO DO THE FIVE!

Before we dive into the article, here’s a quick reminder of what you MUST do to reduce your risk of infection as well as not infect others

How to Increase Immunity Against the Coronavirus - Remember to do these 5 things

 

Can you Increase Immunity Against the Coronavirus?

You may have landed on this page with the intention of “boosting” or “increasing” your immunity to an extent that’s greater than normal. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible.

First, you need to understand the concept of disease. ‘Disease’ is a state in which your body doesn’t function normally. When this happens, problems arise. By that definition, your immunity reduces when your immune system isn’t functioning normally which makes you vulnerable to diseases. Therefore, an increase in immunity against the coronavirus means a return to normal functioning by doing the things which help the immune system function normally. Normal is enough.

In this context, your diet plays an important role in helping the immune system function normally

 

High Protein Diets and Immunity

We already know that a high protein diet is helpful for weight loss. Turns out, it’s good for the immune system as well. This is because it relies on protein to create the cells and enzymes that protect you against disease. Therefore, a protein-deficient diet can reduce immunity.

But how much protein exactly is high protein – between 1.6 – 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. The exact number depends on your goals and a few other factors which I will elaborate in a separate post in the future. For now, ensure that your total protein intake falls within this range.

 

Can Specific Foods Increase Immunity Against the Coronavirus?

The immune system can broadly be divided into 2 categories – the non-specific and the specific immune system. In simple words, non-specific immunity refers to that part of the immune system you are born with and is made of phagocytes (cells that eat up pathogens) and physiological barriers like skin, tears, sweat, stomach acids etc. whereas the specific immune system is your immune system’s ability to defend you against a specific organism such as the coronavirus.

Many people are curious if eating specific foods, especially superfoods, can increase the specific immunity against coronavirus, immediately. Unfortunately, no single food or supplement, not even superfoods, can make you immune to the coronavirus. Only vaccines can do that. I have written about superfoods in the past and most of the research concludes that superfoods don’t provide any additional benefits over and above a healthy diet containing “regular” food.

 

Stress and Immunity

Although it’s next to impossible to improve your immunity in just a few days, it’s very easy to reduce it. Stress, especially long term stress, can have a negative impact on your immune system. This is because it increases stress chemicals such as cortisol, catecholamines and corticosteroids that bring immunity down. There are 2 types of stress – Physiological and Psychological.

 

Physiological Stress

Exercise – It contributes to physiological stress. But stress caused by exercise is actually good for the body and increases immunity provided that you don’t overdo it. You need to ensure that you continue exercising inside your homes as it reduces the stress chemicals. However, gyms and parks have been shut down due to which most people have stopped exercising. There are plenty of resources available online which will help you get started with home-based workouts. I also recently uploaded a few home workout videos on my personal Instagram page. Check out both, part 1 and part 2.

Our overall activity levels have also dropped due to the self-quarantine which is going to reduce immunity. While this might keep the coronavirus out of reach, your reduced immunity makes you an easy target for all other infectious diseases such as malaria from mosquitoes.

Dieting – The process of dieting to lose weight reduces immunity. I am referring to the calorie deficit as a result of reduced food intake, not the weight loss itself. For example, even a moderate calorie deficit has been associated with reduced immunity.

  • Don’t be on a large calorie deficit – If you are following a large calorie deficit, my recommendation is that you reduce the calorie deficit by increasing food intake.
  • Maintain weight – If you have already lost a lot of weight, then you can just maintain this new weight for a few weeks.
  • Don’t focus on aesthetics right now – If you are already at a healthy weight and want to lose fat simply to look better, then I’d recommend just maintaining your current body composition and pursue this goal after the coronavirus pandemic.

I have placed almost all my weight loss clients on a maintenance diet until this pandemic gets over to reduce the risk of getting infected by the coronavirus. If you are obese, then please consult a doctor before deciding as being obese itself carries many risks which may be of greater concern than reduced immunity.

Sleep – Sleep is extremely important for all the different areas of the body to recover. Even a single night of bad sleep can reduce immunity. Ensure that you sleep for 8-9 hours consistently.

 

Psychological Stress

Psychological stress, especially in the long term, reduces immunity. Most people are experiencing psychological stress due to the social distancing resulting from the self-quarantine. Not meeting people in person for long periods can take a toll on mental health. But remember, it’s just a matter of a few weeks and thanks to technology we can still be in touch with them. So, if you feel lonely and anxious, talk to someone who can make you feel better, like your best friend, girlfriend, therapist etc. If you are in Mumbai and need mental health support, then have a look at Project Mumbai’s website to get contact details of counselors who can talk to you over the phone.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s not possible to increase immunity beyond normal limits. You can only increase it if it has reduced. Your best bet is to prevent a reduction in immunity by following a healthy diet, sleeping for 8-9 hours and some Netflix and chill. But don’t chill too much and remember to exercise regularly as well. Be wise, fact check information and remember that a single food will make no difference to your immunity.

It’s important that we take this quarantine period seriously. At least right now, we can contain the spread of the virus. If we don’t take it seriously, we greatly increase the risk of becoming the next unfortunate statistic on social media.

 

About Dr Vasudev

He has a doctoral degree from the University of Glasgow, has worked with the MRC Centre for inflammation research and the British Heart Foundation studying immune mechanisms/intervention of inflammatory disease. He presently teaches Biology at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune. His academic interests include ‘Notion of Biological Identity’, ‘Dialectics of the Self in Biology’, ‘Epistemology and Pedagogy in Science’. Additionally, he is also a Theatre and Filmmaker.

About Dr Vasudev

He has a doctoral degree from the University of Glasgow, has worked with the MRC Centre for inflammation research and the British Heart Foundation studying immune mechanisms/intervention of inflammatory disease. He presently teaches Biology at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune. His academic interests include ‘Notion of Biological Identity’, ‘Dialectics of the Self in Biology’, ‘Epistemology and Pedagogy in Science’. Additionally, he is also a Theatre and Filmmaker.

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