Stay In, Stay Healthy: What to Eat to Support Your Immune System PT 1
Covid-19 has got us all cooped up in our houses. While you try to stay in touch with your friends, and family, we want to help you get in touch with an immune system that has a chance against whatever comes your way.
In this issue, we cover what nutrients work to support your immune function. There are no magic bullets as you know, and nothing is going to prevent Covid-19 like good old social distancing and solid hand washing. But if you’re like the 77% of the U.S. population who take some sort of vitamin supplement, you probably want to know which ones might minimize an infection, or contribute whether it’s a cold or some coronavirus symptoms.
Here’s what we cover:
- Who should take supplements?
- Can supplements fight coronavirus?
- What supplements are good for a cold or flu, and how do you take them?
- What foods support your immune system?
Now, let’s talk about what your immune system needs to stay primed at anytime.
Foods, Nutrients, and Supplements For Immune Health
Always try to get your nutrition through food first - you’ll get more variety, you’ll get all the nutrients not in this short list, and all the yet-to-be-researched nutrients that might also be helpful.
But sometimes, whether it’s low levels in soil, your metabolism is ramping up, or you’re feeling the impact of the negative side effects of quarantine, you may need a little supplement boost.
Who Should Supplement And Why?
Step 1 in any pandemic is to ensure a healthy baseline, and according to the USDA the U.S. is not off to a good start: at least 1 in 3 Americans does not get enough of a half dozen nutrients.
Top of the list is Vitamin D, with 94% of Americans not eating enough, and I can’t imagine that number is getting any better with all this indoor social distancing.
Turns out, nutrient deficiency is more common than you’d think. Aging and a chronic condition are the top reasons people have a deficiency.
What about other people? Especially those at highest risk for the worst covid-19 symptoms/outcomes?
If you’re overweight or obese, you should be paying attention to vitamin D, Omega-3s and getting enough of a spectrum of vitamins, which might be difficult even if you are eating really well.
If you have heart disease like high blood pressure, clogged arteries, or heart failure, getting enough potassium, omega-3s, and unsaturated oils have been clinically studied to improve heart conditions..
What about COPD, arguably one of the riskiest conditions to have during the 2019-Coronavirus pandemic? Omega-3’s, vitamin D, and enough iron are what research shows you need [Mahan & Raymond, 2017].
When it comes to the best strategy for decreasing bad outcomes for any respiratory infection, the number one thing you’ve got to fix is a nutrient deficiency.
So if you want to know more about how to get the biggest bang for your buck and set a healthy baseline on a budget, including what to eat for the most common deficiencies in America vitamins C, D, & E, magnesium, fiber and a few others, check out our recent article “Cooking Healthy on a Budget” here.
Can Supplements Fight Covid-19? Are There Any Supplements That Might Be Helpful?
According to the FDA, CDC, and every other major entity, no, there are no supplements that can prevent, cure, or treat Covid-19.
Any headline that says “X cures coronavirus” or “supplement makes ___ disappear” is a clickbait hoax that won’t be tolerated here at Resync.
What we do have are decent studies in humans that show which supplements you might consider if you want to limit how bad flu-like illnesses get.
Without the best evidence, we’ve got to make decisions with imperfect knowledge.
Instead of looking at supplements for coronavirus, because there is literally no research testing supplements in that clinical setting, you (and your healthcare provider) have to make your best guess based on other studies.
For now, the research I’ll present is just the eye-catching, headline-making supplement research that packs the most punch. These are the studies that have shown the largest, most consistent effect.
Truth be told, a lot of nuance is lost here - talk with a nutritionist or dietitian to get a deeper understanding of what choices you can make to best support your health.
Start here for the foods, nutrients, and supplements to support your immune system.
What Plants Fight Inflammation and Infection?
I bet polyphenols, or phenols for short, were not what you expected to see in slot #1.
To be honest it’s a bit of a copout. Polyphenols - the largest class of natural chemicals unique to plants - come in thousands of types and there are dozens in a single food.
Some of these plant chemicals have the strongest antiviral and immune support roles that we know of. Here are the top two:
Allicin From Garlic As The Front Line Preventative
There may be no more impactful approach than to take garlic on a regular basis to prevent and reduce the common cold and flu.
To make sure the chemicals in garlic are working properly, take a fresh clove, crush it, wait for ten minutes, and then (pinch your nose and) swallow. Repeat once per day.
Sounds like a magic trick or something, doesn’t it? It’s not, and the research proves it.
Crushing garlic allows the protein alliin to turn into allicin, the active ingredient; waiting ten minutes ensures that there’s enough time for this process to happen.
If your idea of a morning pick-me-up doesn’t include intense, mind-altering nausea and a stomach that feels like you've been hit with a brick, then try a garlic supplement that provides 180 mg of allicin the major active ingredient.
This dose, taken every day for 12 weeks during cold season, has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the likelihood of getting a cold. In the most rigorous study, garlic cut the risk of getting a cold by more than half.
So if you want help your immune system ward off infection, start with a daily garlic supplement.
Natural Chemicals In Elderberry Can Help Your Immune System When An Infection Starts
Well what about when you first start symptoms coming on: are there foods or supplements you can eat to stop a cold in its tracks?
Actually, there are a few.
Elderberry is a long-standing folk-remedy that the research has pushed even further above other immune support supplements. Elderberry packs a high dose of polyphenols: caffeic, chlorogenic, ferulic, gallic, isoquercetin, and coumaric acids in particular, but none of these are unique to Elderberry.
Caffeic acid might be the most promising element nowadays because, even though elderberry syrup may decrease the severity of a flu by 56% in research studies, caffeic acid itself might also interfere directly with another type of coronavirus that causes a cold.
You can get 70-350mg chlorogenic acid, about half of which is caffeic acid, in a single cup of coffee. Even with decaf, you might be missing out on the caffeine, but you’ll still be getting plenty of the other beneficial polyphenols. Chokecherry is another top-tier source of caffeic acid.
Besides elderberry, which has about 43mg quercetin in 100g, you can get high levels of quercetin in a full bar of dark chocolate (25mg/100g) and in spices, or you can go with a supplemental form like onion and garlic extract. Note that iso-quercetin is more absorbable than plain quercetin.
Clinical studies usually use elderberry at the first sign of a cold, aka when you’re first feeling swollen lymph nodes, popping ears, and a scratchy throat. These other phenol-dense foods - chocolate, chokeberry, coffee - should probably be used similarly.
If you’re getting supplemental versions of these, there’s a couple of things to look out for:
- Make sure it’s standardized source - if the supplement label doesn’t say what percentage of a phenol it contains, back away and do not waste your money!
- Make sure it’s a certified product - if there’s no seal of approval from a third-party quality and consistency tester, you can’t really know what’s actually in the bottle. USP and CL are good but NSF Sport, BSCG and lastly Informed Sport, are best.
For some other tips on how to decide on a supplement, check out our guide here. It’s specific to collagen, but these guidelines won’t steer you wrong. You will understand what questions you should be asking when buying any supplement.
Bottom line is, there is much more you can do for your immune system. And we are going to elaborate on additional beneficial nutrients and ways you can support your immune system while staying home. Stay tuned for part #2 ; coming out end of this week.
We want to hear from you!
We’ll be covering all these topics and more, but that’s just scratching our own itch. What do you want to know?
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While some media is trying to drive revenue through clickbait and fake news, we make sure to back up our claims with hard data and a sensible perspective. We believe that when you have the right information, you’re empowered to make the best decision for yourself. That’s why we break down complex science into practical takeaways you can use today.
Wishing you the best in your health and your safety,
The Resync Team
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