The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of having a healthy immune system. It appears that more than three-fourths of the people who contract the infection recover without hospitalization or obvious lingering effects. The others, however, get really sick. We can assume that our immune systems mediate our response to the virus. We want it to be able to beat the infection back. On the other hand, we don't want it to overreact and create a cytokine storm. Are there ways you can keep your immune system strong?
Our guest, Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, is one of the country’s leading experts on scientific studies of botanical medicines and other supplements. She suggests that there are some vitamins and minerals you need to optimize if you want to keep your immune system healthy.
One of these is vitamin D. A new study shows that 95 percent of Americans don’t get adequate vitamin D from their diets. Some individuals may be getting plenty of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, while others are careful to avoid sunshine unless wearing sunscreen. Apparently, people with inadequate levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 as well as other pathogens. People with the lowest vitamin D levels have the poorest outcomes. Are you getting enough vitamin D to keep your immune system in shape? Dr. Low Dog suggests between 2,000 and 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily to ensure you can make antimicrobial peptides that ward off pathogens.
Nearly half of the American adults participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2016 did not get enough vitamin A in their diets. Green leafy vegetables as well as orange or yellow vegetables are great sources. Getting enough vitamin A is critical for good respiratory health.
Vitamin C and the B vitamins are also crucial for your immune system function. Dr. Low Dog recommends that we get between 200 and 400 mg of vitamin C daily when faced with a challenge like COVID-19. You’ll also want to make sure you are getting good amounts of vitamin B12, B6 and folate.
You may not have thought much about zinc, but it is essential to maintain your immune system functioning well. Low levels of zinc are linked to a reduced ability to fight off infection. What are the clues? Sometimes, a loss of the senses of smell or taste may signal that a person has inadequate zinc. You should try to get about 20 mg a day. (Losing the sense of smell could also be an early symptom of COVID-19.)
You might be surprised at the idea that mushrooms can contribute to the health of your immune system. However, mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps and maitake are rich in compounds called beta-glucans. These can really improve your ability to meet pathogenic challenges.
Another supplement to consider is a probiotic. The gut microbiota serve as a signal hub for the immune system, and probiotics appear to help keep them alert and functioning well.
Astragalus is an herb from traditional Chinese medicine that has shown antiviral activity. It appears to help modulate the immune system for an appropriate response to pathogens. Garlic and licorice are two other herbs from the Chinese tradition that appear to benefit immune response.
Other herbs from different regions of the world are also supported by studies: Andrographis, Eleuthero (which has shown activity against influenza in at least 30 studies), curcumin and elderberry. Moreover, you might want to consider N-acetylcysteine (or NAC) and quercetin.
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements, herbal medicine and women’s health. Dr. Low Dog has served as the elected Chair of the US Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplements and Botanicals Expert Information Panel. She was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Her latest book is Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. For more information, see her website: drlowdog.com