A Strong Immune System is an Important Defense Against Coronavirus
As we brace for the impact of COVID-19, efforts to protect ourselves are falling mainly into two categories. First, we are trying to avoid exposure. And second, we’re ramping up the capacity of our healthcare system as quickly as possible to keep it from being overwhelmed by the impending rush of infected patients.
As individuals, there’s not a lot we can do about the healthcare system. But we can do a lot to prevent the spread of the virus, and we’re getting reminders everywhere we turn: wash our hands, cover our coughs, keep our distance, stay at home!
And then there’s another piece of the puzzle we’re not hearing as much about: our immune systems, which help us fight off infection.
How Important is a Strong Immune System?
The currently circulating strain of coronavirus affects people in different ways. Some don’t even realize they’re sick. Some experience a diminished sense of smell or taste and nothing more. Some feel miserable, but are never in any real danger. And then there are those who end up in the hospital with difficulty breathing—or worse.
At this time, estimates are that 80% of people infected will not need treatment, while 20% will require hospitalization. Those numbers are largely determined by how well our individual immune systems are able to fight off the virus. A strong enough immune reaction keeps us in the 80%, while a weakened immune system can allow the virus to run wild in our bodies.
Can You Boost Your Immune System?
It’s not hard to find supplements that claim to increase immunity, with some even promising effectiveness against COVID-19. Don’t trust them. Since these supplements are not drugs, they don’t have to go through any FDA regulatory process. The claims they make have little to do with science and a lot to do with marketing. There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, so if someone is telling you they have the cure, the best thing you can do for yourself is cover your wallet and walk away.
That said, there is some evidence that vaccines unrelated to coronavirus can boost the general immune response beyond the vaccine’s specific target. And it’s a good idea to get the pneumonia vaccine if you might be susceptible to that disease, even though pneumonia is not related to COVID-19.
A Healthy Immune System Begins with the Basics
The best things you can do for your overall health and immune system, though, come down to the usual suspects:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly. Strength training with resistance bands is easy to do during home isolation.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
- Get enough sleep.
- Minimize stress. May we suggest a massage?
These are things you should have been doing all along. The people who have been living by these rules are more likely to fall into that fortunate 80% category. A last-minute change in lifestyle won’t have much effect on an infection you pick up tomorrow—or last week—if you’ve been treating yourself poorly for years. But that’s no reason not to start making changes today.
Bonus: How Does Fever Play into This?
We’re glad you asked. A fever is an integral part of the immune response. It’s part of the process by which our bodies fight off infection. It’s also one of the symptoms of COVID-19.
If you have the disease and you’re well enough to stay home from the hospital, that’s good. You’ll want to ride out the symptoms until you get better, usually between a few days and a week. You’ll want to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.
Should you also try to reduce the fever with NSAIDs (such as aspirin or ibuprofin) or Tylenol? There was some early concern that these drugs had adverse effects in COVID-19 patients, although the World Health Organization retracted its initial advisory against ibuprofin.
However, there is still the question of fever. These drugs are used as fever reducers. But reducing fever actually reduces immune response! And so you may want to avoid them in order to allow your immune system to fully do its job, as long as your fever is not so extreme that you’re in danger of other complications. In that case, as always, you’ll want to follow your doctor’s advice!