During times of fear and panic, you’ll always find marketers waiting to take advantage. Unfortunately, that’s been the case during the pandemic of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
While the health of your immune system is always important, understanding how your immune system works — and what it can and can’t do to protect you from illness — is an important reminder, especially when people are trying to convince you to spend your hard-earned money.
In this episode of That’s Healthy, Right? host Adam Bornstein discusses how the immune system really works, what small behavior changes can help your overall health, and the hard truth about any supplements that promise to “boost” your immunity.
Have a question you want to be considered for the show? To submit a question, email a voice recording that you can do here to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public – World Health Organization
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) > How to Protect Yourself & Others – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Importance of Protein for Immune Health — Rebel Health
Sleep and Immune Function — European Journal of Physiology
Zinc for the Common Cold — Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data — British Medical Journal
The Science of Sickness Prevention – Born Fitness
Healthy resources to help keep you fit during COVID-19 — Born Fitness
Adam Bornstein: People love the saying, “If I had a dollar for every time something happened.”
Usually, they probably wouldn’t have that much money.
But if I had a nickel for every time I saw an ad promising to boost my immune system, especially during these COVID-19, coronavirus times. I’m very confident it would be an extremely wealthy man. And all of these supplement companies are probably becoming extremely wealthy too. But just based on complete hype.
Now, before you shut off this episode and just think there’s nothing you can do for your immunity. That is not the case. You can actually do things to help strengthen the general health of your immune system. But it’s important to understand how your immune system works so that you don’t fall for any of these very deceptive and misleading products that people are selling you.
In general, your immune system has two different categories. One that’s known as the innate, one that’s the adaptive. Your innate is really about how proteins in cells can come to action to fight off any type of … I would say “problem,” or injury that might happen to your body. So let’s say you cut your leg, your innate immune system will help you recover and try and prevent infection.
It’s the adaptive immune system that is much more complicated, much more civic, and the one most people think about when it comes to viruses, colds, sickness, in general. And that’s because when you get sick, the cells in your body will try and figure out what the sickness is. They will identify it, they will build and design immune cells. And then they will try and kill that infection. Our immune systems know what they need to do. We are designed that way.
But part of that process typically requires us to get sick. It’s why some people believe it’s impossible to get the exact same infection twice. Because you build up that immunity by identifying and going through that process.
So with that in mind, it’s why something like coronavirus disease 2019 is such a huge threat. Because in order to truly be immune from it … and we’re still researching and finding out if you truly have immunity to this novel virus, once you get it.
That means you need to get it. And there is nothing that you can do specifically that can completely prevent you from getting a virus. We don’t have the ability to boost specific parts of our adaptive immune system to create this protective shield. I wish it was the case. It just isn’t.
But our immune system, keeping it healthy, keeping it functioning so that it can do the things that it needs to keep you safe – such as build up these antibodies – can be influenced or dependent even, on little behaviors that will make a big difference.
Our immune system might be tightly regulated to the point that you can’t boost one part or another. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t do the little things that are going to help it function the way that you want.
The biggest one is going to be sleep. And sleep is connected to so many things, but just study after study shows that when you sleep correctly it helps a lot with the general process.
Whether it is distributing immune cells to your lymph nodes so they can fight off infections. Or even helping you create the right immune cells to fight off disease. And they can even play a role when you get vaccinated
There was a study where people who are taking the hepatitis A vaccine, one group slept, another group didn’t sleep. And the ones that slept regularly – even though they got the exact same vaccine – had twice the number of antibodies to fight hepatitis compared to those who didn’t get the rest.
Which just shows that sleep is allowing the system to work as it is intended. Whereas sleep deprivation is preventing that. I mean, just think about yourself when you were sleep-deprived, you’re probably not functioning at your best.
From a nutrition standpoint, the key player is going to be protein. And again, a lot of people love thinking about protein as this muscle-building thing. But it has so many more benefits because protein is the building block of every single cell in your body. And that includes your immune cells.
So you want to make sure that you were taking in these complete proteins. Specifically, there’s one amino acid l-arginine that plays a role in how these T cells that help your immune system and help fight off viruses and bugs.
So getting protein in your diet is going to be important on the cellular level. And then in terms of micronutrients, in general, it’s really good to get all the vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Or if you choose to take a supplement, that’s great.
The two that stand out, again, in helping maintain a healthy functioning immune system. Not boosting immunity, but making sure that the immune system functions the way that it should, is going to be Zinc. This just shows that a lot of research in terms of how it helps you fight the common cold because it will attach to the virus and help prevent further spread.
Oftentimes these things get bad because they just bounce around in your body. So it kind of neutralizes that. Or even a vitamin D. So some vitamin D research shows that it can help reduce the risk of certain infections.
And that’s about it. I mean, when it comes to building immunity in general. It’s why vaccines have been proven to be so effective.
But it’s important to know that there are certain limits to what we can do to prevent ourselves from getting diseases. They’re actually very limited.
But there’s a lot that we can do with our daily behaviors to make sure that when we come in contact with these bugs, or if we get sick, we are helping our immune system. Being a great partner so that you can fight these things off and stay healthy.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.