With the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the United States, and the uncertainty around it, Americans are looking for ways to improve their chances of not contracting the disease and to stay healthy during isolation.
Heavy spoke with Dr. Barry Boyd, an oncologist, hematologist, and nutritionist at Yale Medicine and physician at Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center. He shared recommendations for ways that Americans can attempt to raise their immune system.
It is important to note that these are recommendations, and as per Harvard Medical School, “There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.”
Heavy reiterates that individuals should always consult their local physician or health care professional before making changes to their diets.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet Is Key for Your Immune System & Overall Health
Dr. Boyd told Heavy that having a healthy, balanced diet is key to building and maintaining a healthy immune system. The best way to get adequate nutrients is through eating properly.
He acknowledged that diets are very individualized and depend on each person. In this situation with the coronavirus, many people may be stocking up on dry foods like spaghetti and macaroni, but Americans should remember to eat fruits, vegetables and lean meat.
He also said that Americans should avoid consuming high levels of sugar. Because a lot of Americans are probably living a more sedentary lifestyle due to isolation measures, it’s even more important that they eat a healthy, balanced diet to avoid their health declining.
Dr. Boyd said that this is a great time for individuals to focus on optimizing their diets and their family’s health by learning more about nutrition.
Physical Activity Is Extremely Important
Dr. Boyd made it clear that people need to “stop looking for magic bullets” in dietary supplements. Individuals should focus on health, specifically eating well and being physically active.
He told Heavy, “When people ask me what to take, I tell them to take a walk.” He reiterated that individuals need to abide by social distancing rules if they do go outside for physical activity. Individuals should also follow state and city guidelines in terms of leaving their homes.
People can also work out in their home, and YouTube is a great resource for learning different, functional exercises that don’t require a gym or equipment.
Vitamins & Dietary Supplements May Help Boost the Immune System
Dr. Boyd spoke to Heavy about different vitamins and supplements that may help boost and maintain someone’s immune system. It is important to consult a pharmacist before purchasing and taking new vitamins.
He said that if people aren’t able to get an adequate level of nutritious whole foods, or if they suffer from ailments like a gastrointestinal disease, a multivitamin may work. “Probably a smart thing to do [is to take] one [multivitamin] a day, or one every three days,” he told Heavy. He doesn’t believe that people need high doses of multivitamins.
He said, “There are a lot of people promoting very high doses. I don’t agree with it, and there’s virtually no data that actually supports that.”
If an individual is eating a healthy diet, they may not need to take a multivitamin. But if someone isn’t sure that they are getting an adequate level of nutrients, taking a multivitamin won’t hurt.
Dr. Boyd also said that Americans should maintain adequate levels of vitamin D. He cited the VITAL Study, which is a study that, in his words, “people who sell vitamins don’t like.” The VITAL Study reinforces multiple other studies about vitamin D. It found that the OMEGA-3 fatty acid supplement had no impact on heart disease or cancer.
Vitamin D did not affect cardiovascular disease or cancer either. However, the study concluded that vitamin D “appears to lower the risk of cancer death.” So when specifically looking at the COVID-19 coronavirus, maintaining vitamin D adequacy may be important to people who contract the virus.
Dr. Boyd said his recommendation is for 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 per day. He added that even though it may not prevent someone from getting coronavirus, it may “make the disease less likely to be serious.”
He also said that Americans can take 250 milligrams of vitamin C — it won’t hurt them. Some multivitamins will give an individual around 60 mg of vitamin C, which may provide an adequate level for healthy people.
He told Heavy, “I believe that if you are sick, or if you’re older, you may need higher levels of vitamin C. When levels of 20 to 30 milligrams are not adequate, maybe you need 200 to even 500 milligrams a day of vitamin C.”
According to Dr. Boyd, if someone decides to take vitamin C, they should make sure to get it with a low dose of zinc.
Herbal Dietary Supplements
Dr. Boyd recommended that people avoid herbal products like Echinacea because there are controversial studies about the product having a negative impact on the immune response and its possibility of interacting with other medications.
He pointed out that elderberry has been in a few influenza studies and it was shown to reduce the severity and the duration of symptoms. However, those studies are very limited and it could be too soon to draw conclusions from them.