With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) dominating the headlines, people are searching for ways to boost their immune systems. We all want to fortify ourselves against the virus, but there’s a lot of bad information and snake oil being peddled right now. What are the best ways to improve your physical health and what myths should you ignore? Let’s take a look.

1. Lower your stress

Psychological stress has been implicated in altered immune functioning in many diseases, according to a study published in 2015. Countless other researchers have also noted the link.

Your body is better at fighting infections and viruses when it’s not also dealing with emotional and psychological stress.

In a study out of Ohio State University, researchers found that marital conflict can be especially taxing to the immune system. In order to measure this, the scientists inflicted small wounds onto the arms of volunteers, and then asked couples to discuss various topics, some pleasant and some stressful. When couples argued or became highly emotional, their wounds took (on average) a full day longer to heal than after the sessions in which the couples discussed something pleasant. And in the couples who presented higher levels of stress, meaning the couples who argued more, the wounds took two days longer to heal.

Your body is better at fighting infections and viruses when it’s not also dealing with emotional and psychological stress. Managing stress is especially important in times like these. If you’re unsure where to start, take a look at our previous articles on how to beat stress by using a five-minute mindfulness technique and how to deal with stress-inducing headlines.

2. Check your vitamin D

In 2017 the British Medical Journal published a study that found that taking a vitamin D supplement can prevent acute respiratory tract infections. While recent research has questioned the link between vitamin D and cancer prevention and heart health, our bodies require adequate vitamin D to produce the antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria.

3. Improve your sleep

Easier said than done. But a sleep-deprived immune system just does not function as well. A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sleep six hours a night or fewer are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus, compared to those who spend more than seven hours asleep.

To get a solid eight hours, it’s best to practice good sleep hygiene. This means creating a wind-down routine, sleeping in a cool, dark room, limiting day time naps, avoiding using your phone or tablet in bed and getting plenty of exercise.

4. Avoid alcohol and drugs

Studies have found a link between excessive alcohol consumption and a weakened immune function. People who drink in excess are more susceptible to respiratory illness and pneumonia, and recover from infection and wounds more slowly. Exactly what you don’t want should you contract coronavirus. Narcotics can also depress the central nervous system, so be sure to only use medications as prescribed.

Drinking a glass of wine or indulging in a cocktail now and then can actually help with stress, so don’t sweat the small stuff. But avoid going on any benders if you are trying to boost your immune function.

The myths

Any outbreak is an opportunity for scammers to come out of the woodwork and offer potions and pills to help with immune function. Please remember that no single food or herbal remedy has been proven to ward off disease. Recipes have begun circulating on social media that claim drinking garlic infused water (garlic tea) can help. The only way I can see this helping is that everyone will avoid you.

There is no quick fix for improving immune function. Simply put, lower your stress, eat and sleep well, exercise, and make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date. Also wash your hands frequently and wipe down surfaces with sterile wipes.

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