10 Ways to Boost Your Immune System + Reduce Risk of Infection
Recently the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic. And with all the difference information, media, and opinions portrayed on social media by the general public, confusion and misleading information can cause mass panic.
As someone who is at high risk with asthma and autoimmune disease, I don't take things lightly. I've heard from many different perspectives including medical professionals. There's charts floating around comparing the flu with COVID-19. Pictures of how there's no toilet paper (and other resources) have dominated my Facebook feed.
No matter how things turn out with a severe flu season, rise of Coronavirus cases, and other illnesses, it is important to boost your immune system and to prevent from getting sick when possible. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family members is to remain calm and carry out your life normally, to start making healthy lifestyle changes, and to practice good hand hygiene.
Not sure where to start? Here are 10 ways to boost your immune system and to reduce the risk of infection:
1. Wash your hands for 20-30 seconds with soap
Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to help prevent and control the spread of many illnesses. Good hand hygiene will reduce the risk of things like flu, bacterial and viral infections, and food poisoning being passed from one person to the next.
The most effective way of removing bacteria and viruses from our hands is washing your hands for 20-30 seconds with soap. Studies have shown and proven this, so definitely follow through on this and teach your kids to do the same so they get into this habit - flu and COVID-19 season or not!
Wet your hands with clean water then apply soap. Lather your hands with the soap but do not rinse yet. It's important to scrub your hands for 20+ seconds. The "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice is about how long you'll need to scrub your hands. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. Then dry then with clean towels or air dry them.
Another good practice is to avoid touching your face, mouth, nose, and eyes whether your hands are clean or not.
2. Use a hand sanitizer when you can't wash your hands
If you aren't near a sink and don't have soap, then the next best way to sanitize your hands would be with hand sanitizers. This isn't as effective as hand washing (it doesn't get rid of all types of germs) but can help if you're in a pinch. Just remember that this won't be able to completely clean your hands if they're super dirty or greasy. It also may not remove harmful chemicals and heavy metals from your hands.
In order for a hand sanitizer to kill off certain bacteria and viruses, it must contain at least 60% alcohol, the denaturing agent. The alcohol is what essentially kills or inactivates germs. Make sure that the hand sanitizer you are using has at least 60% alcohol content.
Unfortunately, if you have sensitive skin or skin conditions like eczema, this is pretty bad for your skin. The alcohol-free version will not be reliable and may only reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them.
Believe it or not, there's also best practices for using a hand sanitizer. You'll need to rub your hands together for about 20 seconds and let them dry fully after you apply it.
Don't fall victim to price gouging. This is actually illegal during civil preparedness and public health emergencies. Do not pay crazy amounts of money for hand sanitizers (or other supplies related to COVID-19); $79 for hand sanitizers is definitely price gouging! If you cannot find hand sanitizers in stores and need some, you can consider making your own. (FYI, although witch hazel is great for some applications, it is not proven to be effective against COVID-19 or other germs. You'll want to use a stronger alcohol even though it's drying and rough on the hands.)
Because of the huge need, we are now making organic hand sanitizers. Grab one or two here!
3. Use a moisturizer on your hands after cleaning it
Many of us forget or don't know about this step. Part of good hand hygiene is using moisturizer to restore hydration and improve your skin's moisture barrier. Although hand washing and sanitizing is necessary to get rid of germs, these helpful measures can also be drying to our hands.
Have you noticed that your hands a more dry and/or cracked after following the advice to wash or sanitize them frequently to prevent the spread of COVID-19, flu, and other illnesses? Maybe even find them painful at times?
That's not a good thing. Frequent washing and sanitizing can cause dry skin by stripping the natural, protective oils in your skin. Many healthcare professionals know this due to their profession - Coronavirus or not. With all this irritation, your hands can get dry, cracked, and raw. This actually increases the risk of contracting infections through cracks and can also lead to conditions like eczema.
Moisturizing your hands is just as important as keeping your hands clean. You'll want an oil-based balm or cream that is more effective at sealing in moisture and protecting your skin. This means that lotions or any water-based moisturizers are not as effective, so be sure to read that back label.
If you want an organic, oil-based moisturizer that protects and heals dry, cracked skin, check out our dry cracked skin balm. It seriously has all the healing power you need for dry and cracked skin, not just for your hands but for anywhere on your body other than your face. This one is a fan-favorite for both men and women and many healthcare professionals!
4. Reduce your stress levels
A little bit of stress is good; in fact stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently and boost memory. Stress is a vital warning system that produces the fight-or-flight response in your body. When your brain perceives any kind of stress, it starts flooding your body with chemicals.
Chronic stress suppresses the body's immune response by releasing hormone cortisol, which interferes with T-cells and reduces antibody secretory IgA. Being stressed consumes energy and nutrients which could otherwise be used to protect your body such as from infectious diseases like the flu or Coronavirus.
Getting anxious and panicking about COVID-19 and other illnesses will only increase your stress level. While being informed and taking preventative measures is good, feeling like this new virus is the end of the world is not. Carry on your daily life as before and just be more mindful of keeping your hands and surroundings clean.
Exercise will help reduce the stress, and in general, lowering stress will help your entire body as well as your skin. Some good ways to reduce stress or manage it are mindful meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, body scans, and focused deep breathing.
Other lifestyle changes will reduce your stress level. Read #5 next for more healthy changes.
5. Practice healthy lifestyle habits
Generally speaking, practicing healthy lifestyle habits will boost your immune system and reduce the risk of infections. A few healthy habits like reducing stress levels have already been covered. And here are a few others to keep in mind:
- Moderate your alcohol intake. That doesn't mean you can drink alcohol; it just means to do it in moderation. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It depends on what your body needs!
- Eat more vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods. Consuming more vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fruits that are nutrient-dense on a daily basis boosts your immunity. If you can, eat vegetables that are good for your liver function. Maintaining a healthy liver is important since that ensures that your body is able to naturally detox. Mushrooms are also great foods to add to your diet if you haven't already. They are packed with essential nutrients and minerals that are great for the immune system. See below for more information about mushrooms.
- Exercise regularly. This reduces stress and boosts the immune system. Regular exercise mobilizes the T cells, a type of white blood cell that guards the body against infections. Just be careful to not overexercise; continuous rigorous workout weakens the immune system.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases the risk of cancer and also impairs the immune system. Must we say more?
- Get enough sleep. Getting sufficient rest will lower stress. When you're sleep-deprived, your body's stress level increases and sends signals to release more adrenaline and cortisol.
6. Eat more mushrooms
Eating mushrooms has already been mentioned but because mushrooms are so great, they get their own section. Did you know that mushrooms are one of the healthiest food on the planet?
Packed with essential nutrients and minerals, mushrooms truly help boost your immune system and should be included in your diet. There are as many as around 5.1 million fungal species in the world but you don't want to eat most of them since some are poisonous.
Different sources will rank mushrooms in various orders by how healthy they are. Honestly, it depends on who you are and what you're needing in your diet. We've gathered a list of several super, healthy mushrooms:
- Shittake Mushrooms. Used in traditional Chinese medicine, these mushrooms are used as a natural remedy for colds and the flu. They are an excellent source of Vitamin Ds, Vitamin Bs, amino acids, folate (helps make DNA), pantothenic acid (helps make blood cells), and lentinan (a natural anti-tumor compound). This study has shown that Shiitake reduces inflammation in the body.
- Oyster Mushrooms. These mushrooms are packed with Vitamin Bs, protein, fiber, selenium (help prevent cancer), benzaldehyde (antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties), lovastatin (cholesterol-lowering molecule), and more. There have been studies that show this type of mushroom can help fight HIV and certain specific cancers, significantly reduce blood glucose levels, and help lower cholesterol levels.
- Porcini Mushrooms. Popular in Italian cuisine, this type of mushroom is low in calories and rich in vitamins, fiber, protein, antioxidants, ergosterol (cytotoxicity capabilities), lycopene (helps with heart health and cancer prevention), and minerals. This includes potassium, calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta-carotene (contributes to healthy skin and hair), and iron. Porcini has shown to be a successful anti-inflammatory.
- White Button Mushrooms. The world's most commonly eaten mushrooms and 90% of the total mushrooms consumed in the US, this type of mushroom is a good source of calcium, Vitamin Bs, potassium, iron, selenium, and phosphorus. The ancient Egyptians believed these mushrooms could grant immortality so only the pharaohs were worthy of eating and touching them. Recent studies have shown that white button mushrooms are effective in preventing breast and prostate cancer in both animal and human cells. Because white button mushrooms are sold year-round and less expensive than most other mushrooms, these are a great nutrient-dense food.
Keep in mind, after you buy mushrooms, do not store them in the container or plastic bag they're sold in. This creates moisture and breeding ground for mold. Instead, you can place the whole, unwashed mushrooms in a brown paper bag and fold the top of the bag over, then stick the bag into the produce compartment of your fridge. You can also dry and wrap the whole, unwashed mushrooms with clean paper towels or towels and store that in the produce compartment of your fridge. Whatever works for your lifestyle while absorbing all the excess moisture from the mushrooms so they don't get soggy or moldy.
Better yet, get the mushrooms fresh and just cook it right away! Saves all that trouble.
7. Take in vitamins and minerals needed to boost your immune system
Vitamins, herbs, and supplements are all important to boosting your immune system. Getting vitamins and minerals naturally from foods is the best way to stay healthy. However, there are some instances where you have to take supplements to boost your immune system and stay strong to fight off infections.
- Vitamin C, one of the biggest immune systems boosters, isn't produced or stored in your body. You must have a daily intake of Vitamin C to maintain good health. Unless your healthcare professional advised you to take supplements for this, you can get your daily doses through consuming citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, broccoli, sweet potato, and cantaloupe.
- Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can help your body fight off infections just like Vitamin C. Almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnut, avocados, swiss chard, spinach, and broccoli are all rich in Vitamin E.
- Vitamin A are high in carotenoids and have an antioxidant effect that help strengthen the immune system. Carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli are all foods with Vitamin A.
- Vitamin D fights diseases, reduces depression, and boosts weight loss. Foods that have Vitamin D include fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna, fortified foods like milk, cereals, and orange juice, egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver. Being in the sun will help produce Vitamin D. This is one of the vitamins that you may have a hard time absorbing or producing, so taking supplements may be important.
- Iron helps carry oxygen to cells in your body. You can get iron from lean poultry like chicken and turkey as well as seafood. Are you a vegetarian? No problem! You can get other forms of iron through eating kale, spinach, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, tofu, broccoli, and beans.
- Selenium boosts the immune system and has the potential to slow the body's overactive responses to certain aggressive forms of cancer. Selenium-rich foods include brazil nut, sunflower seeds, egg, fish (like yellow tuna), chicken, turkey, broccoli, garlic, barley, beef, spinach, mushrooms, oatmeal, and pork.
- Zinc helps slow down immunity response and control inflammation in your body. Foods with excellent sources of zinc include shellfish like lobster and Alaska king crab, oysters, legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, pork, beef, and chicken.
8. Get more sun
Being out in the sun and soaking up some natural light helps produce Vitamin D in your body. Vitamin D is important for your immune system and helps the body to produce antibodies. Low levels of Vitamin D in the body has been proven to be one of the major reasons for respiratory problems.
You only need around 10-15 minutes in the sunlight to get enough Vitamin D on a daily process. Combine this with a brisk walk every day can allow you to get enough exercise with Vitamin D.
Whatever you do, don't bake in the sun without protection. Too much sun without protection can cause skin damage, immune system suppression, cancer, and blisters. It's always about moderation.
9. Boil your drinking water
One of the reasons why this is included on our list is because of recent scares of E. Coli contamination in water. There is absolutely no need to panic. One thing I've learned from my childhood years in Taiwan is to always boil your drinking water.
Boiling water is the most efficient method of purification especially when you don't have access to safe, clean water. This kills microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses making tap water microbiologically safe.
Boiling water for tea is NOT the same as boiling water to remove microorganisms. To do this effectively, you need a rolling boil for 1 minute if you are at elevations under 2000 meters ( 6,562 feet) in altitude. For those of you living above this altitude, boil your water for 3 minutes.
Your water will need to reach the boiling point of 100°C (212°F) to kill off all microorganisms and pathogens. Don't worry, there is no need to whip out the thermometer to check the water temperature. You just need to heat the water until it starts bubbling, then time it.
Growing up, my family used a whistling tea kettle to boil all drinking water on stovetop. Make sure you don't drink that water right away; it's obviously very hot! Leave the water to cool to room temperature and then transferred to a clean water pitcher. Drinking water is kept at room temperature or warmed if needed. Plan ahead of time and boil water in advance.
10. Use common sense
You don't need to hear this from us. But here it is in case you haven't heard any of this.
- Stay home if you're stick. Cover your cough and sneezes.
- If you have a fever, cough, AND difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately.
- You can be a carrier even if you aren't showing symptoms. If you've traveled outside of the country recently, been in an infected area of the Coronavirus or other illnesses, in a medical facility that treats some of these illnesses, or a trade show or expo with anyone who may have been exposed, please keep away from others for a few days. You may not get sick but someone around you may.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces around you.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, 3-6 feet distance at least.
- There is NO reason to wear a face mask unless you are infected OR you are taking care of an infected person.
- Please do not steal face masks, hand sanitizers, and other resources from doctors offices, hospitals, or healthcare professionals.
- Do not panic and go out to buy all the toilet paper, hand soap, hand sanitizer, and face masks. There is no reason for you to tie up resources that other people actually need. To remain healthy, you need other people around you to stay healthy too!
Well, that's what I've got for ya! Keep boosting your immune system to reduce risks of infections. This was super lengthy, so if you weren't able to retain everything, the most important take away is to wash hands with soap for 20-30 seconds under clean water, disinfect surfaces and objects around you when possible, and moisturize your hands after you've cleaned and sanitized them.
Hope this is helpful to you and your family's health during this flu season and spread of COVID-19. If there is anything you'd love to learn more about or clarify, please drop us a line down below.
Keep calm and balm on! We hope you and your family remains safe and healthy during this time.