Strengthening that Magical Thing Called an Immune System for COVID-19 (and for cold and flu season in general)

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Editors Note: Kiran collected a list of things we can do even if we are struggling to live outside, on EBT or SSI or nothing at all- if you cant do all of them - do some of the most basic like drinking more water, lemon, salt and garlic- and if you have trouble getting any of these ingredients POOR Magazine, United Front Against DIsplacement and Self-Help Hunger Program will be distributing them along with Healing, Cleaning & Sanitation Supplies on Tuesday, March 25th at 1pm at the Wood Street West Oakland Encampment- as well as our SLiding Scale Cafe weekly meal at Homefulness and our weekly meals at East Oakland & SF encampments- email if you would like more information or click here


Immune Tips for COVID-19 (and for cold and flu season in general)

by kiran nigam, Nutritional Therapy Consultant and community facilitator


I think it's safe to say that we've all been thinking more about public health and stopping the spread of viruses over the last few weeks. The need for social distancing right now is high. This helps us to protect each other (especially those who are elder, immune compromised, or have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable) from rapid virus spread, and helps to avoid overwhelming our health system. 


I also want to remind you that our bodies come equipped with an immune system that is designed for fighting viruses. Below are some nutrition and lifestyle tips to help you support your immune system, so that you are better able to fight off infection when exposed. 


First reduce the work your immune system has to do by minimizing the need to fight off viruses and bacteria.

  • Wash your hands, more than you are used to, more than you think you need to, and for longer than you probably do usually (20 seconds). Work up a good soapy lather. Great times to wash your hands: before eating, after using the bathroom, after touching public surfaces (door knobs, tables, chairs, etc), after using public transit. 
  • Avoid touching your face. 
  • As much as possible follow guidelines for social distancing, to minimize exposure of yourself and others.

Get as much sleep as you are able to. 

Sleep plays an important role in immune system functioning. Being well rested can help you fight infection and prevent getting sick by supporting an optimally functioning immune system. If you aren't getting as much sleep as you know you could use, try adding an hour or two of sleep in by going to bed earlier. Take advantage of opportunities to nap if they arise. 


Remove whatever stresses you have control over. 

Stress reduces the immune system's ability to fight off infections. If there are any stresses in your life you have control over, take steps to remove or reduce them. 


Stay hydrated. 

Good hydration supports lymph flow, supports strong immune functioning, and helps your body eliminate toxins and bacteria. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. 


Avoid sugar. 

Sugar weakens the immune system. As much as possible, minimize sugary drinks and snacks to support your immune health. 


Eat foods high in zinc. 

  • Zinc supports and strengthens the immune system. 
  • Foods high in zinc include:  oysters (you can find smoked oysters in a can for more affordable prices), lamb, pumpkin seeds (soaked/sprouted), grass fed beef, chickpeas, cocoa powder, kefir, yogurt, mushrooms, spinach, chicken, turkey, cheese, swiss chard, lima beans, potato (with skin), oats, pecans. 
  • You can also find zinc lozenges, for when you first get sick, in many grocery stores. 


Eat foods high in Vitamin A. 

  • Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system.
  • Foods high in vitamin A include: liver, egg yolks, fatty fishes (like salmon), sweet potatoes, carrots, red and orange bell peppers, dark green vegetables. 


Eat Probiotic Foods

  • Over 70% of your immune system is in your gut! Treat it well. Probiotic foods can help boost the immune system and promote the production of natural antibodies.
  • Some probiotic foods include: yogurt, sauerkraut, keifer, crème fraiche, live pickles, kimchi, and other fermented vegetables, kombucha, kvass... 


Kitchen Medicine Cabinet

  • Shiitake and maitake mushrooms help to strengthen the immune system. 
  • Ginger can naturally boost the immune system and help to fight viruses. Good for tea (with lemon, honey yum!) and cooking 
  • Garlic is antiviral. Good for tea and cooking
  • Onions are full of immune boosting nutrients. Good for cooking. You can also steep cut onions in water or honey overnight and drink spoonfuls of the liquid to boost your immune response. 
  • Kitchen medicine cabinet recipes (from my kitchen):
    • “I Won't Get sick Tea”:  garlic, ginger, black pepper, lemon, honey steeped in hot water. I sometimes add in herbs like rosemary, thyme, or eucalyptus leaves (can be found growing throughout the Bay Area).
    • Homemade Cough Syrup: Finely cut onions, garlic and ginger and fill a mason jar half way. Pour honey on top of the onions, garlic, and ginger, put a top on the jar, and let it sit over night. The syrup is ready to use the next morning. No need to remove the veggies, just press down to access the syrup.
    • Fire Cider: I finely chop garlic, ginger, hot chillies, horseradish, onions, black pepper, turmeric root (or whatever combination of those I have available to me) and fill a mason jar ½ – ¾  full with the mixture. Then fill the jar to the top with apple cider vinegar. This recipe is best if you're able to let it sit for a few weeks. Then you can take “shots” or spoonfuls of fire cider to help fight off cold and flu.
    • Classic Tea: ginger, lemon juice, and honey steeped in hot water. Add in cinnamon for some extra warming effects. 


Other Herbs

  • Elderberry helps to boost the immune system. You can find elderberry syrups in many grocery stores. 
  • Licorice root and echinacea are both antiviral, antibacterial, increases the production of more immune cells, and increases the activity of existing immune cells. 
  • Rosemary, thyme, and eucalyptus leaves are helpful for coughs. They make delicious teas, with honey and lemon.