Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, one thing that has become very clear is that the virus disproportionately affects certain demographics within our population. Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that adults over the age of 65, as well as people of all ages who have underlying medical conditions, are at significantly increased risk of developing serious illnesses.

But why are these groups more likely to become seriously ill or die if they contract the virus? The answer is simple: the strength of an immune system .

They all differ in their level of immunocompetence, also known as immune strength . For the most part (there have been exceptions), the immune system of a healthy adult is capable of fighting most infections, including COVID-19. However, as you age, your immunocompetence tends to decline, leaving you more susceptible to disease.

People with underlying medical conditions also see a decrease in their immunocompetence, although the mechanism behind that decrease can vary depending on the condition.

Chemotherapy, for example, can destroy bone marrow and white blood cell counts, weakening the immune system. For this reason, someone who undergoes cancer treatment will be immunocompromised and therefore at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, even from the common flu.

Immunity: the missing piece

As the COVID-19 outbreak has spread around the world, health officials and authorities have focused on three main ways to control the virus: isolation, social distancing, and hand washing.

While these are, of course, crucial to slowing the spread of the virus, immunocompetence, and strengthening immunity, they have been conspicuously absent from the COVID-19 conversation.

Of course, even people with strong immune systems are still susceptible to the virus, but the stronger your immune system, the more likely it is that if you get sick, your case will be milder and shorter. Not only is this better for you, it puts less pressure on our healthcare system.

How to strengthen the immune system to avoid strong virus symptoms

Scientists have determined that the strength of your immune system is not inherited from your parents, but is largely determined by environmental and lifestyle factors.

Manage stress

Stress, sleep, diet, and exercise can have an impact on your immune system, as well as your exposure to various environmental toxins, particularly during early life.

For this reason, there are many small ways that you can strengthen your immune system . A good place to start is to reduce stress. When you’re stressed, your body releases higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which suppresses the activity of your immune system.

There are several ways to help manage stress, including meditation, controlled breathing, or speaking with a therapist.

Get enough sleep to strengthen the immune system

Getting enough sleep at night also benefits your immune system. When you get sick, your body releases proteins called cytokines to fight infection and inflammation.

These are the same proteins that are released when you sleep. Without adequate sleep, the production of these protective proteins decreases.

Adults should generally aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night, while children and adolescents generally require nine to ten or more.

A healthy diet

A healthy diet also helps a lot to improve immune function . Including large amounts of good quality green leafy vegetables, fruits, and protein will ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of disease-fighting nutrients like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folate, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E.

You should also consider reducing the amount of alcohol you drink. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with decreased immune function and has been shown to be linked to increased immune-related health effects, such as pneumonia.

Vitamin C and COVID-19

Vitamin C and its effects on immunity have been a hotly debated topic in the world of nutrition and health for quite some time. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak, vitamin C has shown some promising results when administered to critically ill patients.

In an analysis of five trials that included 471 patients who required ventilation, those who received one to six grams per day of vitamin C resulted in a shortened ventilation time by an average of 25 percent.

Shorter ventilation times can significantly reduce stress on our healthcare system because it means that ventilators are available more quickly for new patients who need them.

Other studies found that higher doses of vitamin C, six to eight grams per day, can also be effective in treating and preventing lung disease.

What type of vitamin C should I take and how much?

According to various research papers, taking three to five grams of vitamin C, evenly distributed throughout the day, can support your immune system and protect against known viruses. The reason the results should be extended to ascorbic acid pharmacokinetics. Its activity tends to peak within hours and then slows down, so ingesting it throughout the day to maintain it makes sense.

There is more than one type of vitamin C, however l-ascorbate is the best because your body tolerates it well. Other types, such as d-ascorbate, are not well tolerated and therefore cannot be taken in doses high enough to be effective.

It is difficult to know how “pure” your supplement is, as many manufacturers use a mixture of these two types. Some brands also include additional ingredients like stabilizers, binders, fillers, and colors, so it’s important to read the label carefully.

The highest quality supplement is one that contains completely reduced and buffered l-ascorbate. It’s important to do your research before you buy to make sure you’re not wasting your money on a low-quality supplement that won’t provide the benefits you’re looking for.

You still need to follow the rules

No matter how strong your immune system is, how long you sleep, or how healthy your diet is, it is important to remember that taking steps to strengthen your immune system or taking a daily vitamin C supplement is not a substitute for frequent and proper hand washing, not touching yourself. the face and, of course, social distancing.

All the measures that public health officials and governments have put in place are there to protect the vulnerable people among us. Even if you have a strong immune system and only contract a mild case, without proper social isolation you run the risk of passing it on to someone who has a compromised immune system, who could end up dying from the virus.

As difficult as it may be, we must all continue to do our part to flatten the curve on this virus and ease the burden on our healthcare system. This is the only way we can get over this, and the only way we can get back to our normal lives.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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