As COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color, we’re using National Minority Health Month as an opportunity to have COVID conversations. We’re speaking with experts in the field of health and wellness about how to confront medical bias, concerns over the vaccine, mental health during these troubling times, and more.
As some people wait anxiously for the opportunity to get the vaccine while others avoid the shot like the plague based on history and a lack of trust in the government, something you can and should do while you figure out your next best move is to protect yourself in general by building up your immune system. Whether you’re hoping to refrain from having serious complications should you contract COVID-19, or you just want to avoid any and all illnesses as best as possible, an internal boost is essential. That can be done in a number of ways, starting with your diet.
“It’s all too easy to binge on comfort food when you’re stuck at home and feeling lonely, isolated, or just bored, but health crises are the time to get healthier, not more disease-prone,” says Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, an expert in functional medicine and author of VIBRANT: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Reverse Aging, and Glow. She says that while we’ve been sitting at home and understandably comforting ourselves during an incredibly stressful year, by getting too comfortable, we’re doing ourselves harm. Too much excess weight increases the likelihood that we’ll end up dealing with health problems, so she says switch things up.
“Experiment with ways to add more vegetables into your meals. Try eating more fatty fish instead of fatty beef, which replaces inflammatory fats with healthy fats. Eat more fiber-rich foods and fewer refined foods made with white flour, white sugar, and processed fat. See what happens if you give up sugar for a week,” she says.
Dr. Andrew Myers, a naturopathic physician and co-author of Simplifying The COVID-19 Puzzle agrees. He also encourages people to take advantage of supplements.
“Supplement your diet every day with Vitamin D3 (1,000 to 2,000 IU) and Vitamin K2 (all-trans MK-7 at 100 to 200 mcg),” he says. “Vitamin D3 and K2 work synergistically to support healthy immune function, immune cell activation, and inflammation modulation that can play a role in COVID infections.”
And while you might think the best way to start getting your immune system together is to do a detox, Dr. Stephenson says your body is already detoxing itself 24/7. However, you can help it along with exercise, among other things. A review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that even just between 30 to 60 minutes of walking briskly can help to fortify your system and combat some serious germs.
“Get your digestive tract moving with more whole foods like vegetables and fruit, more water, and more exercise. Get your lymphatic system moving with massages and daily cardio,” she says. “Unburden your liver by reducing or eliminating alcohol, junk food, and non-essential medications. Then your own detoxification system is going to do the rest of the work for you. No juice-cleanse necessary.”
In addition to watching what you consume, Dr. Myers reminds us that we can’t build a strong immune system, even if we’re eating clean, if we don’t make getting a good night’s rest a priority, too. That’s been rough with working from home and clocking longer hours, as well as just being extremely stressed.
“Whether it is the stress of worrying about COVID-19 infection, concern for family members at risk, or dealing with an infection, many people are experiencing severe disruption,” he says of sleep schedules. “As it turns out, when we sleep, our body releases hormones and chemicals that activate and bolster our immune function. No sleep or disrupted sleep means that over time our immune system function suffers.”
And whether you are comfortable getting the vaccine or not (that’s a personal decision), our experts say it’s still necessary that not only do you continue to build up your immune system by improving your lifestyle in the aforementioned ways, but that you also continue to wear masks and follow the protocols that have been put in place. The vaccine isn’t assured to keep you from getting the coronavirus, and it can’t work its best without your help.
“We often overlook the fact that in order to have a robust response to a vaccine, we need a healthy functioning immune system,” Dr. Myers says. It is important to continue practicing all of the techniques that we know keep us safe and healthy within the scope of this pandemic. It only makes sense that the vaccine should be considered just one component of an overall approach to staying healthy, as some research indicates that reinfection can occur even in individuals who have been vaccinated. Better to be safe, smart, and proactive as opposed to sorry.”