It’s Corona Time: Vitamins to Show the Virus Who’s Boss
I don’t know about you, but I still wake up every morning expecting to receive a notification that this is all a prank *Ashton Kutcher, feel free to pop out and yell ‘PUNK’D’ any second now!* It feels like we’re living in an alternate universe, or like we’re in the beginning of the movie I Am Legend *JK — I’d cry if that were the case and be the first one to ‘peace out.’* As my dear friend Epictetus would encourage, I’m choosing to focus on that which is in my control as opposed to that which is not throughout these turbulent times. And yes, this includes nutrition.
During the past couple weeks of quarantine, my kitchen and I have become newfound friends. Our relationship wasn’t ‘forced,’ per se, but governor Cuomo’s New York lockdown definitely helped! It is indeed an interesting time to get creative in the kitchen, especially for us New Yorkers who have been spoiled by endless takeout. While we’re in this global pandemic, managing changes in our jobs *I may or may not be regretting my innumerable wishes for WFH days,* and coping with other stressors throughout this quarantine, I think it’s helpful for us to have easy, accessible food options that are immune-boosting. I have an endless list, and yes, posting a photo of my pantry and fridge might be easier for everyone, but I do want to get into the science behind essential nutrients worth incorporating into our daily routine *wax on, wax off, my pupils.*
Fun fact: most of your immune system lives in your GI tract *recalling Biology 101?* The GI tract consists of the mouth, throat, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, anus, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder (The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet, Hopkins Medicine) Think about it… From your first bite until your food “departs” from the other end, *couldn’t think of a classier way to describe that,* your food is traveling through your immune system’s home (the GI tract). Your immune system will absorb the nutrients from the food particles passing through. So what you choose to eat directly impacts the strength of your immune system. Our goal is to ingest immune-boosting nutrients that will fortify the immune system to help fight any potential virus *buh-bye corona!*
If you’re on Instagram, Twitter, or any other form of social media *I’m still trying to grasp TikTok… Facetiming my 10-year-old cousin later for a virtual lesson* you’re probably seeing all the rave around immune-boosting supplements. The popular ones include vitamin C, Zinc, and vitamin D, which we can all use some more of in this quarantine *who misses the outdoors as much as I do?!* While certain supplements are a great addition to your regimen, their immune-boosting properties are not always “bioavailable,” meaning your body does not fully absorb them when taken in pill-form.
So why are these vitamins good for us and how do we get them in whole-food form?
VITAMIN D: Vitamin D is a “fat-soluble” vitamin. If you pop a vitamin D pill with a gulp of water on an empty stomach, your body will not absorb it *shocking, no?* It’s best to pair your vitamin D supplement with a healthy fat (any nuts you have on hand, a spoonful of cold-pressed *ORGANIC* olive oil, a slice of avocado), so that your body can absorb it. Some benefits of vitamin D: helps your body absorb more calcium to keep your bones strong and healthy. Helps regulate cell growth, reducing risk of cancer (more science from Harvard Health Publishing here), fights depression *who doesn’t have a huge smile on their face when laying in the sun? That’s in large part due to the high-doses of natural vitamin D that your body is absorbing,* boosts brain power, boosts immunity (increased vitamin D levels help improve autoimmune condition symptoms), improves sleep *think this is a big one for all of us right now,* and calms inflammation (more benefits here). If you’re not one for supplements and quarantined in the Northeast like me (it’s a beautiful, cloudy day here in NYC) making it difficult to catch sun, try adding cod liver oil, salmon, mercury-free tuna, pasteurized eggs, or mushrooms to this week’s grocery list to get it in whole-food form (checkout vitamin D levels from various food sources in Dr. Will Cole’s post, Your Go-To Guide For Boosting Vitamin D/).
VITAMIN C: The popular supplement flying off pharmacy shelves during corona-time. Your body does not produce or store this vitamin, so it’s important to ingest daily. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning any excess vitamin C you take is simply released when you go to the bathroom. A lack of vitamin C actually makes you prone to getting sick (3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity, Cleveland Clinic). So why not add more C-rich foods (and perhaps a trusted V-C supplement) to your quarantine menu? C-rich foods include chili peppers (100 grams contains 143mg of V-C, versus 100 grams of an orange, which contains 52mg of V-C), bell peppers, strawberries, pineapple, kale, brussels sprouts, mango, broccoli, and kiwi (all of which contain higher levels of vitamin C per gram than oranges!)
VITAMIN B: Did you know there are eight essential B vitamins? B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenate), biotin, B6 (Pyridoxine), B9 (Folate) and B12 (Cobalamin) (B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy — A Review, Nutrients MDPI). An essential vitamin cannot be produced by the body (or cannot be made in enough quantities) so it’s important to add them to our daily regimen. Vitamin B6 serves as a vital warrior in supporting the immune system — it also helps produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that contributes to well-being and happiness (Could Copper-Zinc Imbalance Be Making You Sick?). B6-rich foods include chicken, salmon, tuna, green vegetables, and chickpeas *who doesn’t love a good hummus dip during Zoom game-night?* All you need are some chickpeas, olive oil, lemon, and a dash of sea-salt — checkout this 10 min hummus recipe.
VITAMIN E: This is a powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant that helps the body fight infection and inflammation. It also happens to be a magical treatment for glowing skin and anti-aging effects (oxidation is what leads to aging, hence, it’s an anti-oxidant). *You may or may not be wearing a facial mask as you’re reading this, a true corona-quarantine pastime for all my girlfriends — and some guy friends too, promise I won’t divulge your names — If you are, time to invest in some V-E .* Warning — In Dr. Chris Kresser’s words, “I do not recommend supplementing with vitamin E in most cases. Studies have shown that long-term supplementation with alpha-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E found in most multivitamins, may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This should serve as a reminder that supplementing with isolated, synthetic nutrients affects the body differently than obtaining the same nutrients from whole-food sources” (Nutrition for Healthy Skin: Vitamin E, Pantothenic Acid, and Selenium). So best we refrain from popping the V-E pills and obtain V-E from natural foods. Foods high in V-E include nuts, seeds, and my personal favorite *please hold the eye-rolls,* spinach. Sprinkle sunflower seeds, peanuts, or almonds into your next lunch for added crunch and a V-E boost!
ZINC: Zinc is a key trace mineral, meaning the body needs it in small amounts for optimal function. It is often compared to one’s copper levels. Interesting fact about copper and zinc is that while they’re both “trace minerals,” they also function as neurotransmitters. Some people have zinc deficiency and excess copper — a ratio that we do not want out of balance — as the imbalance can lead to attention deficit disorders, anxiety, depression, acne, eczema, sensitive skin, headaches, poor immune function, excess PMS symptoms *ladies, this is a big one; boys, please do NOT ask your girlfriend if her “zinc:copper ratio” is out of whack in your next quarantine-induced tiff* (more science on the zinc:copper ratio from Dr. Chris Kresser here). So what foods are rich in zinc that we can easily add to our quarantine-menu? Toss pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, a handful of cashews, pecans, or peanuts into your yogurt or oatmeal for a “paleo-granola” breakfast, or indulge in a piece of dark *80% and UP* chocolate post-dinner. Shellfish, organ meats, chicken, and eggs are also high sources of zinc.
ADDITIONAL IMMUNE BOOSTING FOODS: Again, popping supplements sounds easier, but your body isn’t necessarily absorbing those nutrients…And those pills might contain harmful additives.
GARLIC: As published in the Journal of Immunology Research, “garlic appears to enhance the functioning of the immune system by stimulating certain cell types, such as macrophages, lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, dendritic cells, and eosinophils, by mechanisms including modulation of cytokine secretion, immunoglobulin production, phagocytosis, and macrophage activation.” Ingesting garlic cloves is quite literally like adding GI-Joe soldiers to your immune system’s army. Take advantage of the current six-foot social distancing decree and load up on all-you-can-eat garlic.
GINGER: As Dr. Ramzi Asfour states, it’s “a potent antiviral that prevents adhesion of viruses to the upper respiratory mucosa” (Everything You Need to Know about Coronavirus, with Dr. Ramzi Asfour). Corona is a virus that causes severe respiratory symptoms. It may be prudent to chop some ginger and add it to your water pitcher or tea pot, so it’s on stand-by to sip on throughout your day.
VITAMIN A-RICH FOODS: Including sweet potato, liver, squash, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, carrots, mackerel, and salmon.
FERMENTED FOODS: Including kombucha, miso, pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi *don’t diss it till you try it.*
CITRUS FRUITS: Who doesn’t love a juicy clementine? I’ve also been squeezing lemons into each of my meals lately for a boost of flavor *and vitamin C.* Household hack: leave the squeezed lemon wedge on your kitchen counter overnight, it’s a natural antibacterial and air disinfectant.
Tips to fortify your immune system beyond food: Sleep, in-home exercise (checkout the free live workouts on Instagram by following your favorite boxing/HITT/yoga/pilates studios, fitness instructors, and health/wellness brands), drink warm fluids *my morning go-to is warm water with half a lemon and crushed sea-salt for electrolytes,* and cut sugar and refined starches — why? Because they directly weaken your immune system, which is your front-line of defense against corona… Who would want to actively weaken their own army? (more suggestions from Dr. Hyman here). *Trust me, I know it’s easier said than done, but adding handfuls of colorful fruits to your daily meals and getting creative with it will most-likely satisfy those sweet cravings.* And if fruit isn’t cutting it, bake yourself a tasty dessert with white-sugar replacements like coconut sugar, dates, monkfruit sugar, raw honey, stevia, or pure maple syrup.
*PSA* BE WARY of imposter supplements. Dietary supplements are not subject to approval by the FDA and some contain non-beneficial — and even harmful — additives and fillers. Consult with your doctor about their trusted supplement brands. Supplement Brands that I personally use include Pure Encapsulations and Thorne.
*Note: I am not a doctor. Please challenge and question any of my statements above, and feel free to conduct your own research. Let me know what you find!*