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Common Ground for Immune Health

The past two years have been like no other. The global impact of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus—which causes COVID-19—has revealed cavernous divisions regarding how to safeguard our collective health. One thing we can all agree upon is the importance of a healthy immune system for resilience to viral infection.

It’s human nature to experience some complacency and “COVID fatigue,” but the reduction of seasonal cold and flu infection in the Northern Hemisphere has illustrated that many of the measures taken have helped. Frequent hand washing and protocol for preventing aerosol transmission from the mouth and nasal cavities will likely become second nature for many.

There are also many lifestyle choices that contribute to better immune performance. Let’s begin with a healthy active lifestyle; for those of us over fifty, how about taking a “Body Break”? Remember Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod? Their active living television segments began in 1988 and they’re still going strong. You don’t have to change much to get fitter; you can schedule a twenty-minute walk with a friend or bring your yoga mat outside. Don’t let the crisp air stop you, it can be more refreshing to move in cooler temperatures. Try a new activity and take advantage of the last few rays of sunshine or the first blanket of snow.

Healthy culinary habits are a must. Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables, along with nuts and seeds, are packed with vitamins and minerals critical for immune health. If you’re feeding a gang of children or teens, Google can help with tips and tricks to sneak in some kale, broccoli, peppers, garlic, ginger, or other immune-boosting foods into your meals.

For those delving into the science of immune function, there are many convenient and affordable supplements readily available.

A comprehensive multivitamin can help meet minimal daily requirements for key vitamins, but targeted supplementation can deliver therapeutic results. Let’s begin with a few key vitamins:

Vitamin D3, which the body synthesizes via exposure to the sun, is the single most researched nutrient for immunity protection. The problem is 40% of Canadians are deficient in the winter and 25% in the summer months. Supplementation year-round is crucial. Vitamin C has long ranked as a cornerstone vitamin for immune function and its popularity has soared. Our bodies cannot synthesize it nor store it for prolonged periods, so an extra boost is a smart idea to help with immune function. It’s also a master antioxidant that helps curb inflammation within the lungs associated with viral infections.

The tandem of zinc and selenium are minerals central to immune performance. They’ve been extensively researched for their antioxidant action and for activating immune response. They’re available as standalone supplements—always look for the label claim for elemental amounts—or within comprehensive immune-driven formulas.

There are numerous botanical approaches to enhance immunity. Elderberry, astragalus, and Andrographis are sought-after for immune support and shortening duration of cold and flu symptoms. Quercetin, a naturally occurring flavonoid found in green tea, onions and apples has been a rising star for immune performance. It has been extensively researched for its antiviral properties here in Canada at The Montreal Clinical Research Institute. The most common source in therapeutic supplement form are flower buds of the Japanese pagoda tree.

Mushrooms are deeply rooted in natural and alternative medicine for immune support. Look for hot water extracted supplements with potency validated label claims for polysaccharide content. Reishi, cordyceps, chaga and shiitake populate the Mount Rushmore of mushrooms for building immunity, with maitake, coriolus, and lion’s mane worthy of honourable mention. Can’t decide which one to choose, try a multimushroom formula for better resilience to viral infection.

Looking for convenient daily immune protection? Probiotics have centuries of health benefits “under the belt” with fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt, and kombucha to name a few. Modern science has confirmed what our forefathers knew generations ago, shoring up your digestive tract with probiotics benefits health in many ways. In fact, up to 80% of immune health is fueled by probiotics within your gut. Focus on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains in supplement form. Look for refrigerated capsules with a natural enteric coating for protection from stomach acid and targeted delivery within the intestines.

Perhaps an increased awareness in lifestyle, nutrition, and natural approaches to better immune health could be the silver lining visible to all of us.