A selection of healthy foods including blueberries, broccoli and avocado

Health risks associated with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are prompting many people to focus more on strengthening their immune systems.

Your immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect your body from infections and diseases. There are vaccines that build immunity against specific diseases. COVID-19 vaccines, our best defense against the virus, lower our risk of getting and spreading the virus and help prevent serious illness and death. Some medications and home remedies can help treat mild-to-moderate cases of COVID.

But beyond medical treatments and precautions for preventing the virus, there are ways we can lower stress and go about creating a healthy lifestyle for optimal immune function.

Immune-Strengthening Strategies

Healthy living strategies for your immune system include:

Immunity Support Supplements

Chris D'Adamo, PhD, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, helped create a prevention strategies guide with the Institute for Functional Medicine. The guide is in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

In addition to the above-listed lifestyle and behavior practices, Dr. D'Adamo recommends using the following supplements in moderation to help keep your immune system functioning at its best:

  • Vitamin C may help prevent viral, bacterial and other infections by shortening the duration of colds and acting as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory.
  • Vitamin D, one of the most important immune system-strengthening nutrients, can reduce the risk of colds and flu. It should be taken on a regular basis. Here is how to tell if you are deficient in vitamin D.
  • Vitamin A, when used on a short-term basis, can help support the body's ability to fight infections, especially with respiratory infections.
  • Zinc can help reduce the number of infections and the duration of the common cold when taken within 24 hours of onset.
  • Selenium is a key nutrient for immune function and is easily obtained from foods like the Brazil nut. Selenium is also an antioxidant, which strengthens the body's defenses against bacteria, viruses and cancer cells.
  • Raw honey is good at relieving minor pain and inflammation of mucous membranes, like those in the nose and mouth, and has antioxidant properties and some microbial effects. In addition, it is helpful for coughs and sore throats and can be added to tea or hot water with lemon. (Children under 1 should not be given honey.)
  • Garlic, aged extract garlic and other garlic supplements may reduce the severity of upper viral respiratory infections and function in preventing viral infections of the common cold.
  • Probiotics contain "good bacteria" that both support gut health and influence the function and regulation of the immune system. They also can decrease the number of respiratory infections, especially in children.

The following may also help strengthen your immunity:

  • Beta-glucansNumerous human trials have shown that beta-glucans stimulate activity against viral attack. These findings include a decrease in cold and flu symptoms and upper respiratory tract infections compared to placebo.
  • Mushrooms – A variety of mushroom species have been shown to help with immune function in a myriad of ways. Some medicinal mushrooms include Shiitake, Lion's Mane, Maitake and Reishi.
  • Berberine – Found in the roots, rhizomes and stem bark of various plants, this natural compound has been shown to have antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be found in goldenseal, goldthread and Oregon grape species.
  • Sulforaphane – Sulforaphane has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. It can be produced in the body in small amounts by eating some cruciferous vegetables or in more therapeutic amounts by consuming dietary supplements containing glucoraphanin and myrosinase enzyme.
  • ElderberryStudies have shown that elderberry has properties that appear to help fight viruses. If possible, choose a low-sugar capsule or tablet as opposed to sugary syrup.

It is very important to understand that these are suggestions. If you want to try either of these options, be sure to communicate with your healthcare provider and take them in moderation or as your doctor advises.

If you feel sick, please do not hesitate to contact your provider. Many providers offer telemedicine options and can advise how you can treat your symptoms yourself or if you need more advanced care.