Doctor shares advice on how to boost your immune system

As COVID-19 run rampant through the United States, many Americans may be wondering what they can do to improve or boost their immune systems, as a healthy immune system is one of the best defenses against the devastating effects of the virus.

Dr. Patrick Proctor, a cardiologist with HeartSouth in Alabaster, said residents don’t need to take an array of multivitamins and supplements to have a healthy and strong immune system. He said the best way to do that is through eating a balanced diet.

“Our bodies don’t tolerate deficiencies in micronutrients very well,” he said.

Micronutrients refer to the vitamins and minerals that humans need for energy production, immune function, blood clotting, growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes. Zinc, folic acid, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K, iron and copper are examples of micronutrients.

“I commonly see people identify one substance and they find and consume foods that are high in that one thing, thinking that they’re helping their immune system,” Proctor said. “In reality, they haven’t done themselves a favor at all because they’re forgetting about balance.”

Proctor said the over consumption of some micronutrients, like vitamin A, can actually cause other problems. This is most seen when people take high doses of micronutrients in pill-form. Proctor urged residents not to rely on herbs and supplements to boost their immune systems.

When consumed properly through food, vitamin A helps to build up the surface of the eye, mucous membranes and the skin be effective barriers to bacteria and viruses, reducing the risk of eye infections, respiratory problems and other infectious diseases. Foods rich in vitamin A are typically bright in color, like sweet potatoes, carrots, red bell peppers, mangoes and eggs. Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, are also good sources of vitamin A.

Proctor said many people’s diets are lacking the right mix of fruits and vegetables. People’s diets tend to include a lot of fast food and high-starch foods, he said.

Another way to ensure that the body is primed to fight off viruses is by eating protein-rich foods like eggs, lean meat, nuts and seeds.

“A common myth is that exercise will weaken your immune system,” Proctor said. “This has been studied extensively and exercise has been found to improve circulation, which is also important to the immune system.

“Another thing that’s important to note is that smoking will lower the body’s defenses against respiratory infections like COVID-19. Excessive consumption of alcohol will do that same thing.”

Proctor said one of the most common mistakes made when it comes to immune system health is inadequate sleep.

“Poor sleep will impact your immune system,” Proctor said. “There are a lot of people experiencing chronic sleep deprivation. The benefits of proper sleep go well beyond immune system function.”