By Melissa Burchardt, RD, CD, Clinical Dietitian at Shorehaven

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that now, more than ever, it’s essential to keep your immune system healthy to function at its max capacity.

I am a firm believer in letting food be thy medicine. God has provided for our bodies health in the foods he has created. Let me emphasize, “in the foods He has created.”

In this time of emptier store shelves, try to focus on eating as close to God made foods as possible. Yes, in the short term, we may have to rely more on frozen or shelf-stable foods but look for those with the shortest ingredient list. Added sugars, trans fats, and numerous ingredients that you can’t pronounce, do nothing to help build a body up.

Let me be clear: In today’s social climate, it’s essential to take precautions – many of them are outlined here – to help guard against COVID-19. I’ve been asked to share some immune-boosting supplements, which we’ll discuss below.

So, what supplements can you take?

In more than 20 years of practicing Dietetics, I have never been a “supplement pusher.” Here on the Shorehaven campus, we work to provide a wide variety of real foods vs. commercial supplements. In these unprecedented times, however, people are looking for ways to supercharge their immunity. For that reason, I have been recommending a few additions.

Vitamin C
A powerful antioxidant. A recently published study stated elderly patients given 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day for acute respiratory infection fared significantly better than those receiving a placebo. This could mean adding an over the counter vitamin C supplement or focusing on adding more vitamin C-rich foods to your diet, such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons. Some medications interfere with grapefruit, so make sure to check before adding large quantities to your diet. Vitamin C is water-soluble, so if your body does not need what it is given, you will excrete it through your urine. It will not be stored in your system.

Vitamin D
Research continues to show, year after year, high doses of vitamin D supplementation lowers the risk of respiratory illness in the elderly by 40 percent. Vitamin D can actively improve the immune system’s ability to fight infections. Here in Wisconsin, our bodies cannot convert vitamin D from the sun during the high flu months (November – February), which is why I often recommend 5,000 IU’s of D3 per day even under ‘normal winter conditions.’

The last supplement I use with my own family is zinc. This mineral is essential for good health and has potent anti-viral properties. You can find zinc in foods like pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Try sprinkling seeds on top of your salads, or if you are baking and do not have any eggs available, try substituting a ‘flax egg.’ Mix one Tablespoons flaxseeds and three tablespoons water, let sit for five minutes and then add into your recipe just as you would a ‘real’ egg. If using zinc tablets, 30 mg twice a day is sufficient. Even over-the-counter zinc lozenges can provide additional zinc that you need to keep your immune system running at its finest.

I share with you those supplement suggestions only because I’ve been asked. Do I think you need to run out to the store to load up? Absolutely not. If you have them on hand, great. If you are looking for something at a future date to overcome an illness, give them a try.

In the meantime, my top recommendation is to focus on the positive. Fear and worry are both immune-harming emotions. Try replacing them with immune-supporting ones like faith, hope, love, and joy. Fear signals danger to our bodies, setting up a fight or flight response that sends a wave of immune-damaging stress hormones into the body.

So get outside – maintaining social distancing, of course. Walking can drastically improve the health of your immune system. Physical activity in the fresh air and exposure to natural sunlight is just what all our bodies need right now.

May God continue to bless our campus and all who call Shorehaven home. Be well!