Keeping Immune System Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted 4 years ago

Healthy Immune System During Coronavirus

Keeping a healthy immune system during the coronavirus pandemic should be a priority. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives around the world and caused a great amount of stress and anxiety.  The most effective way to stem the spread of this deadly virus has been to practice social distancing and good hand hygiene. With COVID-19 being a new virus we do not have evidence-based therapies, from either the pharmaceutical or dietary supplement arena, to treat this infection.

Fortunately, a majority of people who contract this virus are either asymptomatic or have mild to moderate symptoms.  As we can see from the data on who gets critically ill with this virus, the healthier your immune system is to fight infection, the more likely you are to have mild disease if you are exposed to it.  With all of the fear and anxiety around the corona virus there is a lot of interest on how to improve immune function.  Keeping Immune System Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Unfortunately, there are no pharmaceutical medications that optimize immune health, but we do know that a healthy lifestyle, good digestive health and some select dietary supplements can play a role in optimizing our immune response to viral infections.  Our nutrition, sleep, stress and physical activity levels have a significant influence on our immune system.  We are also learning that our  digestive system and the microbes within it influence immune health.  Additionally, some vitamins, minerals and herbs have shown some benefit in viral immunity.  Again, it is important to remember that we do not have any evidence on how these interventions will specifically impact COVID-19 but we look at how some of these supplements influence the immune system to make recommendations.

Lifestyle Prescription for Immune Health


The most important way to boost immunity is to get plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits in your diet.  Fortunately, most grocery stores still have an abundance of fresh produce in stock.  I try to encourage at least 5+ servings of vegetable and 3 servings of fruits a day.  Broccoli, spinach, red peppers, garlic, berries citrus fruits are packed with important nutrients that will help the immune system.  Avoid eating sweets; high sugar intake has been shown to suppress immune function.  Try to stay well hydrated with plenty of purified water throughout the day.


Chronic stress can suppress healthy immune system function.  With the turmoil that this pandemic has caused many people are challenged with keeping their stress levels in check. Committing to a daily relaxation practice like mediation, yoga or breathing exercises can have a big impact on lowering stress hormones and improving immunity.  There are many apps like Calm or Headspace that you can download as well as many free online resources for different relaxation practices.  Limiting the time you spend listening to the news or social media can help with stress management.  Spending a little time in nature has also been shown to lower stress.


During this pandemic it is essential for immune health to get good sleep.  Having a regular sleep schedule will help keep your melatonin levels up.  Melatonin has anti-inflammatory effects in the body and lungs which could be very helpful for preventing infection and limiting COVID-19 symptoms.  Sleep is a priority for good health.  Try to get 7-8 hrs. a night.  Creating a relaxation routine before you go to bed can help improve your sleep quality.  Using calming music, essential oils like lavender and herbal teas like chamomile can help prepare the brain for sleep.


Get moving to keep your immune system up but avoid over exertion which can actually suppress immune function.

Keeping Your Immune System Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Social Connection

Part of the human condition is the need to connect with others, absence of social connection can negatively impact our immune health. With so many people isolating at home it is important to reach out by phone or video chats with our loved ones, especially our seniors who are under the strictest orders for isolation.

Digestive Health

The health of our digestive system and the community of organisms in our digestive tract termed the “microbiome” directly influences immune health as well as many other systems in our body.   The digestive system is the body’s first line of defense for many infections.  If your digestive system is inflamed it can impair your immune response to infection.

There is information that COVID-19 may be entering through our digestive system and that COVID-19 virus has mutated and 40% of patients with COVID-19 are having diarrhea and other digestive symptoms.   To keep your digestive system healthy, do the following:

  1.  Eat cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or take a probiotic supplement
  2. Avoid processed and sugary foods as well as artificial sweeteners
  3. Eat a high fiber, plant-based diet with at least 25-30 grams of fiber a day
  4. Avoid antibiotics unless necessary

Dietary Supplements That Can Boost Immunity

Keeping Your Immune System Healthy Through The Coronavirus PandemicLifestyle measures are going to having the biggest impact on keeping your immune system healthy but there are a few supplements to consider taking during this COVID-19 pandemic.  Many of the standard immune supplements used for colds and flus may not be recommended for COVID-19 because they might cause your body to create an exaggerated inflammatory response to the virus and worsen inflammation in the lungs.

I would avoid supplements like echinacea and elderberry for treating this infection.  Some supplements to consider to help your immune system during this corona virus pandemic are as follows.

(With all dietary supplements it is important to check with your healthcare team to make sure that it is safe to incorporate in your health routine.).

Vitamin C  

Vitamin C has been studied for treating many viral infections and there are clinical trials being conducted around the world right now using IV vitamin for critically ill COVID-19 patients with some early reports of benefit.   For general immunity during viral season 1,000-3,000mg a day is recommended, consider higher doses if showing signs of viral infection.  Oral dosing can be limited by digestive tolerance where high doses can cause diarrhea.


Zinc has been shown to be a potent antiviral.  Eating dark colored vegetables and fruits can help increase the intracellular levels of zinc thereby making  your zinc supplement more effective for viral immunity.  For general immunity 15-30mg a day is recommended.

Vitamin D3

Having a good Vitamin D level can help with general immunity.  I generally have patients take between 2,000-5,000 IU daily.


As stated above, probiotics can help with general immunity.  I would recommend 10-25 billion CFU daily.


Melatonin levels decline with age and may be linked to our ability to fight viral infections and may be the reason why the young do better with this COVID-19 infection.  Although generally thought of as a sleep product, this hormone can lower inflammation in the body and lungs.  Not everyone tolerates it, but if tolerated consider 1-10mg a day taken 1 hr before bed.

Best Practices

The best prevention against spreading and becoming infected with COVID-19 is to follow the recommendations of social distancing and good hand hygiene.  The next level of protection is to keep your body healthy to optimize immune function.  Now more than ever it important to treat our body well so that our immune system is geared up to handle viral infections.

Dr. Heidi Rula Integrative Oncologist Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers

About Heidi Rula, M.D.

Dr. Heidi Rula joined Ironwood in 2018 to launch the Integrative Oncology program.  She is board certified in family medicine and fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Rula has been a practicing physician in the Phoenix area for approximately 20 years and has been recognized by her colleagues as one of Phoenix’s “Top Doctors” on multiple occasions.

Dr. Rula has played a key role in bringing integrative medicine to the Valley.  She served as the medical director of the University of Arizona Integrative Health Center where she leads a team of physicians and complementary practitioners in a unique model of integrative primary care that she helped to develop along with Dr. Weil and the UA Center for Integrative Medicine.

About Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers

Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers (ICRC) is the largest multi-specialty oncology network in the Greater Metro Phoenix area. They have over 100 medical providers, a robust Integrative Services program and a dedicated clinical research department. Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers has 15 valley locations and five comprehensive cancer care centers that offer a multi-disciplinary approach for expedited personalized patient care. For more information, please visit