Boosting Your Immunity to COVID-19

COVID-19, Health & Wellness


Because COVID-19 is a new strain of virus that has not been experienced before,  the body’s defense system (immune response) has in many cases, been caught off-guard.  Now a team of researchers at the University of Melbourne have been able to map out the immune response in a person who mounted an effective “1-2 punch” and quickly recovered from the infection.    This is an important step in helping to understand why some people have only mild symptoms and are more readily able to defeat the virus than others (notwithstanding underlying medical conditions that impair the immune response).

In addition to social distancing (minimum of 6 feet apart), washing hands frequently with soap and water (minimum of 20. seconds) and keeping hands away from the face, listed below are additional measures you can take to boost your immune system and (hopefully) keep your symptoms mild in the event that the virus sneaks up and attacks you.

  1. Ramp up on vital Nutrients: There is no question that a healthy diet containing an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals (vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6 and B12, folic acid, beta carotene, iron, selenium, and zinc) are critically important for maintaining a vibrant immune system.  It is especially important for men and women over the age of 50 to consume foods enriched in these vitamins and minerals because 1 out of every 3 over this age are deficient in these nutrients. This may in part explain why some older folks are having more difficulty fighting this virus, even in the absence of underlying medical conditions as new reports suggest.
  2. Walk Daily:  While many parts of the world have been temporarily placed on (varying degrees of) lockdown, the majority permit engagement of  non-group related outdoor activities.  Exercises such as walking, jogging, hiking and biking are not only important for maintaining cardiovascular health and mental sanity but also because they boost immunity.  Specifically, moderate activities such as brisk walking (e.g., 20-minute per mile pace,  30-60 minutes daily) may not only reduce severity of the viral infection but also improve time to recovery.
  3. Downsize your Stress levels:  Striving to reduce our stress levels during this crisis, will help recovery efforts.  That is because high stress levels release proteins that not only raise risk of a heart attack and sudden cardiovascular death but also impair our ability to fight infections…including arch enemy,  COVID-19.  To downsize your stress levels (in addition to good nutrition and daily exercise), focus on restful sleeping  (see my previous blog on “how to sleep like a baby”),  listen to soothing and joyful music and enjoy time with family and loved ones.   Heck, we may never have as much concentrated time (quantity +/- quality) with each other again!

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Epidemiology & Public at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He serves on the American Heart Association Leadership Council and the American College of Cardiology Nutrition Workgroup.  His latest book is  Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” published by Penguin Random House.


Coronavirus Perspective from an HK Flu Survivor

COVID-19, Health & Wellness


The most physically ill I have ever been in my life occurred as a young lad when I was struck with the Hong Kong (HK) flu.   The HK pandemic that overtook more than 1 million lives peaked between November 1968 and January 1969.  For me, that November morning started out normally.  Living in NYC, I remember our field trip to the SPCA where over the course of just a few hours, severe muscle aches, weakness, chills and fevers set in with my temperature rising above 104° F  (40° C).   While the HK flu and the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) epidemic are vastly different, features shared by both include high fevers and severe weakness.  Other common COVID-19 symptoms are dry cough and shortness of breath.  If you are experiencing a new fever (over 100.4° F (38° C), chills and weakness or shortness of breath, you should contact your health care provider.  Fortunately, most cases (~80%) of COVID-19 are mild and can be treated at home with fluids, a Mediterranean Style diet, medications to reduce fever/inflammation and stress reducing therapies.  Hospitalization may be required if breathing becomes difficult and labored or dehydration sets in (signs/symptoms include dizziness, extreme thirst, dark yellow urine).

Listed below are some helpful tips to prevent COVID-19:

  1. Greet with elbow-to-elbow bumps rather than handshaking or fist bumps.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday to you” twice) after exposure to any object touched by the public, such as door handles and inanimate objects including mail and other packages because the virus can last up to ~4 hours on these surfaces.
  3. When washing hands, include washing between fingers (interlace fingers between digits) and over/beneath your nails.
  4. Be especially diligent in public bathrooms because the virus is transmitted by fecal matter. Toilet seats should be covered and hands washed after leaving bathroom due to potential contamination on door handles.

Verily Life Sciences, a sister company of Google is currently working on a website to help identify who should be tested for COVID-19 and will soon be scheduled for trial testing on the West Coast.  In the meantime, if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should contact your physician to discuss and possibly arrange for testing.

Fortunately, widespread testing for COVID-19 (the most successful tool to curb infection rates in South Korea) will become more readily available thanks to makeshift drive-up centers to be installed across  shopping lots of Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens.

Self-quarantine and mask wearing should be reserved for those with a positive COVID-19 test, as well as for those displaying symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or in other high-risk individuals following discussion with your primary care provider.

Overall, significant advancements have been made since my experience with the HK flu more than 50 years ago.  We are in a much better position to reduce transmission and infection rates of COVID-19 through common sense practices and by following CDC recommendations.   If you are interested in monitoring day-to-day activity, check out this link from Johns Hopkins.  I am confident that the temporary sacrifices we need to make as a consequence of the intensive (and appropriate) steps taken by our leaders in  government, private sector and entertainment industries will place a stranglehold on COVID-19 and restore normalcy by late Spring.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland  and author of Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” published by Penguin Random House.