The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every facet of life in the United States over the past few months. It has also put our personal health and wellbeing into sharper focus unlike ever before. As our world awaits a vaccine, we are left with two options for taking care of our health: follow CDC preventative guidelines and take steps to boost our immune systems. To help us with the latter, we spoke with Cindy Moustafa-Fusco, CNS, MS, AADP, a board-certified Nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Brooklyn College.
In the wake of coronavirus pandemic, individuals everywhere are looking for ways in which they can boost their immune system and take care of their immune health. Based on your knowledge and expertise as a nutritionist, what are 3 top recommendations you have for someone looking to get started?
Cindy Moustafa-Fusco (CM-F) This is such an important conversation right now and I’m glad we’re covering this. The three main recommendations I have for anyone looking to boost their immune-health is to look at their diet, their exercise regimen, and assess any supplement needs they may have with a licensed professional.
- First, let’s address diet, and more specifically, the importance of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- I can often sound like a broken record, but when it comes to this topic, all of the basics you’ve heard over the years are true: eat the colors of the rainbow, stay clear of fried foods and sugar and incorporate whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins into your meals as much as possible.
- Regular consumption of inflammatory foods (e.g. packaged/processed/sugar-laden foods) creates a constant inflammatory state in your body. This, in turn, can take a toll on the immune system. The result is that you will be more likely to get sick more often or for a longer duration of time than someone with an anti-inflammatory and well-balanced diet.
- Also, don’t try to replace good, balanced foods with supplements. Supplements can have great benefits in the body, but research shows that it is more difficult to see those benefits if your diet is inflammatory. It all needs to work in synergy!
- Next, exercise is a key part of kick-starting and maintaining your body’s immune health. There are many, diverse studies linking exercise to reduced cases of illness or infection in adults and this doesn’t have to involve HIIT classes or a marathon. Even 20 minutes a day of low-impact walking or swimming can be beneficial.
- Finally, supplementation plays an important role but determining the supplements you may need and dosing should always be done with the guidance of a licensed professional.
- Our bodies are constantly using vitamins as coenzymes and cofactors for reactions in the body – it takes a lot of energy to fully function and stay well! Many clients ask me why supplementation is needed if you’re already eating a good, wholesome diet. As a Nutritionist, I wish we could all receive the nutrients and minerals we needed from food alone, but the reality is that there is almost always a deficit.
- Part of the problem is that we are no longer growing food ourselves, so we have to consider the soil fruits and vegetables are grown in (which are often depleted) and how much time lapses between when a portion of food is picked, and when it is consumed (nutritional value decreases over time). We also need to consider how food is cooked (water-soluble vitamins are lost in water, for example, and Vitamin C is heat-sensitive).
- As a result of our modern food and agricultural landscape, then, it’s important to discuss with a professional where your body may need supplementation so that it can perform at its best and help keep you healthy. My advice is always to discuss your specific needs and health concerns/goals with your healthcare practitioner or pharmacist to determine which supplements might be right for you. An expert can confidently offer advice based on your lifestyle and the testing you receive, which will highlight positive deficiencies.
Speaking of supplements, there has been a lot of focus on zinc supplementation recently. What do people need to keep in mind when it comes to this?
(CM-F) Zinc is an amazing mineral and very necessary for everything from immune health to reproductive health. Zinc is a vital nutrient for proper immune function and its deficiency contributes to inflammation in the body. This is why you’ll see a lot of mention of this mineral, especially now!
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That all being said, however, too much of almost anything isn’t good for you. For example, Zinc and Copper compete for the same binding site in the body and so too much Zinc can lead to a Copper deficiency.
Again, always ask your practitioner what dosage is right for you. It shouldn’t just be popped like candy!
There is an infinite number of supplements and ‘immunotherapies’ out there, what should patients (and prescribers) lookout for that might really help make a difference?
(CM-F) Everyone is so different. What works for your neighbor may not work for you (as much as we wish this was the case!). Oftentimes, as a Nutritionist, I hear “Keto worked for wonders for my cousin and she lost 45 pounds! I gained 10 when I did it.” Similarly, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to supplements.
So, here is what I tell every patient I see:
- Everyone needs to take supplements based on their unique needs and deficiencies and not because they Googled “what’s good for my immune system?”
- Like we talked about zinc, taking something just because you ‘heard’ it was good for you can be dangerous and have problematic consequences and/or side effects. Google is not your doctor.
- As it relates to the supplement world, for example, a common misnomer is that all probiotics are the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Probiotics can influence our gut health, immune health, inflammatory response, and weight! It is crucial to understand the strain of probiotics that would benefit you the most.
- Bottom line? There is so much to consider and there really is no replacement for expert advice from a healthcare provider who is trained and able to do the right diagnostic testing and assessment.
- Lastly, quality really matters when it comes to the supplements you’re taking. Make sure you do your research or get quality recommendations from your provider.
Cindy Moustafa-Fusco, CNS, MS, AADP is a Board-Certified Nutritionist with her Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Brooklyn College. She has been in private practice for 10 years and also works for Metagenics as a Senior Territory Sales Manager where she consults with many doctors and practitioners daily. She lives in New York with 2 young children and husband, NunZio.
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