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Nell’s Corner: Immunity and Inflammation During COVID-19

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
June 21, 2020
Nell’s Corner: Immunity and Inflammation During COVID-19 image

Social distancing and wearing a mask any time we leave our homes have become the norm.

Washing our hands, a commonsense thing to do before the pandemic hit, especially after touching high-traffic areas like doorknobs, is now something we are being reminded to do via signage posted in many public places.

But where do we draw the line? Should we really consider such practices as disinfecting our bottles of olive oil and that jar of almond butter we purchased at the market?

It’s not my place to make recommendations on the degree of disinfecting you choose to do; that’s something each person must decide for themselves based on their own situations.

However, there are two things I’m compelled to speak openly about as it pertains to my work as a nutritionist: immunity, which should be boosted, and inflammation, which should be suppressed, as succinctly put in a recent article in The New York Times.1

We’ve heard time and time again that it is the ‘older’ population most at risk for being more vulnerable to the disease; research is showing that this may be due, at least in part, to two natural processes that occur with aging: a decline in immune defenses and an increase in systemic inflammation.

And while we clearly can’t do anything to slow down the passing of time, there’s much we can do to slow down inflammation, thanks to the lifestyle choices we make.

Exposure to irritants—such as industrial chemicals or polluted air and water—as well as smoking, lack of sleep and exercise, and not actively managing stress can also contribute to increasing inflammation.

In addition, being overweight can increase one’s risk of developing COVID, as excess fat tissue also increases inflammation.[CC1] 2-4

And now the good news: There is a lot we can do in order to boost our immune systems and reduce our chances of becoming ill:

  • Regular exercise can improve your sleep, which can suppress inflammation and keep your immune system from having to work overtime.5
  • Eating a varied, nutrient-dense diet can counter inflammation, a benefit aided by avoiding highly processed foods and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in protective nutrients.

As far as needing to disinfect groceries. Many people worry about the possibility of picking up the coronavirus from things like grocery store conveyor belts or cereal boxes. But every expert that NPR recently interviewed for a recent piece agreed that the biggest risk when it comes to groceries is being inside the store itself with other people who may be infected.6

Which give you all the more reason to shop at the farmer’s market!

References

1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/well/live/to-fight-covid-19-dont-neglect-immunity-and-inflammation.html

2. Chiappetta, S., Sharma, A. M., Bottino, V. & Stier, C. COVID-19 and the role of chronic inflammation in patients with obesity. Int J Obes 2005 1–3 (2020) doi:10.1038/s41366-020-0597-4.

3. Malik, V. S., Ravindra, K., Attri, S. V., Bhadada, S. K. & Singh, M. Higher Body Mass Index Is an Important Risk Factor in COVID-19 Patients: A Systematic Review. Ssrn Electron J (2020) doi:10.2139/ssrn.3605087.

4. Favero, G. M., Mascarenhas, L. P. G., Furmann, M., Berton, J. & Miranda, P. J. Interactions of SARS-CoV-2 infection with chronic obesity inflammation: a complex network phenomenon. Biorxiv 2020.06.12.148577 (2020) doi:10.1101/2020.06.12.148577.

5. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/well/move/coronavirus-exercise-seniors-older-home.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

6. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/12/832269202/no-you-dont-need-to-disinfect-your-groceries-but-here-s-to-shop-safely

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