Can you supercharge your immune system?

As fears of coronavirus spiral, there's one question I'm hearing quite often: Is it possible to boost your immune system, fast? And if so, how do you do it?

It's especially pressing for people who are in high-risk groups — i.e., seniors and those with chronic medical conditions. That's the majority of Americans! Up to 50% of non-elderly Americans have preexisting conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Another 15% are over 65. What can they — and we — do for protection?

Unfortunately, whether you're in good health or deemed high risk, there is no magic bullet for amping up your immune system. However, when you improve your overall health, your immune system benefits, too. In that respect, yes, there are things you can do — and there's never been a better time to do them.

Key steps to improving your health

You undoubtedly already know what lifestyle improvements you need to make to live healthier. Perhaps one of the few positive effects of the coronavirus outbreak is that we're more motivated to make them, including these basic changes:

• Get more quality sleep. Sleep really does have healing properties. When we're sleeping, our bodies release proteins — cytokines — that fight infection and inflammation. Less sleep equals less cytokines, so aim for seven to eight hours of good sleep every night.

• Eat more fruit and veggies. Produce is loaded with the vitamins, minerals and fiber our bodies need to operate at peak performance. These powerful nutrients also lower blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of some cancers. Add a few servings!

• Increase your activity. Few lifestyle changes have as big an impact on our health as increased physical activity. People who exercise regularly not only lessen their risk of chronic disease, they actually live longer, even if they only workout 2½ hours per week.

• Make a plan for conquering major health risks. Yes, it's difficult to quit smoking or lose weight, but people do it, and you can, too. Work with your health care professional to create a realistic plan you can follow, complete with tools and support. It's so important.

• Reduce your exposure to stress. When we're stressed, our bodies produce corticosteroid, which lowers production of lymphocytes — a white blood cell that defends against invading viruses and antigens. If you can't reduce your exposure to your chronic stressors, look for a way to manage stress better, such as meditation.

• Keep up with your vaccinations. If your doctor has recommended you get specific vaccines based on your age and health, don't procrastinate — get and stay up-to-date for your own protection.

• Consider naturopathic options. Studies are conflicting, but many naturopaths and chiropractors recommend naturopathic forms of immune support. I personally like probiotics, because much of our immunity comes from our GI tract. Even nasal washes are effective at cleaning out germs in the upper respiratory tract.

• Cultivate happiness. In lab studies, happy people who were exposed to cold and flu viruses got sick at lower rates than their less-happy counterparts. Happiness really does boost the immune system, so look for opportunities to be joyful.

• Make sure your preexisting condition is well-controlled. If you do have a preexisting condition, monitor it closely. If your blood pressure or blood sugar levels aren't really where they should be, call your doctor and ask for help.

There are many things about the coronavirus we can't control, but there are some we can — and, magic bullet or not, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to take whatever actions we can.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (, a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates,

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