”True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” — Arthur Ashe

As communities, states and businesses gradually open after lockdown, perhaps you’re wondering how to best protect yourself and your loved ones from infection.

Relaxing restrictions will result in an unknown number of new cases. For the foreseeable future, the hand washing, social distancing, masks, gloves and other measures we now consider routine will continue.

We permanently left the shore of our old country a couple months ago and are returning to a totally new landscape, with unexpected vistas. All levels of society, commerce, government and health care will be changed. Like a kaleidoscope, the views will be unexpectedly novel.

In the meantime, are there additional steps you could take to maintain your body’s natural and robust immune system to fight off a COVID-19 infection or at least minimize its impact?

We know managing our stress improves immunity. This has long been known and well-researched in the field called psychoneuroimmunology. Reducing our body’s stress level improves our resistance to many diseases by mediating production of interleukins, natural killer cells, cytokines, lymphocytes, cortisol, norepinephrine, among other factors.

This isn’t so easy to do when your livelihood and safety are under chronic stress. Some well studied measures can reduce stress and thus improve your resilience and ability to cope with infection. These will vary from person to person.

For some, it’s regular exercise, for others, it’s meditation, prayer, imagery, mindfulness, journaling, watching funny movies, laughter, walking in the forest, taking a sauna, getting enough sleep, being with friends and loved ones. In other words, self-nurturance, and putting on your own oxygen mask first to recover from the toll daily stress takes.

Because severe COVID-19 infections kill by an overheated inflammatory response, it makes sense to dampen down silent background inflammation. Do this with an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, fish and fish oil, dark chocolate, red wine and olive oil.

Look up the Mediterranean diet online for details. It’s available for various cultural and ethnic preferences. More of us are cooking at home, so here’s an opportunity for positive and long-lasting dietary change.

Finally, there are a few biological agents that offer promise and have a history of potential utility against things like the common cold and flu. Bear in mind though that these haven’t been tested against COVID-19. Some to consider are vitamins C and D, with some sunshine, and zinc. Botanicals that may be helpful or even preventive are elderberry, echinacea and andrographis.

Be brave as we go forward. Adapt, consider these immune-boosting options, and emerge stronger than you were before. Keep up the hygiene measures and hand washing too.

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.” — Oprah Winfrey

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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