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More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, with the omicron variant spiking cases nationwide, many people, including health-obsessed Angelenos, continue to look for ways to improve the strength of their immune systems. But top doctors caution that there are no quick fixes.
“Although we are conditioned to ask for a prescription or a shot, improving the immune system involves attention 24/7 and not just with respect to COVID, but to our overall general health,” says Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC chief medical correspondent and author of The Self-Care Solution. “Running to Erewhon for a shot of ginger and lemon along with loading up on supplements at the first signs of illness isn’t going to cut it. Similar to a leaking roof, the majority of people only think about their well-being when it’s threatened.”
According to Ashton, there are three indisputable pillars that set up the immune system for success — eating clean, whole foods; daily movement and exercise; and getting solid sleep. “This requires daily work and commitment, not just little bits and bursts,” she adds.
Health and wellness expert Vicky Vlachonis agrees and, like Ashton, is a proponent of an anti-inflammatory diet consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein while avoiding refined carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol and sugar as much as possible.
Vlachonis is also a promoter of potent polyphenols through her new Saint Supply Living Elixir, a high-quality drinking oil made from olives from ancient groves in southern Greece, touted by clients including Jake Gyllenhaal, Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé (who’s also an investor).
“These plant-based phytonutrients safeguard against common health problems and the effects of aging,” says Vlachonis. (A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that participants who drink more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer.)
Another supplement, vitamin D, plays a key role in supporting immunity, and medical researchers are looking into whether a deficiency can increase the risk of several illnesses from a COVID-19 infection. “But at the end of the day, surviving COVID or really any other illness is about being in the best shape you can be,” says Dr. Jeff Toll, who has a membership-based concierge practice in Beverly Hills. He says many people take more vitamins than their body can even absorb in the hope of boosting health. “I call it expensive urine,” he says.
Toll stresses that “the number one thing that anyone could have done to protect themselves while working from home [during the pandemic] is getting into cardiovascular shape. When your heart works better, when your lungs work better, you are able to fight off something better.”
Vinh Pham, the founder of Myodetox — research-backed clinics specializing in corrective exercise and myofascial treatments (with three L.A. locations) — agrees. “Given nearly everything is now done at home, our posture is slumped and we’re less physically active, leading to an effect on our body’s movement, health and sleep,” he says. Adds Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health Los Angeles, a members-only medical concierge with offices in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, “Exercise has been shown to decrease inflammation and improve immunity.”
Ample sleep means getting seven hours or more per night. “Insufficient or low-quality sleep suppresses your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections, according to multiple studies,” says Braunstein. Ashton and Vlachonis encourage short naps. “They play an important role in the rest and recharging pillar,” says Ashton.
Although frequently overlooked, dental health plays a role in immunity as well. “Oral health and systemic health are related, as the mouth is the gateway to the body,” says Dr. Matt Nejad, a biomimetic and cosmetic dentist whose clients include Beyoncé and Jay-Z. “The goal is to prevent periodontal disease, which is linked to an increase in susceptibility to viral infections and other systemic diseases.”
So — in addition to eating all those whole foods, getting plenty of rest and moving one’s body — don’t forget to brush properly for a solid two minutes and floss at least twice a day. Of course, also visit the dentist for two professional cleanings every year. (Nejad says some patients may need more than two a year depending on their oral and periodontal condition.)
This story first appeared in the Jan. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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