The 5 Best Nutrients & Practices For Immunity, According To Longevity Expert David Sinclair, PhD
You might think of longevity a little differently nowadays. Amid a global pandemic, shouldn't we focus on how to stay healthy in the here-and-now rather than as we age? But with a COVID-19 lens, longevity and immunity are two sides of the same coin. After all, a strong immune system has been shown to be paramount for fighting off the virus and lowering mortality.
It's exactly why we consulted longevity expert and Harvard geneticist David Sinclair, Ph.D., on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. He's accomplished years upon years of research on how to treat rare diseases and promote longevity, but as COVID-19 has spread around the globe, he's shifted his focus to how we can alleviate symptoms and increase survival.
Especially now, he says, "We can't take our health for granted. It's the most important thing we possess." That said, finding ways to optimize our longevity is crucial—and it starts with immunity. Here, Sinclair's five best practices to enhance our immune systems and support our longevity genes. With the right nutrients, you can be better prepared to prevent and face infection:
Get adequate levels of vitamin D.
"There's no disagreement between scientists and doctors that vitamin D is important for the immune system," Sinclair tells me. Especially for people who are unable to go outside (even for a five-minute social distancing stroll), like the elderly, or during the winter for those in higher latitudes.
Since even before the coronavirus pandemic, our vitamin D levels have been less than satisfactory, says Sinclair. Which is something to consider, as our immune cells depend on vitamin D to function properly. When we have inadequate levels of the sunshine vitamin, our immune systems can take quite a hit.
That's why "people who have about 40 to 60 ng/mL per milliliter of vitamin D in their blood tend to have the lowest mortality," Sinclair mentions. "But they also do better when they get viral infections." So during quarantine, you might want to load up on eggs and sardines (both vitamin D-rich foods) or try supplementing with the vitamin. However, Sinclair mentions that it is possible to overdo it. "It's possible to have too much vitamin D," he says, so you'll want to make sure you're in that 40 to 60 ng/mL sweet spot.
Load up on alpha-lipoic acid.
This nutrient is typically known for its involvement in energy production, as it can boost your body's ability to make energy through mitochondria. But, as Sinclair notes, the benefits don't stop there: "One of the first signs of COVID-19 is a loss of smell," he states. "Alpha-lipoic acid can restore the ability if that happens."
Sinclair is currently taking it, himself, as a preventive (you can consume it in supplement form), but he mentions that even if he did catch the disease, taking it might help him restore that sense of smell.
Raise NAD levels in the body.
According to Sinclair, the coronavirus is depleting the body's NAD levels, which is critical for energy metabolism and maintaining proper cell functioning: "Raising NAD levels in the body can help fight against chronic age-related diseases and infections," Sinclair notes.
While we always want to keep our NAD levels up, we especially don't want them to rapidly decline with COVID-19: "It does two bad things," Sinclair says. "One, the immune system might not function really well, which can lead to that hyperimmune cytokine storm. And the second is that sirtuins, the protectors of your body, also need NAD—without it, they won't fight the infection as well."
Try a hot sauna.
While experts are still debating whether or not heat can slow the spread of the coronavirus, Sinclair loves the sauna for a different reason: hormesis. "If you send your body into a state of shock, whether it's hunger, running, or raising the temperature in your lungs or nose, your body will fight back and turn on those longevity genes," he explains.
That's where the sauna comes in. Evidence suggests, says Sinclair, that this type of hormesis correlates with improved cardiovascular disease and immunity. "It makes a lot of sense that saunas can be beneficial during these times," Sinclair continues.
Of course, you can overdo hormesis (no matter what kind), so be careful you're not pushing your body too hard. According to Sinclair, overdoing it can cause your body to backfire and actually become weaker instead.
Stay in shape now, to stave off inflammation later.
"There's never a better time to get in shape, so as we get to 60-, 70-, and 80-years-old, we aren't as susceptible to these infections," Sinclair notes. While a lot of information about COVID-19 remains unknown (such as what causes an otherwise healthy individual to react poorly to the virus, while others walk away scot-free), Sinclair says it may have to do with our longevity genes.
One way to ensure those longevity genes are up to par is to prioritize your health now—namely, diet and exercise. "The more obese you are, the more inflammation you have to begin with," Sinclair says. "Even if you're young and obese, it predisposes you to dying from things like infection." So even while we're in self-isolation, maintain your workout routine (there are plenty of easy at-home options to choose from) and try to eat a balanced diet.
While a treat once in a while won't be make-or-break, it's more important now than ever to make sure your body is strong and ready to fight whatever virus or infection may come your way. After all: "Your health matters," Sinclair tells me. "Not just for the future, but right now."
Enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.