By May 1, all Americans will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Five states (Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia) have already opened vaccines to all adults over 16, with others planning to follow.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, side effects of the vaccines can include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, as well as possible fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, chills and muscle pain. These symptoms are actually a good sign that your body is building immunity, and they will usually pass in a few days (if they do not, call your doctor), the CDC advises.
But there are small steps you can take to lessen those side effects, and many of them have to do with your diet.
Helpful foods and beverages for dealing with vaccine side effects
Obviously, it’s not fun feeling under the weather for a few days, which is especially possible after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. “Budget for adequate rest and sleep when taking the vaccine, and maybe going easy on exercise,” advises Dr. Ronald Hoffman, a New York City integrative physician. Beyond that, he said, there are some simple do’s and don’ts in terms of food and drink.
Do: Try ginger tea for nausea
Ginger has a reputation as an excellent and safe traditional remedy for gastrointestinal complaints. Ginger tea is easy to make, and a simple recipe can be found here.
Don’t: Fast or do anything “drastic like juicing or detox”
“The development of immunity depends on the body ‘reading’ instructions from the vaccine and synthesizing antibodies and white blood cells, which requires adequate protein in the diet,” Hoffman said.
Do: Hydrate with healthy fluids
From water to tea to your favorite flavored sparkling water, drink up. The fever a vaccine may induce can lead to dehydration.
Do: Eat a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet
Try to start eating especially healthy a few weeks ahead of your appointment for a vaccine. A Mediterranean-style diet is known to have anti-inflammatory effects, but it’ll take a few weeks to kick in.
“Preconditioning your body for a few weeks beforehand makes more sense than just being abstemious in the immediate aftermath of the shot,” Hoffman said.
The diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy Omega-3 and monounsaturated fats (like those in olive oil), fish, poultry, beans and eggs. Dairy and red meat are limited. One study found that individuals over 65 years of age who ate five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day had a stronger immune response to a pneumococcal vaccine than peers who ate two servings or fewer.
Do: Consider eating a low glycemic index diet for at least a few days after the vaccine
A low glycemic index diet will keep your blood sugar steady. Research centered around diabetes has shown that lower glucose levels tend to be anti-inflammatory. In general, foods that keep blood sugar at healthy levels include green vegetables, most beans, whole grains and multigrain breads, fruits like berries and apples, and of course healthy lean proteins, eggs and nuts.
Do: Turn to that favorite remedy of all time, chicken soup
A nice healing broth with many well-cooked veggies is easy to digest and nourishing.
Do: Fine-tune your gut health to increase your immune response
Across the human population, immune response to vaccines varies. Some of this depends on age — as we get older, our immunity wanes. Some of it depends on individual variation. And some of it depends on the type of vaccine you receive.
An important aspect of vaccine response, and of immunity in general, is a healthy gut microbiome, said Dr. Todd Born, a naturopathic physician and certified nutrition specialist in Washington. Not only are vaccine responses variable, but Born said that a healthy gut microbiome has been shown in scientific studies to increase immune response to vaccines.
“A diverse and healthy microbial community in the gut will influence the immune system directly,” Born told HuffPost.
Born recommends a high-fiber diet and fermented foods, and to “start two weeks before the vaccine and continue for a minimum of two weeks after.”
“Fiber-rich diets encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria that support the immune response,” he explained. And fermented foods ― from yogurt and kefir to kimchi and sauerkraut ― can help enhance the gut microbes that support immune response.
Studies have actually shown that some common probiotic organisms, such as lactobacillus rhamnosus, can improve the antibody response to vaccines. This and other healthy lactobacilli can be found in products in your supermarket ― these include kefir, yogurt, and some fermented beverages.
Born also likes a homemade “immune support” soup, which he often recommends to patients during cold and flu season. He recommended adding chopped onion and garlic, grated ginger, juice from half a lemon, fresh minced parsley and one grated carrot to a quart of miso, chicken or mushroom broth. Simmer for 15 minutes and add the parsley and lemon juice at the end.
While you sip that nourishing soup and let your immune system do its work, play some uplifting music and make a gratitude list. Thirty years of research has shown that stress, depression and loneliness can impair the immune system’s response to vaccines.
So, nourish your body with healthy food and drink, stay hydrated, rest well and be of good cheer. You’ll be giving your immune system the best chance to respond well to the vaccine and to recover quickly.
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