How to keep your immune system healthy
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has brought the whole world into surreal and uncertain times. Healthcare systems are being pushed well above the limits and supermarkets report panic buying on a scale never seen before. Cases continue to rise and we are starting to see the impact of this virus on our whole infrastructure. On a lighter note, toilet rolls in particular seem to be having their 15 minutes of fame. A crisis like this brings out the best and the worst in humanity. We really need the best of us more than ever right now.
We must not forget, in all the panic and fights over food, there have also been some wonderful stories of kindness and community. It is only natural to feel worried and helpless when we are surrounded by so much news about an enemy we cannot see or hear. There is a lot of misinformation and miracle cures which could actually do more harm than good, so little is known about COVID-19. The FDA has issued warnings to companies marketing products to prevent or cure the virus.
Be Prepared and prepare to adapt
We are all learning as we go along but we can choose to lean into the curve and dig deeper, rather than resist and panic. Try to find some positive things you can still do during self-isolation. Home workouts, music, reading, cooking new recipes, contacting family and friends for a chat or spring cleaning your home. As we all try to adapt and the world learns how to navigate this new territory, take some comfort from knowing that there are many things you can do to help support your health and your immune system.
Wash your hands often
The COVID-19 coronavirus is extremely contagious. Hand washing, social distancing and self isolation are most important. Toilet roll not so much! We can also use diet and lifestyle to improve our general health, and keep our immune system as robust as possible so that we have the best chance of fighting the virus. The whole world feels crazy and out of control at the moment. Thankfully, the food we eat and the way we live is something we do have some control over. We can take responsibility for our own health and well-being.
Evidence-based nutrition support for your immune system
There is no evidence that nutritional measures can help protect against or lessen the effects of coronavirus COVID-19. Good hygiene practices such as frequent and thorough hand-washing remain the best way to avoid infection.
We cannot ‘boost’ our immune system through diet but we can support it naturally, so that it can do it’s job effectively. To date we do not know of any medication, specific diet or isolated supplement that will prevent or cure coronavirus. However, we can support normal health and the immune system before, during and after infection with a nutrient dense diet and a healthy lifestyle. Immunity is the core of our health, well-being and longevity. Malnutrition leaves us more vulnerable to illness in general.
How does diet help with immunity?
Take this time as an opportunity to rise above the panic and think about your general health and well-being. Food is information for our cells, what we eat everyday impacts our whole body and our resistance to disease.
Focus on your overall nutrition, staying hydrated, reducing stress and cultivating a positive mindset, getting a good nights sleep, and daily exercise. Increase your intake of antioxidants and anti inflammatory foods from fruit, vegetables. Aim to eat the rainbow by consuming as many different fruits and vegetables as possible. Increase your intake of whole grains and reduce any refined carbohydrates like sugar, white bread, and processed food. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir can be beneficial for gut health which also supports immunity.
Reduce your alcohol intake, too much may lower your immunity. Stay hydrated with water and herbal teas. Try to meal prep nutrient dense foods so that you and your family have healthy meals and snacks readily available, cook double portions to freeze in advance.
Nutrients that support your immune system
There are certain nutrients that help support immunity, especially when consumed from whole foods as part of a balanced diet.
Selenium is required for the synthesis of antibodies as well as the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer cells which fight both bacterial and viral infections. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, shellfish, fresh tuna, tofu, mushrooms and chicken.
Zinc has antibacterial effects in the body and helps to protect against viral infections like the common cold. Zinc is found in shellfish, tofu, eggs, red meat, quinoa, lentils, nuts and seeds. Long term supplementation may be problematic.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to reduce the length of virus infections. It is found in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, kiwi, kale, peppers and broccoli.
Vitamin A helps with innate immunity as a first line of defence by maintaining the integrity of mucosal cells in the gastrointestinal and respiratory system. It is highest in orange and yellow fruit and vegetables, spinach and broccoli. High doses of vitamin A in supplements may be harmful.
Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune response. It has also been shown to protect against respiratory tract infections. Levels of vitamin D can be depleted during winter months due to lack of sunlight. It is more difficult to get adequate amounts through food so it is normally recommended to supplement during the winter months, October to April. However, too much vitamin D can be toxic so I normally advise testing your level before supplementing.
I generally advise sourcing nutrients from whole foods by eating a varied and balanced diet, but sometimes in certain circumstances it can be beneficial to supplement certain nutrients.