How to keep Your Immune System Healthy

How to keep Your Immune System Healthy

The 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 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 this virus. The FDA has issued warnings to companies marketing products to prevent or cure the COVID-19 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 and social distancing. 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

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.

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.

It is well known that a nutrient dense diet and healthy lifestyle reduces the risk and severity of viral infections. Researchers at the University College London and the University of Edinburgh have recently suggested that simple healthy lifestyle changes could lower the risk and severity of COVID-19 infection.

Evidence-based nutrition support for your immune system

We cannot ‘boost’ our immune system through diet but we can support it naturally, so that it can do it’s job effectively. We can support normal health and the immune system before, during and after illness with a nutrient dense diet and a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition and lifestyle medicine may prove especially important for those suffering from post-viral fatigue.

Immunity is the at core of our health, well-being and longevity. Malnutrition increases mortality and leaves us more vulnerable to illness in general. Age-related chronic disease and poor metabolic health weaken our viral defences.

How does diet help with immunity?

the seeds of health method

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.

Lack of physical activity, metabolic disease, obesity, smoking, alcohol intake are known risk factors that affect our resistance to infections and viruses such as COVID-19.

Be your healthiest self

Try to 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 your immunity, especially when consumed from whole foods as part of a balanced diet. Vitamins A, C, D, E and B6, B9, B12 as well as the minerals zinc, selenium, iron and copper are all needed for optimal functioning of your immune system.

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 meat and liver, 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. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Zinc is found in shellfish, tofu, eggs, red meat and poultry, quinoa, lentils, nuts and seeds. Long term supplementation may be problematic.

Iron helps the body carry oxygen to cells and plays an important role in immune cell response. Iron comes in different forms and can be found in red meat, sardines, mussels, chicken and turkey. The best vegetarian or vegan sources are beans, broccoli and kale.

Copper is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in immune function, making red blood cells and helping the body absorb iron. Copper can be found in a wide variety of foods such as whole grains, beans, potatoes, dark leafy greens, nuts, shellfish and dried fruits.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight infections. High fat plant foods such as nuts and seeds are the best sources of vitamin E.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Supplementation at first signs of symptoms has been shown to reduce the length and severity of virus infections. It is found in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, kiwi, kale, peppers, spinach 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 dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, 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 reduce the risk and severity of influenza and 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. Food sources are more limited but vitamin D can be found in oily fish and egg yolks.

I generally advise sourcing nutrients from whole foods by eating a varied and balanced diet. In some circumstances it can be beneficial to supplement certain nutrients. This is best done with testing and the advice of a Nutrition Practitioner.

 

Please note this information is not intended as a solution or cure. Seek medical advice if you are experiencing symptoms or post-viral fatigue. Please consult a Registered Nutrition Practitioner before taking supplements or herbal remedies. This is especially important if you have underlying health conditions or you are taking medications. Herbal remedies and supplements often vary in potency, they can interact with medications and can also be toxic.

 

References & Bibliography

Nutritional and Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Immunity

Diet and Immune Function

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