How to Naturally Support your Immune System to Avoid Getting the Flu and COVID-19.
With most COVID-19 infections being potentially spread by people yet to show symptoms, good hand hygiene is THE most important weapon in our fight against the spread of COVID-19.
However, it is also really important that we keep our immune system strong at this time, via healthy diet and lifestyle practices, to help us avoid and fight infection.
Here are my KEY tips:
Stay hydrated – Research shows that dehydration can compromise our body’s defences against infection (1) Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day (approx. 2 litres). Herbal infused teas are also a great option i.e. ginger and lemon, elderberry, hibiscus, peppermint, turmeric
Get a good night sleep – Sleep is a restorative process that is important for the proper functioning of the immune system (2). Aim to get 8+ hours per night.
Manage your stress – Too much stress can weaken the immune system and can leave you more susceptible to catching an infection. (3). Stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or other fun activities that you enjoy can help you manage your stress levels and have a positive impact on your immune system.
Exercise – Research shows that regular moderate exercise can help to boost the body’s defences against viruses and bacteria (4). Aim to get at least 30 minutes per day. Preferably outdoors and in nature. Exercising too strenuously can have the opposite effect of stressing the body and reducing immune function (4)
Eat a balanced nutrient-rich diet –Our nutritional status plays a very important role in our defence against infectious diseases. We need to provide our immune system with enough of all the essential vitamins and minerals that it needs to function well.
The following are the key foods for boosting immunity:
Vitamin C -rich Foods
o Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Research suggests it may help to shorten the length and severity of a cold or flu (5)
o BEST FOOD SOURCES: Bell Peppers, kiwis, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits etc.), mango, kale, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, watercress, radishes, kale etc.
Vitamin E - rich Foods
o Vitamin E, like vitamin C, is an antioxidant nutrient which plays an important role in keeping the immune system strong (6).
o BEST FOOD SOURCES: almonds, sunflower seeds, butternut squash, avocado, sweet potato etc, salmon, trout.
o Adequate iron levels are necessary for the growth and development of our immune cells - so that they can fight off infection (7)
o BEST FOOD SOURCES: red meat, fish, seafood, eggs, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, lentils, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, whole grains, nuts etc.
Zinc -rich foods
o Zinc is a really important mineral that supports our immunity in very many ways (8). Research suggests that zinc lozenges can help to shorten the duration of colds when taken within 24 hours after symptoms start (9)
o BEST FOOD SOURCES: oysters, crab, turkey, prawn, lean beef, spinach, broccoli, green beans, green peas, tomato juice, tofu, lentils, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt, swiss cheese, Ricotta cheese
Selenium - rich foods
o Selenium is a trace mineral that works in synergy with vitamin E. Research demonstrates that a selenium deficiency increase the likelihood of us catching a viral infection and if we catch one - it can make it progress much faster (10)
o BEST FOOD SOURCES: fish, offal, poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, grains, Brazil nuts.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
o Vitamin D is not only a nutrient but a hormone; among its numerous roles in the body, it stimulates the growth and development of our immune cells (11). Low vitamin D levels in calves is associated with increased levels of infection of the type of Coronavirus that appears in cows (12)
o BEST SOURCES: We can only get minimal amounts of vitamin D from certain foods i.e. liver, fish liver oils, sardines, salmon, herring, tuna, eggs. Most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight exposure - as our body makes it when our skin is exposed to the sun’s UVB rays.
o GET TESTED
Vitamin D deficiency is very common in Scotland and in the rest of the UK & Ireland, where our sun exposure is very limited for a large part of the year.
o If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels – I recommend you get a vitamin D home test (£39 from Medichecks) to check what your current level is. The safe dosage level of vitamin D supplementation that is required to correct a deficiency depends on how bad the deficiency is. Get in touch if you would like me to arrange a test kit for you.
IMMUNE BOOSTING SUPPLEMENTS
o In addition to a balanced healthy diet, there are a number of supplements that can help to boost our immunity; at a very basic level a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can be a good safeguard to cover any nutrient shortfalls in your diet.
Get in touch if you would like to have a chat about formulating a more personalized plan to help support your immunity at this time, OR if you would like any specific supplement recommendations OR if you would like me to arrange for a vitamin D home testing for you.
1. Fortes, M.B., Diment, B.C., Di Felice, U. and Walsh, N.P., 2012. Dehydration decreases saliva antimicrobial proteins important for mucosal immunity. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 37(5), pp.850-859
2. Irwin, M., 2002. Effects of sleep and sleep loss on immunity and cytokines. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 16(5), pp.503-512.
3. Perna, F.M., Schneiderman, N. and LaPerriere, A., 1997. Psychological stress, exercise and immunity. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 18(S 1), pp.S78-S83.
4. Nieman, D.C., 2011. Moderate exercise improves immunity and decreases illness rates. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 5(4), pp.338-345.
5. Hunter, D.C., Skinner, M.A., Wolber, F.M., Booth, C.L., Loh, J.M., Wohlers, M., Stevenson, L.M. and Kruger, M.C., 2012. Consumption of gold kiwifruit reduces severity and duration of selected upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and increases plasma vitamin C concentration in healthy older adults. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(7), pp.1235-1245.
6. A Puertollano, M., Puertollano, E., Alvarez de Cienfuegos, G. and A de Pablo, M., 2011. Dietary antioxidants: immunity and host defense. Current topics in medicinal chemistry, 11(14), pp.1752-1766.
7. Soyano, A. and Gomez, M., 1999. Role of iron in immunity and its relation with infections. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutricion, 49(3 Suppl 2), pp.40S-46S.
8. Maares, M. and Haase, H., 2016. Zinc and immunity: An essential interrelation. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 611, pp.58-65.
9. Hemilä, H., 2011. Zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of colds: a systematic review. The open respiratory medicine journal, 5, p.51.
10. Beck MA, Nelson HK, Shi Q, et al. Selenium deficiency increases the pathology of an influenza virus infection. FASEB J. 2001;15:1481‐1483
11. Holick MF. Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80:1678S‐1688S.
12. Nonnecke BJ, McGill JL, Ridpath JF, Sacco RE, Lippolis JD, Reinhardt TA. Acute phase response elicited by experimental bovine diarrhea virus (BVDV) infection is associated with decreased vitamin D and E status of vitamin‐replete preruminant calves. J Dairy Sci. 2014;97:5566‐5579. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2014‐8293