Top ten tips to support your immune system naturally during a pandemic
Most of our lives have been turned upside down by Coronavirus aka COVID-19. Working from home, minimal contact with the outside world and social distancing has become the new normal. Other than following the government guidelines of staying home and washing our hands there are some simple things we can all do to protect ourselves nutritionally. Our immune systems are our first line of defence against bacteria, virus’ and pathogens. Its main aim is to protect against invaders and maintain harmony within our bodies. As food provides the fuel for us to stay healthy and for our immune systems to function efficiently, it makes sense that we pay attention to what we are consuming now more than ever. I have created my top ten list of things you can do to ensure your immune system is fighting fit:
1. Drink enough water
Water is essential for life. Water carries oxygen to our cells so if we are dehydrated our body systems can’t function efficiently. Water also helps to cleanse toxins from the body, if there is a build-up of toxins our immune systems can become overburdened so it’s important to drink water to prevent the build-up of toxins. Aim to drink 2 litres of water daily to keep your cells hydrated. An easy way to keep track is to use a water bottle, alarm or water tracker app to remind you to drink! If you find water to be too plain add some berries, herbs or citrus fruits for added vitamins and flavour.
2. Eat the rainbow!
Aim to eat as many different colours of fruits and vegetables as you can. Why? Because the different colours have different beneficial properties. For example, yellow peppers, pineapple and carrots are high in vitamin C and beta-carotene which is a precursor for vitamin A. Green veggies like broccoli, kale and spinach are high in B vitamins, vitamin C, E and K. Purple fruit and veg such as berries and beetroots are rich in anthocyanins which benefit brain health, help to lower inflammation, and fight cancer and heart disease. These colourful foods will ensure you will be getting enough vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals needed to combat disease and help keep your immune system fit and healthy! I would say aim to eat at least 7 fist-sized portions of fruit and vegetables a day as your natural multivitamin defence.
3. Eat Protein with every meal
Protein is vital in the production, repair and maintenance of body tissues. Our immune system’s ability to fight bacterial and viral infection relies on protein and too little can cause weakness, fatigue and poor immunity. Our immune cells and antibodies that help fight off disease are synthesised by new proteins so we must aim to eat protein with each meal to give ourselves a fighting chance. Aim to eat good quality grass-fed meats, organic free-range poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish or organic soy, quinoa and beans to get the most out of your protein with each meal.
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a vital micronutrient needed for our overall health but most notably known to help our immune systems. A powerful antioxidant that supports various cellular functions. It can be found in foods like broccoli, bell peppers, leafy greens, strawberries, kiwis, tomatoes, potatoes and of course citrus fruits. Studies show that daily vitamin c supplementation has been consistently proven to reduce the duration of the common cold. However, these therapeutic benefits were seen mostly in individuals with a low dietary intake of vitamin c. Therefore, I would advise you to use food first! Once your nutrient status is up you could supplement as and when required. If you would like more information on supplementation you should see a registered nutritional therapist for more information on how to supplement safely.
5. The Sunshine Vitamin
The all-important sunshine vitamin! Vitamin D is synthesised from the sun's exposure onto our skin. Generally, we should aim to get some sun exposure for at least 30 minutes a day. Vitamin D can also be found in small doses in foods such as oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon, herring), red meat and eggs. Vitamin D is a powerful immune modulator and low vitamin D levels are associated with a poor immune response. If you are thinking about supplementing it is useful to note that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which stores within the body. Therefore, it is important to get your blood levels checked before supplementing. Too much of it can be toxic! Companies such as Thriva and Medichecks do at-home finger- prick test kits for about £40. Depending on your blood results, I would advise you to seek professional guidance on whether supplementation is required. This will ensure your safety with an adequate dosing protocol.
6. Sleep your way to health
Sleep is a powerful restorative process. Whilst excess sleep is not necessarily beneficial, studies show that a lack of sleep can impair your immune systems ability to fight off virus’ and recover quickly from colds and flu. While you sleep your body produces and releases cytokines, a type of protein that protects you against infection and inflammation. Aim to get 8 hours of good quality sleep each night to support your immune system, protect against heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Sleep hack! If your sleep was interrupted overnight you can always take a quick 20-minute nap in the day to help offset the negative impact of sleep loss on the immune system.
7. Probiotics for gut health
Roughly 70% of your entire immune system resides in your gut! Our gut is home for a very large number of microbes known as the gut microbiome. Our immune systems work together with our gut microbiomes to keep us healthy so it’s important to ensure the right microbes are in place. Some probiotic-rich foods you can incorporate into your diet to boost healthy microbes include; yoghurt (with live cultures that aren’t destroyed during processing), kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickles (without vinegar) and certain cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar and gouda). If you have gut issues consult with a Nutritional Therapist who can best advise whether you need probiotic supplementation and if so, which ones would be suitable for you.
8. Shall I buy supplements?
While it can be tempting to buy all sorts of 'immune-boosting' supplements online, I feel sticking to the basics is key. Good quality food, movement, adequate rest and hydration will be a lot more beneficial for you than any product you can buy. You also run the risk of buying poor quality supplements full of buffers, fillers and excipients which do more harm then good! However, that being said, many great quality supplements can be used therapeutically to suit your individual needs. Working with a Nutritional Therapist who knows how to use supplements safely and effectively is advised. 9. Exercise Daily
During the lockdown, exercise may be the one opportunity we have to get outside. Talking a walk-in nature, riding your bike at a safe distance or even doing a workout online at home can be a great way to keep your body moving and your mind occupied. A group of studies on the effects of physical activity on health showed that there is a direct correlation between increased exercise and fitness with increased overall health. There was also a reduced risk of chronic diseases and premature death. Specifically, for immune health, studies show that physical exercise allows for the recirculation of key immune cells and helps to mediate an anti-inflammatory response. Lastly but certainly not least, regular exercise reduces the incidence of anxiety, depression, negative moods and also improves self-esteem and cognitive function. Try out my favourite go-to fitness videos on Youtube; fitness blender for free at home workouts, and HITT routines, & yoga with Adriene for free yoga courses. And, if you are safe isolating with kids try P.E. with Joe Wicks every morning live at 9 am, cosmic kids for imaginative children's yoga and & go noodle for children's fitness and dances.
10. Be kind to yourself
The current state of affairs is stressful for all of us, be kind to yourself! We’re all being forced to turn our routines upside down and for many of us forgo the things that keep us grounded such as socialising and going to work. Studies show stress negatively impacts your immune system’s ability to fight bugs. Our stress hormone cortisol dampens our immune response by limiting the release of our white blood cells that help fight off infection. So, try to stay positive, get creative, socialise online with friends, play games and quizzes or you can even have a virtual dinner party together! Try breathing techniques or a meditation app such as Calm or Headspace to help curb stress and anxiety when you feel it bubbling under the surface.
Of course, it is worth mentioning here there are a few things we should be avoiding to keep our immune systems healthy too:
Excess Alcohol – An ‘anti-nutrient’ that depletes your b vitamins and dehydrates you. Processed foods – Overburdens your liver with toxins. Trans fats – Raises cholesterol levels and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Negative emotions – Scientifically proven to dampen the immune response.
While all this information can be daunting, it can also be empowering! There is so much we are still in control of during these uncertain times and if we take it one step at a time and focus on our health, we can get through this. I hope this information helps you build up your immune system for the coming weeks. This is by no means an exhaustive list so if you would like more information please feel free to contact me for an online consultation to get some one-on-one support with your nutrition.
In great health,
Lucy De Gregorio
Registered Nutritional Therapist & Registered Nurse Nourished by Lucy https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5091071/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29099763 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/ https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006993/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30673668 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/