Wow – what a surreal time it is for us all. Since the lockdown announcement last week, a lot of my clients are understandably worried and have asked me how they can best support their and their family’s immunity during this time. I firstly want to point out that the most important thing you can be doing right now to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to stay indoors, if you do go out – social distancing is paramount and to wash your hands frequently with soapy water.
It is also important to understand that no supplement, diet or herb can protect you from COVID-19, however there are ways to keep your immune system functioning optimally, which can help to keep you healthy and give you a sense of control in this uncertain time. These include maintaining good nutrition, being physically active, managing stress and getting adequate sleep.
KEY NUTRIENTS TO SUPPORT IMMUNITY
There are a number of different nutrients involved in supporting our immune systems to function optimally so that we can deal with infections. The most researched nutrients that have shown to be protective and needed for proper immunity are Vitamin A, C, D and zinc. I recommend getting these nutrients from foods, fresh or frozen, as much as possible (stock up on your next food shop) and if necessary to supplement.
- VITAMIN A – works by helping antibodies respond to toxins and foreign substances
Best sources – liver (especially beef or chicken), eggs, and foods high in beta-carotene that converts to vitamin A in the body which include carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, spinach, sweet peppers and broccoli.
- VITAMIN C – helps immune cells attack pathogens, helps clear away old immune cells from the site of infection and helps to maintain the skin, our external barrier to infection.
Best sources – citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins), broccoli, kiwi fruit, berries, tomatoes and red/green peppers.
- VITAMIN D – helps to modulate the immune response. Its specific role is not clear but deficiency in this vitamin is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. Unfortunately, a lot of us who live in the UK are low in this vital vitamin due to lack of sunlight (the sun boosts our vitamin D stores) and it may be worthwhile getting your levels tested to see if supplementation is needed. A simple test to check your vitamin D status can be done via the vitamindtest.org.uk website and results take around 7 working days.
Best sources: Small amounts can be found in eggs, butter, oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel) and mushrooms.
- ZINC – helps produce new immune cells and develop ‘natural killer cells’ that help to fight off viruses and supports communication between immune cells. Many zinc-rich foods have the added bonus of being high in protein, which is also key for immunity.
Best sources: Seafood (especially oysters!), grass fed meat and poultry, chickpeas, eggs, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
IMPROVE YOUR GUT HEALTH TO SUPPORT IMMUNITY
Did you know that 70-80% of our immune cells are housed in the gut wall? Recent research has shown that the gut microbiome (our digestive flora) plays an essential role in the body’s immune response to and in maintaining overall health. Gut bacteria produce many beneficial chemicals and also activate vitamin A in food, which helps to regulate the immune system.
The best way to improve your gut micobiome is by eating a wide variety of fiber rich foods especially high in prebiotics and probiotics as these will work together to maintain a health digestive system. Prebiotics are non-digestible component of food, which feed the “friendly” gut bacteria (probiotics).
Prebiotics – apples, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, chicory, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, legumes, leeks, onions and whole grains.
Probiotics – sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and natural yoghurt. Luckily a lot of these foods are now readily available at your local supermarket.
For extra immune support, add the below to your cooking as much as possible:
- Herbs – fresh or dried. Try oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, turmeric, ginger and/or garlic – all these herbs are antimicrobial and have anti-inflammatory effects and a wonderful way of adding extra flavour to your meals.
- Shiitake Mushrooms: these contains a powerhouse of beta-glucans which make up the mushroom cell walls and stimulate the immune system. Delicious added to stir-fries.
MEDICINAL HERBS TO SUPPORT IMMUNITY AND FIGHT INFECTION
Herbal medicines have long been used to support immunity and treat and prevent viral respiratory infections. Here are nature’s best three:
ELDERBERRY ORGANIC TINCTURE
Nature’s Potent Antiviral
Elderberries are naturally high in vitamin A and C, flavonoids and antioxidants – all important nutrients for the immune system. Studies of Elderberry have shown it to be an effective antiviral, preventing cold and flu viruses from replicating and shortening the duration and severity of the common flu. I love to drink it with fresh thyme (also antiviral) and you can also add some honey to sweeten if desired.
ECHINACEA ORGANIC TINCTURE
Powerful immune booster
Echinacea is used extensively to support the immune system, treat colds and flu, fight infection and reduce inflammation. Several double blind studies have confirmed that Echinacea not only makes colds shorter and less severe, but that it can stop a cold that is just starting if taken at first sign of symptoms.
ASTRAGALUS ROOT TINCTURE
Tonic for the immune system
Astragalus is a herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to support immunity and acts as an overall body tonic. It is highly beneficial for anyone who experiences fatigue, low vitality, and frequent recurring infections. Astraglaus is most effective taken long term during the winter months to build up a natural resistance. If you start to get a cold or fever, I recommend stopping Astraglaus and taking Echinacea or Elderberry tinctures instead.
PLEASE NOTE: With all of these herbs – as they boost the immune system, caution should be made by anyone who is on immune-suppressive therapy, such as people with autoimmune diseases and those who have received organ transplants.
And last but not least, daily practices you can be doing in lockdown to support your immunity…
Even though we’ve been asked to stay indoors, now is not the time to quit all exercise. Working out on a regular basis has been scientifically proven to boost the immune system. Regular exercise mobilises the T cells, a type of white blood cell that guards the body against infection. However, continuous rigorous workout weakens the immune system, so don’t go overboard either. We are allowed one walk a day – I recommend it! If you do have a garden exercising outside would be ideal. Lots of PTs are now offering workouts online. Joe Wicks is doing a 9am PE session for all children that I am joining in as well. Exercise will also help your mental health and boost morale – especially if you do it outside!
You may be experiencing anxiety at the moment in these uncertain times and feeling overwhelmed and scared. This is all understandable but learning to manage your stress levels is paramount for healthy immunity. I recommend switching off the news whenever you feel stressed, go outside, call a friend, practice mindfulness and breathe slowly. Engage in activities that you find enjoyable and relaxing, such as reading, gardening, cooking, painting, yoga or journaling etc. I also recommend you make a little oasis in the corner of your home to snuggle up, light a candle, listen to some relaxing music and enjoy a cup of tea .
Sleep deprivation reduces the effectiveness of the immune system so it is important you get enough. As you can now binge on Netflix during the day if you wish, switch it off at night! Try and get to bed by 10-10.30pm. No screen time before bed as this can affect your melatonin production. If you have trouble sleeping, check out my blog here for helpful tips.
Hope this helps and stay safe!