Immunity is the name of the game. No it doesn’t mean you can literally become immune to Covid-19; instead it’s about building up your natural immunity, so that your body is able to fight it better. Here are some of the things you can do that are scientifically proven to help prime your immune system be in the best shape possible to fight the good fight.
Stress affects your body in lots of different ways. The momentary “fight or flight” adrenaline rush from sudden stress, can be very useful for us. But when stress becomes more chronic or long-term, it tends to suppress the immune system.
The big stress in people’s lives at the moment is the impact of Coronavirus itself, and that is likely to be with us for many months to come. So, this is a key area to try to manage better.
Try to do things that you know have helped you to de-stress you in the past. This could include taking the time for a relaxing Epsom salt bath, finding things to laugh about, meditation, doing some gardening, moving more or taking gentle exercise (I’ll come to exercise later below). Talking and connecting with friends and family over the phone are also known ways to reduce stress.
Watch out over the next few months: the conditions are ripe for an increase in both relationship breakups and pregnancies as we spend more time in closer proximity with a very small number of people! So, remember to consider their needs as well as your own and take the chance to rebuild disconnected relationships.
Chronic inflammation is a form of physical stress or injury on your body that happens when your immune system reacts to something, causing internal tissue to become inflamed. Just because you can’t see it as a red rash and it’s not painful doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Inflammation comes from a lot of things and can be affected by the food you eat. So, take the time to home prepare food with real food ingredients. Many people find cooking a relaxing way to de-stress and wind down.
Avoid foods and drinks with excess added sugar like fizzy drinks, sweetened cereals and sweets; foods containing white flour like biscuits, pastries and white bread; deep-fried food and ultra-processed convenience foods such as ready meals; and especially anything where there’s an ingredient on the label you don’t recognise.
Foods that are known to be anti-inflammatory include berries, oily fish, green vegetables, brightly coloured vegetables like peppers, carrots and broccoli, garlic and turmeric. Dark chocolate also contains anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
Getting enough good quality sleep is often not an option for some people. But it’s really worth trying new ways to crack this because it’s a super important area to get right for immunity. Try to keep your sleep routine regular and aim for 7-8 hours for adults and 10-12 hours for kids. A long lie in and then an early night is almost bound to leave you finding it difficult to sleep the second night.
Avoid caffeine after midday and eating too much in the evening. Look to eat sleepy foods such as complex carbs (eg. oats), bananas, nuts, cottage cheese, and some herbal teas to help you wind down. A long warm Epsom salt bath which contains lovely soothing magnesium is an easy way to induce sleepiness.
Avoid telephone and tablet screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime as they often emit blue light which hinders our ability to make melatonin, important to help us get to sleep. Spending time outside, especially in the morning gives us the natural light which can help to reset our circadian rhythm. You might also want to try taking some Montmorency Tart Cherry juice or capsules in the evening to naturally boost up melatonin production and this also helps to improve sleep quality. Other herb and spice sleepy options include lavender, chamomile, saffron and hops.
Exercise and movement is so important for health, but you may need to do it at home, instead of going to the gym where you could catch or spread the virus. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a thriving home gym equipment market bubbling away soon! We have a great mini trampoline at home, that my husband especially swears by. Simply running up and down stairs or doing squats whilst the kettle boils helps too.
I’ve seen concerns that excessive exercise can diminish the immune system. But we’re only really talking about extreme fitness, and the evidence for this effect is not strong anyway.
Try to cut down if you drink too much. A little alcohol can be beneficial to health but too much may lower your immunity and can make you more susceptible to pneumonia. So please drink responsibly.
Wash your hands
You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again. Go and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap. Soap is amazing at dispersing and breaking down viruses. Scrub under your fingernails and up your wrists.
Cough or sneeze into your elbow
Doing it into your hands is icky. Just cough into your elbow instead. Think about it. What are you going to do next if you’ve coughed into your hands?
😲 Wipe them on your trousers?
🙄 Put your hand on a door handle
😳 Shake hands with someone else
You can use a tissue, but BIN IT straight away, and then wash your hands without touching any doors or door handles on the way.
Don’t share towels
We have a kitchen towel on a dispenser in the loo, and a bin underneath, so people can dry their hands hygienically.
Alcohol is also very effective at killing viruses, but it must be above 65% alcohol. Try to carry around a little tube of it.
Your gut microbiome plays a massive part in your health and immunity. So, feed it well with microbiome boosting foods. I often say eat the rainbow and this means aim to eat as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as you can. Load up on the vegetables, frozen or fresh. Pulses, nuts, seeds and wholegrains help too, as do olive oil, green tea and cocoa.
If you have access to fermented foods like live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, miso or kombucha then even better! You may want to give it an extra helping hand with probiotics and kefir at this time of year and we suggest a blend containing Kefir, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains which are known to support core immunity and modulate inflammatory cytokine activity.
Vitamins & Minerals
- Vitamin A is a key nutrient needed for immunity. Luckily it is found in lots of healthy day to day orange and yellow foods like carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, mango, liver and butter (the yellower the butter the better). It has been found to be useful to combat a broad range of infections including viruses.
- Vitamin C is used by the immune system in fighting off viruses. Most of the time, we naturally eat plenty of it in our fresh fruit and veg, but when our immune system is actually fighting off illness, it can become depleted. It has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold. However the evidence varies. Research is being conducted on ultra-high intravenous doses for treating Coronavirus. There’s no evidence it can prevent viruses attacking in the first place.
- Vitamin D is needed to produce the antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria. So it’s important not to have a deficiency, which often happens at this time of year. Research has shown that it can help avoid respiratory infections. The government recommends supplementing vitamin D for bone health during the winter, when we aren’t getting any from the sun.
- Zinc is a super important mineral needed to build a healthy immune system and is well established as a key anti-viral mineral. It tends to get depleted easily when children are growing, especially during puberty. The elderly tend to get deficient and so can those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Those at risk of a zinc deficiency are those who have had gastric surgery, inflammatory bowel disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or alcoholism. The main zinc food source is oysters (there has been a run on tinned smoked oysters in the supermarkets already!) but you can also get some from day to day foods like meat, dairy, eggs, shellfish, pulses, seeds and nuts.
- Selenium is another important immunity mineral and it is thought that you suffer more from the effect of a virus if you don’t have enough selenium stores. Those at risk of a selenium deficiency are those with hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroid conditions like Hashimotos thyroiditis, as are those people with nut allergies or people who follow a vegetarian diet. Brazil nuts are the best food source and you can also get small amounts in yellowfin tuna, pork and ham, beef, turkey and chicken.
Bonus: Interesting, Safe & Promising Food Supplements
The following are not scientifically proven to treat Covid-19 for at least the obvious reason that the extensive trials which would be necessary are simply not possible in the time frame, but I hope more research is done on them, because they seem promising.
- Black Elderberry is a bit of a wonder food for immunity as it has been shown to increase both pro-inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and reduce oxidative stress and may help to regulate inflammatory disease like autoimmunity. It also has anti-viral properties that have been shown to reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms. Products that include Black Elderberry include Sambucol and Bee Prepared Immune Support.
- Quercetin is a plant pigment found in many foods such as red onions, apples, and red peppers. It has been proposed as a potential antiviral treatment for Covid-19, since it has been successful at treating Ebola and Zika viruses. It has also successfully helped to reduce the inflammatory damage in cases of pneumonia. Promising results have also been found in trials for those with other inflammatory respiratory conditions such as asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as helping to reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
- N Acetyl Cysteine – Researched extensively during the avian influenza (or “bird flu”) epidemic, NAC was found to inhibit viral replication. It seems to particularly help the elderly cope with flu and it can be taken in the longer term to support immunity.