Are you regularly washing your hands, stocking up on hand sanitiser, being super mindful to not touch your face and now working from home… all because of coronavirus? Interested in knowing what else can you do?
Whilst there is currently no vaccine for this Coronavirus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), many experts are highlighting that this is an opportune time for the public to take a holistic approach to general health maintenance. While the suggestions below will not make you invincible, they are sensible and easy steps you can take to help strengthen your natural defences against viruses, colds and flu and keep yourself as healthy as possible.
Follow the public health advice… whatever your age
As you age your immune system actually starts to decline and this is one reason why the elderly are indeed more at risk. However this is not a time to ignore public health messages as it is important for EVERYONE ( including the young and healthy!) to take the responsibility of staying healthy seriously. This means you can avoid spreading and infecting someone more vulnerable. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus the risk of our health systems being overloaded is a cause of concern.
Practical tip: Check out the Public Health England Guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response
Yes, we are living in very strange times however stressing about it to no end is counterproductive. Stress causes an anti-inflammatory response within the body as it activates your fight-or-flight response by releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This in turn suppresses your immune system which then leaves you more susceptible to infections.
Practical tip: Don’t panic! Find a restorative way of managing your stress. Maybe try meditating, yoga or getting out in nature.
Studies have shown that a high intake of simple sugars decreases white blood cell production by up to 50%. Eating a diet based on wholefoods and loading up on antioxidant rich vegetables and fruit will boost your overall health and help protect you from other viruses and infections. On the other hand, a diet that is high in refined foods and sugars ( refined carbs including junk food and alcohol) is known to dramatically decrease your immune function. Vitamin D is another key nutrient that dampens inflammation. Recent research has shown that people with low vitamin D levels are 36% more likely to catch a cold than those who are not. The reason for this is that vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria. As it’s the sunshine vitamin and most of us don’t get enough of that over winter its recommended to take a supplement over the winter period.
Practical Tip: Feed your body nutrients not empty calories…and this is especially true when you feel run down.
Practical Tip: In my clinical experience 1000IU of D3 a day during autumn and winter is sufficient to maintain good vitamin D levels.
Strengthen your gut
The microbes in your gut not only help your body digest food, but they also help regulate your metabolism and your immune system. In fact, almost seventy percent of your immune system is in the gut. Eating fermented food (think bio-live yogurt, miso, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut) popping a probiotic or increasing dosage if you are already on one boosts the level of good bacteria in your gut. These good bacteria influence your body’s T cells, the crucial white blood cells that help power your immune system. They also help reduce inflammation which prevents infection.
Practical Tip: Eat at least one portion of fermented food each day. Or, one serving of WelleCo Super Elixir.
Your body is made up of more water than anything else, so it’s not surprising that poor hydration has a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of your immune system. Optimal hydration is important for removing toxins from the body. What is more, dehydration reduces the overall volume of blood and lymphatic fluids that are integral in a healthy immune system response.
Practical Tip. Use your urine colour to help you determine if you need to drink more water. If you are hydrated your urine will be a pale straw colour.
Exercise… but not obsessively
Exercise can be one of the best things to do to boost immunity. As a general guide, recommendations suggest you should aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week (or half an hour 5 days per week).If you start feeling run down – ease up on the exercise as too much exercise is stressful on the body and can actually dampen your immune system.
Practical tip: Listen to your body. Keep stress low, and if you're tired, then rest.
Sleep some more
Are you getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night? Getting enough sleep is crucial for a strong immunity and is also vital for a speedy recovery should you catch a virus. Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep hence being sleep deprived reduces the amount of cytokines produced and therefore reduces the infection-fighting antibodies needed. A lack of sleep also leads to an increase in the body’s level of cortisol, a stress hormone that can take a roll on your immune system. Lowering your levels of cortisol increases your immune response.
Practical Tip. Don’t sacrifice sleep even for exercise. Aim for at least seven hours a night and if you don’t get that have a nap.
Know when to reach for the zinc
While vitamin C should be part of your immune boosting regimen (think citrus fruit and fresh veg and fruit) the other nutrient that can help curb cold and flu symptoms fast is zinc. Research has shown that zinc (found in fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds) can also help shorten the duration of a cold by a few days. That’s because it has powerful immune-boosting and protective effects and studies suggest that it helps stop the replication of a cold’s cell.
Practical Tip: Reach for 15 – 25mg of zinc a day when you start feeling run down for a short-term bout (1 -2 weeks max). Remember with nutrition and particularly supplements, more is not better. Long term use of zinc can lead to a copper imbalance. Interestingly, food sources that are high in zinc are naturally balanced in zinc:copper. How cool is nature?
- Batatinha H, Biondo L, Lira F, Castell L, Rosa-Neto J. 2018. Nutrients, immune system and exercise. Where will it take us? Nutrition 61: 151
- Chandra R. 2003. Nutrient regulation of immune function. Forum Nutr 56; 147 – 148
- Karacabey K, Ozdemir N. 2012. The Effect of Nutritional Elements on the Immune System. J Obes Wt Loss Ther 2:152
- Williams N. 2010. Probiotics. Am J health Syst Pharm 67; 449 -458
- Cantorna MT, Zhao J, Yang L (2012) Vitamin D, invariant natural killer T-cells and experimental autoimmune disease. Proc Nutr Soc 71: 62-66.