This is an article written by Stacey Beckitt – April 2020
I hope you are well during these unusual and challenging circumstances. So much great advice has already been given to us by the NHS to help us reduce our risk of contracting Covid-19 that I won’t repeat any of that here.
Instead, I will focus on 15 ways to help support your immune system which include the best foods, supplements and lifestyle strategies based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Nutritional Therapy. I hope you find them useful and are able to implement as many of them as you can.
1- Onions & Garlic
Make sure you enjoy plenty of onions and garlic. Why? Both have extensive antimicrobial properties and help to support your immune system. Onions, particularly red onions are rich in the flavanoid quercetin, which has been shown to modulate the immune system (1). Other great sources of quercetin include apples, broccoli and green tea. You can also take It in supplement form which is something that many of my clients do to help with hayfever.
Garlic is a powerful antimicrobial, antibiotic and antiviral. It has been used for thousands of years in Asia as a medicine to help with infections. If you are suffering from a cold you can make a simple homemade tea containing garlic and honey to help soothe your throat, boost your immune system and decongest your sinuses. You will need 4 garlic cloves, 2 and a half cups of water and some raw honey.
Directions – Place the water and garlic in a saucepan and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for around 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add some raw honey to taste. Drink half a cup and put the rest in the fridge which you can drink a few times during the day.
2 – Colourful Veg
Ensure you eat your 5, or better yet your 10 per day of colourful vegetables! Why? There are so many reasons. Firstly they are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support the immune system. Secondly, they contain fibre that feeds your gut flora and balances your blood sugar which can have a big impact on your immune system. There are so many great vegetables and fruits around at this time of the year.
3 – Fermented Food
Have some fermented foods. Why? Fermented foods are rich in good bacteria helping to support your gut flora and as 80% of your immune system is found in your gut this helps to support your immunity. As well as this, the fermented foods contain enzymes that help to support your digestion. Probably the most popular of all the fermented foods is yoghurt. For those following a vegan diet or with a dairy intolerance, coconut yoghurt is a great alternative. Other great fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir. You can make your own, there are lots of tutorials on U-tube or you can purchase them.
4 – Vitamin C
Ensure you have enough vitamin C. Why? The role of supporting the immune system with vitamin C has long been known and extensively researched. One study showed that elderly patients that were admitted to hospital with respiratory infections who were given 200 mg of vitamin C, improved much more than those given a placebo (3). Vitamin C administered intravenously is currently being used in a clinical trial in Wuhan to determine its effectiveness against the coronavirus (4).
There are many different forms of vitamin C that you can take. My favourite is liposomal vitamin C which I have found to be the most effective and have been using for the last couple of years. Liposomal supplements offer a unique delivery system which bypasses the digestive system allowing nutrients to be delivered straight into the bloodstream and into the cells which maximise the effect of the nutrients. Liposomal vitamin C supplements are more expensive than other forms and can be a little harder to come by at the moment due to so many people buying, but websites do have new stocks in. I like the Designs for Health brands and Altrient.
For regular vitamin C supplements, I really like Cherry C by Cytoplan. Great food sources of vitamin C include oranges, kiwi fruits, bell peppers and spinach.
5 – Vitamin A
Ensure you have enough vitamin A. Why? Also known as the anti-inflammatory vitamin because of its essential role in enhancing the immune system. Vitamin A has been shown to help the body in fighting various infections including those affecting the respiratory tract (5). Fish, eggs and cod liver oil are great sources of vitamin A. If you prefer to get your vitamin A from plant sources (which contain beta-carotene that is converted into vitamin A) then you should eat bright orange vegetables including carrots and sweet potatoes, as well as those of the green variety including kale, swiss chard and brussel sprouts.
6 – Vitamin D
Ensure you have enough vitamin D – I’m excited to see the sun starting to shine! If you are out for your daily walk or are in your garden this is the best way to get some much-needed vitamin D after the long winter months. You can obtain some vitamin D from foods such as fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and eggs yolks as well as mushrooms.
7 – Zinc
Ensure that you have enough zinc – Why? Zinc is a nutrient that is essential to the body in many ways including for growth and development and to support the immune system to fight off potential invaders such as bacteria and viruses. There are loads of great dietary sources including red meat, poultry, chickpeas, lentils, beans and seeds.
8 – Have you heard of N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)?
NAC is an incredibly powerful antioxidant which means it protects the body from damage caused by toxins. It’s so effective that it is used in hospitals to protect from liver and kidney damage in cases of paracetamol overdose. However, this amazing supplement has other benefits too, particularly in the area of lung health. NAC can help to thin mucus in the lungs helping people who suffer from lung disorders as well as boosting the levels of glutathione (known as the body’s most master antioxidant) levels in the lungs. This has been shown to prevent damage to the airways and reduces breathing difficulties (6). As an asthmatic, I currently take 600mg per day as a supplement and really like the brands Bonusan and Solgar.
9 – Cut Down on Sugar
There’s never been a better time to limit our sugar consumption. Excess sugar has been linked with virtually every health condition including, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. It makes sense therefore that sugar would be detrimental to our immune system too. Unfortunately, sugar directly affects our white blood cells (WBC), which is significant as WBC help our immune systems to protect our body from infectious diseases and foreign invaders.
Amazingly eating 100g of sugar reduces the reactivity of WBC by 40% (7). Although, hopefully, we won’t be consuming this much this figure can illustrate to us the dangers of overconsumption of sugar. Another way in which sugar affects the immune system is because vitamin C and sugar share a similar molecular structure and compete with each other in the body for absorption. This means that the more sugar we eat the more likely we will be to have a deficiency in vitamin C, which we know is vital for immune function. If you do have a sweet tooth roasted vegetables such as butternut squash, carrots and parsnips can help to satisfy a sweet craving without needing processed foods containing sugar.
10 – Drink Up (but make sure it’s water!)
Every cell and process that happens within the body requires water. With this in mind, a simple and effective way to support optimal health is by ensuring that you are properly hydrated. Drinking pure water is the best way to do this and please remember that coffee, tea and alcohol are diuretics and promote the loss of water leading to further dehydration. Aim to drink around 1.5 litres per day.
11 – Sleep
Have a great night’s sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in physical and mental health including our immunity. One study showed that if we have less than seven hours sleep we were three times more likely to catch a cold (8). The amount of sleep that we need as individuals varies but most people feel their best when they have between 7-8 hours. To sleep deeply we need to make sure that we limit our exposure to blue light before we go to bed as blue light inhibits the release of melatonin (our sleepy hormone). Ideally, an hour before we want to fall asleep we would avoid watching tv, looking at our computer or at our phones. You could also consider installing f.lux on your computers and phones https://justgetflux.com. This will help to set your computer/phone lighting to the correct time of day, warm at night and like sunlight in the day.
12 – Exercise Correctly
Exercise can be a great way to support the immune system. Moderate exercise is best in this regard since too much can raise cortisol levels and suppress the immune system. This is especially true if you feel under the weather, so if this is the case do steer clear of high-intensity exercise. There are lots of great short exercise routines that are being posted online that you can do at home for the times we are unable to get outside. Try to balance cardiovascular exercise with more gentle techniques that involve stretching such as yoga and pilates.
13 – Relaxation
The great thing about relaxation is that there are so many different ways we can trigger the relaxation response and naturally not everyone relaxes in the same way. For some, a long hot bath helps to ease aching muscles and wash away their troubles. For others, a daily meditation helps to keep them feeling balanced, whilst some people feel at their most relaxed whilst doing something they consider therapeutic like gardening. So to reduce your stress levels and improve your immunity find the best form of relaxation for you!
14 – Breathe Correctly
In the East, people are encouraged to practice techniques like TaiQi. These include deep, slow and conscious breaths. Breathing mindfully and fully helps your posture, invigorates and oxygenates the body, and improves and increases lung capacity. With efficient and well functioning lungs we are much better equipped to repel pathogens or to deal with them if they do penetrate.
Ideally, you will be regularly breathing in and out of your nose which helps to add moisture to the air preventing dryness in the lungs. The tiny hairs of our nose, the cilia help to trap harmful pathogens before they find their way into the respiratory tract.
15 – Use Some Essential Antiviral Oils
Essential oils have many benefits including helping us to relax. Lavender is the best known of the essential oils for this, tea tree is a well-known antiseptic and has been used to help both bacterial and fungal conditions including athletes foot and acne. There are also some essential oils that have antiviral benefits including chamomile and clove. Essential oils shouldn’t be applied neat to the skin they need to be diluted in a carrier oil, used In a diffuser, or you can place a couple of drops on a tissue.
Disclaimer: If you have a health condition or are taking medication please check with your GP before implementing any advice in this article as there may be contraindications. This information is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure any condition.