I think we all are well aware of the current advice on the social distancing, hand washing and self-isolation. While those are the essential measures in combating the current pandemic and avoiding the exposure, is there anything else we can do to support our body which may help us to become more resistant to viruses in the first place?
COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the virus called SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2), commonly known just as Coronavirus.
At the moment different ways of treatment are being tested worldwide, such as intravenous vitamin C, vaccines or hydroxychloroquine. The challenge is that we do not have good medical ‘weapons’ to fight viruses, even the common ones, and we can see they are highly contagious. That is why it is so important to avoid infection (isolation) while working on balancing our immune system and making our body a less welcoming place for viral infections.
To simplify, the immune system can be divided into two categories, innate immune system which is the first-line defence against pathogens and adaptive immune system, the one that ‘remembers’ microbes it met in the past.
Because our immune systems have never encountered SARS-CoV-2 in the past, our body’s response can be slower and may need additional support.
In addition to the immune cells circulating in our blood, there are immune cells in our liver and even brain. However, 70%-80% of the immune system is localised in the gut. That is why it so important to support our gut health at this time. Immune system cells in the gut lining communicate with bacteria and other habitants of our intestines called microbiota. I am sure by now you have heard about how the beneficial and potentially non-beneficial bacteria and that the imbalance between them can be linked to multiple diseases. So how can we support our little friends that work so hard for us?
You can consider gut-healing foods such as bone broth. Try probiotic supplements or foods containing beneficial bacteria such as kombucha, fermented vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, non-dairy yoghurt, and if you do not have problems with dairy or soy, kefir, plain yoghurt, aged cheese, miso, tempeh. I fully understand that now it may be more difficult to get a hold of them, but some, like fermented vegetables, are easy to prepare at home.
Even more importantly you can also consider adding some ‘food’ for your good bacteria – these are called prebiotics and are some of our favourites such as asparagus, banana, eggplant, garlic, honey, artichokes, leeks, legumes, onions. If you have a tendency to become bloated easily you may wish to start with small amounts, and remember to soak overnight and ideally cook for a long time any legumes or beans.
So this strategy may help long-term with a healthy balance of immune system, however, is there anything you can do right now to optimise your immune system? There are certain foods and nutrients which may help you to ensure a more balanced immune response.
B vitamins – they are important for optimal immune system function, especially vitamin B6. Good sources of vitamin B6 include turkey breast, grass-fed beef, avocado, pistachios, chicken, sesame and sunflower seeds. And remember that vitamins B works the best if taken together!
Iron – adequate iron levels are important in protection from pathogens, however, supplementation is not indicated during active infection. Good sources include good quality red meat or leafy greens
Vitamin C – it cannot be produced by the human body, it decreases the oxidative stress, and it may help prevent lower respiratory tract infections. Good sources include kiwi, peppers, citrus fruits.
Zinc – one of the most important nutrients when considering immune support, enhances immune cells activity, and it may inhibit viral replication. Good sources include seafood, meat, nuts and seeds, lentils.
Selenium – deficiency of this nutrient predisposes to oxidative stress, which enables viruses to have a worse effect on the body. Good sources include Brazil nuts.
Vitamin D * – modulates the inflammation in our body, enhances the natural immune response against various infections, helps with the maturation of immune cells. Ideally, we should get enough sun exposure to produce vitamin D in our skin. Some food sources include fatty fish, liver, egg yolks.
Vitamin A * – known for its antiviral properties, supports all aspect of the immune system. Good sources include liver, egg yolks, as beta- carotene form: sweet potato, leafy greens, butternut squash. Avoid if pregnant or have a history of liver disease.
Omega 3 – they influence immune cells function. Good sources include fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, anchovy, sardines, herring and a certain type of algae.
And overall please remember that although it may be difficult to get a hold of some foods right now, it is fine, we do not aim for perfection. These are just some suggestions. And in the current situation, in supermarkets we notice the lack of packaged food but not vegetables!
Please think about this challenging time as an opportunity to spend time with your family, and maybe cooking together will be one of those things that will decrease stress and bring your family together. Preparing fermented vegetables or bone broth together with family members may be an excellent way to support your gut, immune system and even mental health!
And before you open your box with supplements, please set it aside for the one day as coronavirus will likely survive on cardboard for 24 h!
* High-dose supplementation of vitamins D and A may not be recommended, due to the current controversy around coronavirus and ACE2 receptor.
Valdes Ana M, Walter Jens, Segal Eran, Spector Tim D. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health BMJ 2018; 361:k2179
Zhang, L, Liu, Y. Potential interventions for novel coronavirus in China: A systematic review. J Med Virol. 2020; 92: 479– 490.
This guide is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before implementing any changes. Please do note that those strategies are not a substitute for hand hygiene, social distancing and other recommendations made by public health authorities.