Supporting your immune system to help it support you

With the number of coronavirus cases escalating day by day, we are left wondering what else we can do to protect ourselves, other than panic-buy toilet paper and constantly wash our hands. While I understand how important washing our hands is, and I’m still clueless as to why we need so much toilet paper, there are plenty of ways we can support our overall heath and immune system to help it fight infections. Here is some constructive, practical diet and lifestyle advice on what you can do to support your immune system and keep it strong and healthy during this time. 

Please note: this advice is not intended to replace any medical advice given to you by your health care provider and is not a cure for coronavirus. These general tips are scientifically proven ways of supporting your immune system, which you may find useful against fighting viruses in general. 

 Eat a wide variety of nutrient dense foods

As over 60% of our immune system is actually in our gut, a nutrient dense, whole foods diet is a powerful way of providing all the micronutrients your immune system needs to fight infections. When it comes to what to eat, these are the most important vitamins and minerals the immune system needs, so try to consume a wide variety of these foods as much as possible:

  • Vitamin A – liver, sweet potato, carrots, spinach, kale, winter squash, beet greens
  • Vitamin C – papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwi, cauliflower
  • Vitamin B6 – turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, potatoes, spinach, banana, sunflower seeds
  • Vitamin B9 – lentils, spinach, broccoli, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, black beans, kidney beans
  • Vitamin E – sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, avocado, beet greens
  • Copper – sesame seeds, cashews, mushrooms, tempeh, lentils, walnuts
  • Iron – lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, olives, swiss chard
  • Magnesium – pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard, sesame seeds, quinoa, cashews, sunflower seeds
  • Selenium – brazil nuts, sardines, cod, chicken, beef
  • Zinc – white mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, chickpeas, lentils, beef, lamb, quinoa

Limit Sugar

Limit your intake of sugar, sugary drinks and highly processed foods, as they contain very little nutrition and reduce the good bacteria in your gut. Sugar actually suppresses the immune system for up to a few hours after consuming it and high doses of fructose can damage the liver. Pre-packaged convenience meals often contain added sugar, so try making food at home, that way you know exactly what’s in it. Stick with low sugar fruits such as berries that are full of antioxidants and starchy foods like sweet potato and other root vegetables as they offer high quality nutrition without suppressing your immune system.

Eat protein with every meal

Protein plays an important role in a well-functioning immune system. It is especially important for healing, recovery and making antibodies, so eating a wide variety of plant and animal-based protein each day will help provide all the amino acids your immune system needs to function optimally when fighting infections. 

Great vegetable protein sources include broccoli, spinach, artichokes, sweet potato, nuts and seeds, beans, pulses and quinoa. And, great animal protein sources include calves liver, beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, bone broth, fish and shellfish.

Stay Hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re not well. Drink at least 3 pints of clean, filtered or bottled water per day. Water has many roles in the body. Your kidneys need water to eliminate toxins and pathogens from your body that your immune system kills. Blood, which is made up of 92% water, carries nutrients to all the cells of the body. It also helps to carry oxygen to your muscles, heart and other organs which they need to function well. 

Supplements

Below are some suggestions for supplements to help support your immune system. As this is generalised advice, please check with your doctor before starting any new supplement programme.

  1. General multivitamin and mineral supplement (especially if you feel you can’t eat enough fruits and vegetables a day)
  2. Vitamin D3
  3. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps fight free radicals produced during infection
  4. Probiotics are very important for the health of the immune system as 60% of our immune system is in our gut.

Stress management

Studies show time and again thatstress weakens the immune system. This is like a self-fulfilling prophecy because when we are really scared and panicked, that actually impacts our immune system in such a way that makes us more susceptible to acquiring infections in general. So, if you are feeling worried and concerned, try a meditation practice, mindfulness, spending time in nature, yoga, pilates, taking a hot bath, deep breathing, whatever helps you keep your stress levels under control.

Getting enough sleep 

Your body is busy healing and repairing while you sleep and so it’s important your immune system has time to regenerate during this time. Studies show that people who don’t get enough good quality sleep or enough hours sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a pathogen. By ensuring your room is dark and cool, keeping to a regular sleep schedule to maximise sleep quality, turning off gadgets at least an hour before going to bed are all good ways of helping you get a good night’s sleep. 

Physical activity

Gentle exercise supports the immune system and sweating eliminates toxins. During this time perhaps it’s best to avoid group exercise classes and places like the gym but getting out in nature or exercising from home are both great options.

I know that global pandemics can feel scary, and media headlines are bombarding us all right now, but no one benefits from living their life in fear. Stay calm, look after yourselves and each other. By following this advice and improving your overall health, you can support your immune system so it can better support you when you need it most.

Kylie Hendrikse is a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in autoimmunity and immune related health conditions. Kylie offers free 20-minute health assessment phone calls. If you would like to speak with Kylie, please do get in touch we would love to connect you.