The power of good nutrition when it comes to immune health

The power of good nutrition

It is hard to imagine that less than 12 months ago COVID-19 was unheard of, and life pottered by on crammed public transports, welcoming friends and family with a strong close embrace, and for most, breathing fresh air without a mask – but, oh, how things have changed since then!

As doctors and scientists do their best to understand the disease better, research from early cases suggests that health and nutrition plays a vital role in the onset and severity of the disease.

Who is more at risk of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) which causes a cough, shortness of breath and in worsening cases breathing difficulties, pneumonia and sepsis.

Research suggests that people who suffer from chronic diseases – such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease – are more prone to adverse effects from the virus. Focusing on building a healthy and robust immune system is essential to help protect you against the aggressive form of the disease.

Immune system nourishment

As the immune system is an essential part of the body’s defence against pathogens,
its role in fighting off viruses is paramount in the prevention of severe symptoms and your speedy recovery from illness.

The impact that inadequte nutrition has on the immune system has long been understood, with micronutrient deficiencies linked to various dysfunctional processes in the body such as autoimmune disease and inflammatory conditions.

Amino acids from protein are the building blocks of the cells in the immune function and so it is vital to include good quality protein in your diet every day such as eggs, lean meat, fish and a mixture of legumes.

Foster your gut microbiome

As the digestive system harbours the majority of the immune system, ensuring that you are eating foods that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut is key for a body ready for any viral challenge. Dietary fibres found in real plant-based whole foods are fermented by the bacteria for energy in the gut and produce short-chain fatty acids which strengthen the digestive system barrier and help to eliminate harmful toxins produced by harmful bugs. Eating a variety of plant-based sources will help. Aim for between 25 – 35 grams of fibre a day.

Focusing on building a healthy and robust immune system will help protect you against the aggressive form of the disease

The vitamin effects

As nutrients and minerals contribute hugely to the more sophisticated part of the immune system – known as adaptive immunity – when you become deficient in these nutrients, processes in the body may begin to derail.

Vitamin D has been discussed in-depth in connection to COVID-19, as studies* show that some people who were more susceptible to the illness, had a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is already known for its association with lung and respiratory tract infections. As such it is worth checking your vitamin D levels and if low, be sure to eat vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish, egg yolks and organ meats. Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D3, if you do find the sun shining on a winters day make time to go out for a long leisurely walk with some exposed skin.

Vitamin D deficiency is already known for its association with lung and respiratory tract infections. As such it is worth checking your vitamin D levels.

Viral targeting interventions

As scientists begin to understand SARS- CoV-2 and its effect on pathways in the body, various natural antiviral interventions may help combat the virus.

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in vegetables such as kale and red onion, and curcumin is a bright yellow chemical found in turmeric – these may support the immune response as well as limiting viral replication in the body.

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea, and resveratrol in grapes and red wine, may also stun the virus as it tries to copy itself in your cells. So, changing your brew and tipple to the green and red kind might be beneficial too.

Where will this end?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shakeup in most of our lives, and the long- term effect of these changes on our mental health is likely to have a significant impact on many. Look after your own health by taking time to do some kind of exercise each day, keeping in contact with close friends and family and prioritising sleep will help.

COVID-19 has also highlighted the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle which studies have shown helps with both physical and mental health.

Article written for Thrive Magazine Winter 2020 issue >>

Victoria Hamilton is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Immunology. She focuses on autoimmune disease including skin conditions, neurological and brain issues, chronic fatigue, and cardiovascular disorders.

Refs: *Lanham-New SA, Webb AR, Cashman KD, et al. Vitamin D and SARS-CoV-2 virus/COVID-19 disease. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2020