Updated: Sep 29, 2020
It seems that covid-19 (coronavirus) is going to be with us for some time. And the hope of a vaccine is still far from a reality. I have been hesitant to write too much about the virus, as there is already more than enough (too much) information out there. However, I feel that supporting our immune systems in the long term is the best way to help ourselves and our loved ones.
With that in mind I have put together this immune support guide. This does NOT replace any advice on self-isolation or social distancing advice the government gives out. And clearly, keep washing your hands regularly. The human body is an amazing organism and the immune system its wonderful means of defense. Giving your body a helping hand to support the immune system in the long-term is a sensible thing to do (in my opinion). Most of the areas where we can make improvements to help our immune system, are maybe areas we have already been thinking about making changes: Have you been putting off having a daily green smoothie? Or getting a good night’s sleep? Or doing some regular exercise? Now is the time to start those things!
What is the function of the immune system.
Not too much detail here but in short the immune system’s prime function is to protect the body from infection and disease. Support and enhancement of the immune system is perhaps the most important step in achieving resistance to disease, and reducing susceptibility to infections.
Mind and emotions
The connection between our mind and body is irrefutable. I don’t say this to scare you….but it important to understand how the emotional state we live in may affect our immune response.
Stress, anxiety, worry – increases levels of adrenal gland hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones inhibit white cell formation and cause the thymus gland to shrink. Stress also leads to immune suppression. It stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the fight or flight response. The immune system functions better when the parasympathetic nervous system is in control. This system assumes control during periods of rest, relaxation, sleep, visualisation and meditation. Good quality sleep is vital to counteract the effect of stress and to enhance immune function. 7 to 8 hours sleep per night is optimal. regular periods of relaxation is also key.
The awareness that living in significant amounts of stress may affect our body is not a cause for concern. And we don’t immediately have to start meditating all day! When faced with a potential ‘threat’ such as covid-19, our mind will scrabble about to help us to feel safe. Which leads to a LOT of thinking/planning about the future, and fear of what may happen. Whilst some of this may be useful (e.g. preparing for how we may help our parents if they have to self-isolate; activities for the kids to do at home etc.), most of the thinking that goes on in our heads just causes more stress and anxiety, which in turn may affect our immune system.
Seeing clearly that feelings of stress or anxiety are NEVER coming from the thing we are fearful about…even coronavirus. These feelings are only ever telling us about the state of mind we are in, not about what may happen in the future. Feelings don’t know about the future, they only tell us about what our mind is thinking right now. This mind-body connection is, in my opinion, THE most important factor in supporting our immune system. I have lots of blogs & videos on my website that discuss the thought-feeling connection, and how the outside world can NEVER make us feel anything (even though it will 100% feel like it can!). You can access the blogs & videos here.
If you would like to really get some traction and change in your life regarding your emotional state, do get in touch with me – this is one of the main focuses of my coaching practice.
Nutrition to help support the immune system
Don’t get too stressed about what you eat (remember the points above!) but just focus on easy changes you can make right now, and others you can add in, over time. If you simply aim to eat foods as close to nature as possible, cut down on processed foods and increase the amount of vegetables you eat, this is a great place to start.
Sugar – a high-sugar diet leads to lowered white blood cell activity. It is thought that this occurs due to the high levels of insulin needed to lower high blood sugar levels, and the competition of vitamin C at cell membrane level. If you have a compromised immune system eliminating all sugar is very important. Try to avoid or reduce all sugar and sugar containing foods (you will need to check labels carefully).
Ensure an adequate intake of protein - Good sources include nuts, seeds, eggs, lean organic meat, beans, lentils, poultry, fish and organic tofu.
Dairy – try to avoid, especially if you have an infection.
Red meat – is high in saturated fat. A high saturated fat intake can result in inflammation which is mediated by the immune system. Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 & 6) however are anti-inflammatory in nature. Replace red meat with chicken, turkey, fish, lentils, pulses, nuts, seeds and organic tofu.
Increase Essential fatty acids – by eating oily fish 3 times weekly (mackerel, salmon, trout, fresh tuna, sardines) and having ground seeds daily (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, hemp and linseeds) on cereal, porridge, in yoghurt, in soups and salads.
Fresh fruit and vegetables – a good intake is vital as they are high in the nutrients required by your immune system, as well as antioxidants. Aim for 5 to 10 portions daily from a variety of colour groups (e.g. berries, carrots, peppers, green leafy veg, sweet potatoes). Try to eat some raw every day as cooking depletes nutrient and enzyme content.
Herbs – there are numerous herbs that help support the immune system. In particular, garlic, ginger and turmeric. Use these frequently in your cooking; drink herbal ginger tea; try the morning drink recipe below. Cooking with coconut oil is also great as it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects.
Fluids – drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, as well as fresh fruit and vegetable juices which will supply a great ‘hit’ of nutrients your immune system will love. Replace tea and coffee with green tea, and other herbal teas. Echinacea and Yarrow teas are good if you have a cold or fever. The lymph system forms a vital part of our immune system. It is a clear fluid that carries white blood cells and other cells around the body. It ‘collects’ bacteria, viruses and infections and filters them through the lymph nodes. If you are dehydrated, the lymph becomes sluggish and less able to fight off infections. Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day is important to help support this system.
Morning drink to support the immune system – drink this as your first drink of the day: Add a few slices of fresh root ginger to half a mug of hot water. Add ½ grated garlic clove (optional!). Then add juice of half a lemon, 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, ¼ tsp of turmeric and ½ tsp of honey (preferably Manuka or raw honey). Give it a stir and leave to brew for a few minutes (the ginger root needs some time to release flavour). Then top up with cold water and enjoy!
Fermented foods – help support the gut and contain probiotics. The gut houses about 70% of the cells of our immune system. Try adding some of these foods into your diet such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir, live yoghurt. Start slow with small amounts and build up.
Superfood powders – these can be used in addition to a healthy diet. Focus on fresh fruit and vegetables first! But you may have one of these powders lurking at the back of your cupboard. They can be added to smoothies, juices, plant-based milk or yoghurt. This is not an exhaustive list, there are lots of the market.
Baobab fruit powder – high in vitamin C and fibre.
Chaga mushroom powder – high in beta-glucans which support the immune system.
Any ‘green’ powder – such as spirulina, wheatgrass, chlorella, Moringa are all high in vitamins & minerals.
Matcha powder – high in antioxidants and chlorophyll.
I have smoothie, juice and food recipes on the blog page of my website which you can access here.
Lifestyle suggestions to support the immune system
Avoid stimulants such as smoking and alcohol (try to cut down on that daily glass of wine or beer!).
Maintain a healthy body weight.
Ensure 7 to 8 hours sleep a night – your body needs sleep to regenerate and fight off infections. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid caffeine before bedtime. Also try a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow, or in an oil burner. Turn off all screens at least one hour before bed – now is the time to start this if you have been procrastinating about it! Everything on your phone can wait until the morning.
Taking regular exercise can boost antioxidants, help to reduce stress, elevate mood and oxygenate the blood, which all support the immune system. Exercise such as rebounding, walking, yoga and swimming all help to move the lymph around the body (The lymph forms a vital part of the immune system, see above under the 'Fluids' section). Some research suggests that regular T’ai Chi practise can increase T cells by 40%.
I can highly recommend three online exercise resources: For Yoga: Yoga with Adriene. Here is the website https://yogawithadriene.com/. She also has an app. So much free yoga is offered here it’s quite amazing! For a dance-based movement try Nia. This is exercise with JOY! They are currently offering a free 1 month trial of NiaTV: https://www.niatv.fit/. For HIIT, cardio, barre, weight training etc. Betty Rocker is fab: www.thebettyrocker.com. She has loads of free videos and programmes.
Reduce your stress levels where possible, and find time for relaxation/meditation. Many studies now support the beneficial effects of meditation on immunity, as well as many other body systems. There are meditation videos here on my blog page which you can use at any time. Any way that you love to relax is great – read, walk, have a bath, listen to music, laugh, yoga, yoga-nidra, pranayama (yogic breathing), lay with your legs up the wall for 10 minutes and breathe deeply – these all help to reset you. Knowing that ALL emotions are coming from your thought in the moment and will pass, is the most powerful realisation and stress release I have found.
Supplements to support the immune system
It is best to work with a qualified nutrition professional to assess the best supplements for you. The advice given here does not replace medical or professional advice.
A high potency multivitamin and mineral is vital to support immune function. Quality brands such as Biocare, Higher Nature, Cytoplan, Nutri-Advanced are a few I recommend.
Vitamin D – sufficient levels of this in the blood help to support the body during cold, flu and virus season. Dosages of supplements vary according to your current blood levels (which your GP can test) but it is usually safe to take 1,000iu to 2,000iu is per day without knowing your blood levels.
Vitamin C – 2 x 1000mg daily.
Zinc – 15 to 30mg per day.
Antioxidant complex – to supply much needed zinc, vitamin A, E, C, selenium and Co-enzyme Q10 e.g. Antioxidant Nutrients by Solgar, or Nutriguard Plus by Biocare.
Probiotics – provide beneficial gut bacteria which form part of the immune response. Stress, alcohol, poor diet and antibiotics can all deplete the body of these beneficial bacteria.