Natural ways to boost your immune system

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I’m always keen to hear the latest expert findings on the role that food can play on our health and wellbeing, more so at the moment. So I was really pleased to be invited to attend an online lecture last week, on the role of nutrition in the prevention and treatment of Coronavirus, by Dr. Annamaria Colao, professor of Endocrinology at the University Federico II de Nápoles.

It was a very interesting lecture with helpful insights into the best vitamins and nutrients which can help boost the body’s defences against the virus. I have summarised some of the key takeaways below:

1. Follow the Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle:

  • eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and fish.
  • have olive oil
  • limit the amount of meat, sugar, cakes and alcohol.
  • do exercises – in the open air, if possible.
  • drink plenty of water.
Red peppers

Key vitamins/nutrients to boost the immune system:

Vitamin A-many of the body’s defences against infection depend on an adequate supply of vitamin A and it has been used effectively for malaria, HIV infection, and measles”.

Vitamin A rich foods: fish, eggs, carrots, dairy products, broccoli and other dark green vegetables, papaya,

B Vitamins – “a shortage of B vitamins, especially B2 and B3, may weaken our immune response to the virus”.

Ensure you include the following foods into your diet:

Vitamin B2 rich foods: meat, fish, wholegrains, nuts,seeds, pulses, green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B3 rich foods: meat, fish, mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, milk, eggs.

Vitamin C “acts as an anti-oxidant, supports immune functions and protects against infection caused by a Coronavirus”.

Vitamin C rich foods: citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, bell peppers, broccolli, kiwi, mangoes, parsley.

Vitamin D– “a nutrient and hormone synthesised in the body by sunlight. An important immunomodulator, helpful in fighting infectious diseases”.

Vitamin D rich foods: Oily fish, liver, egg yolk, mushrooms, sunflower seeds.

To ensure we get enough vitamin D, we should go outside and aim for around 20 minutes of sunshine every day. As this is not always possible especially during winter or if housebound, Vitamin D deficiency may occur and supplements may be needed. This can be ascertained with a test. Everyone’s needs are different and dependent on age and circumstances. Therefore always consult a doctor before taking any supplements.

2. Eat natural foods which are as fresh as possible

Natural foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, olive oil and fish provide us with many of the important minerals, vitamins, fibre, probiotics and polyphenols which help to protect and fortify the immune system. To derive the best quality nutrients from fruit and vegetables, we should aim to eat produce that is as close to being picked as possible.

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In the UK we rely heavily on imported fruit and vegetables which are not as nutrtious. Buying from local markets, shops and farms can be a better nutrtional as well as environmental option.

3. Eat well to stay well

It is best to eat well balanced meals and avoid “grazing.” However, whenever we feel anxious or bored (which can be worse now during the Pandemic) it is tempting to overeat. Women in particular tend to crave sugar.

Carbohydrates encourage our bodies to produce Serotonin ( the feel good hormone) and this is proportional to the glycaemic index of foods. Although this may give us a quick boost, the effects are short lived and can lead to unhealthy nutritional habits, obesity and chronic inflammation. Obesity is not only linked to chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, but may also be a contributor to Covid patients developing serious complications.

3. Eat well to sleep well

Ready meals tend to be full of salt and sugar. Eating too much sugar or heavy meals late at night can disturb natural sleep patterns. This can quickly become a vicious circle as we tend to crave sugar/ high energy foods when feeling tired.

To avoid this happening, aim to eat well balanced meals during the day, stick to healthy snacks like fruit or plain yoghurt and eat light meals in the evening, such as grilled fish and salad.

To boost serotonin and melatonin (sleep hormone), have fresh or natural foods such as almonds, bananas, apples, cherries, kiwi fruit or oats.

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Diet plays a key role in the maintenance and optimal functioning of immune cells. It is well known that nutrients and nutritional factors can help preserve good health, influencing all aspects of human biology by connecting nutrient metabolism, gut microbiota and immune system.” Dr. Annamaria Colao.

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