Let Food Be Thy Medicine
In Part 1 of this COVID-19: Nutrition & Immunity series, we talked about our body’s immune function – things that weaken it and make us more vulnerable to viruses, and some of the simple things we could do to strengthen our immune system to ward off any illness.
In this article, we’ll talk about the link between our gut and our immune system, immune-boosting foods, and what to do if you become infected with COVID-19.
At this time, we’re hearing a talking a lot about our immune system, but do you know where our immune system is located? You may be surprised to learn that 70% of our immune system is actually located in our gut.
The bacteria in our gut determines the effectiveness of our body’s immune function. We have both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria around our bodies. We need a combination of both types but, ideally, we want the ‘good’ to outweigh the ‘bad’ as that is what defines an efficient immune system. The type of bacteria in our gut is a reflection of the food we consume. You can probably guess where I’m going with this!
Can’t I just take a supplement?
These days, many of us are taking nutrient supplements. It may seem like a quick win, and it may be in some cases, but it is a short-term solution. Also, many of us take poor quality supplements that are filled with other non-nutritious items, which may do us more harm than good. A better, longer-term option would be to continually feed our gut with the types of food that help the ‘good’ bacteria to prosper.
Boost your immunity
Here are some of the things you can include in our diet to help the good bacteria flourish and boost our immune function:
- Fruits and vegetables – different coloured fruits and vegetables have different nutritional properties which supports us in fighting off infections, so ensuring a range of coloured fruit and vegetables in our daily meals will give us a wide range of immune benefits.
- Fibre – what goes in must come out! We want to ensure we have a clean gut, so we can help ourselves to eliminate bodily waste by incorporating fibre in our diet. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fibre, as are whole grains (e.g. whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, couscous, quinoa), legumes, lentils and flaxseeds.
- Prebiotics – feed the ‘good’ bacteria enabling them to replicate. Examples include garlic (especially raw), onions, leeks, bananas, apples, oats, flaxseeds, almonds, chickpeas, asparagus, chicory and Jerusalem artichokes.
- Probiotics – they are ‘good’ bacteria in themselves. Some probiotic foods include yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi and other pickles.
- Vitamin C – increases the number of immune cells in our body, although viruses can also deplete our levels of vitamin C too. Good sources of vitamin C are kiwis, red peppers, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, kale, papaya, and many more – just think green, yellow, orange and red fruit and vegetables. (Note: Vitamin C can help to prevent a virus but is not useful if we already have the virus).
- Vitamin D – helps our immune cells to seek out foreign invaders (e.g. viruses). Good food sources are fatty fish (e.g. sardines, mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies, tuna), egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. (Note: Many people are taking vitamin D supplements without the certainty that they need them. This is not ideal as there may be a danger of having too much vitamin D, so you must check your vitamin D levels before supplementing. Food sources are always best as you cannot overdose on them!)
- Zinc – required for over 300 processes within our bodies and fights off infections. Can be found in nuts, seeds, shellfish, lentils, grains, pulses and oysters.
What if I am infected with COVID-19?
If we end up being one of the many people infected with this virus, there are things we can do to help ourselves – and most of these don’t even involve us having to step out of the house (except to buy the necessary items)!
Herbs can act as medicines. There are certain herbs you can use to support your immune function, especially for the early-stage symptoms of a viral infection:
- Thyme – is a great antimicrobial herb, so can be used for coughs and sore throats. Use it as a tea by steeping fresh thyme in hot water for 5-10 minutes before drinking.
- Ginger – the spicy, warm, pungent flavours of ginger help to break up mucous. It can be used in cooking or as a tea (grate a golf ball-sized piece of ginger into hot water, leave for 5 minutes to steep, then add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before drinking).
- Echinacea – increases white blood cell count to fight off all types of infection. (Note: it is only useful if we have an infection, not as a preventative measure).
A few additional things we can do to support our bodies in the event of a viral infection are:
- Hot & cold showers – this boosts your circulation and therefore increase your immunity. You can switch from cold to hot water five or six times, every 20-30 seconds, but always end with a hot shower.
- Salt baths – using Epsom, sea or Himalayan salts. This can help relaxation and when we are relaxed, our digestive systems are more efficient, so you are more likely to excrete any bodily waste products.
- Dry skin brushing – improves circulation and stimulates your lymphatic system to get your immune cells moving around the body to where they may be needed. Always ensure you are brushing from your feet up towards your heart.
- Chest compresses – you can rub some eucalyptus-containing ointment on your chest to help open up the airways and allow more oxygen into your lungs.
In the unfortunate event that the COVID-19 infection has progressed deeper into the lungs, the following may be useful to enable to body to focus solely on immune function:
- Drink herbal teas – a blend of cinnamon and liquorice tea, or thyme tea (as above) will help to break down mucous and ease congestion.
- Go on a liquid diet – releases the burden on the digestive system, so our energy can be focused on immune function (as discussed in Part 1 of this series). We can include soups, stews and plenty of warming hot drinks.
- Improve sleep quality – this time is used by our bodies for healing and regeneration, so is crucial for immune cell function. Between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night is optimum for the immune system.
- Reduce stress – prolonged stress makes us more susceptible to infections. Reduce stressors by undertaking mild-intensity exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, stretching, Pilates), breathing exercises, meditation, or just doing something you enjoy.
- Reduce exercise intensity and duration – intense exercise puts our bodies into a stress response (see previous point), putting strain on our immune system. On the other hand, gentle, low-intensity exercise helps to boost our immune function and increase our resistance to infections.
Regardless of your current health situation in these challenging times, we hope that Parts 1 and 2 of our COVID-19: Nutrition & Immunity series will be useful to you in supporting your immune system and hopefully preventing this terrible COVID-19 virus from taking hold.
If you would like any further nutrition guidance – either in terms of supporting your immune function, or in relation to pregnancy or fertility – please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will connect you with one of our Nutritional Therapists.
On behalf of the Fertifa team, we wish you all the best of health – stay safe.
Author: Hema Wara
(Important note: The advice within this article is not a substitute for medical intervention, which may be required in some (particularly severe) cases of COVID-19. If you suspect you have been infected with COVID-19, please ensure you seek medical guidance in the first instance).