We know some people are more susceptible to picking up colds and viruses and are often said to be ‘under the weather’. Other colleagues, family members and friends we know never seem to get sick. The medical profession agrees that our immune system’s effectiveness naturally declines as we get older.
Therefore 3 weeks ago the government advised everyone over 70 years of age to self isolate at home. This is to minimise the pressure on the National Health Service who are heroically dealing with thousands of very unwell people who have contracted the coronavirus disease. This pandemic has travelled fast across the globe infecting more than a million people so far this year. (1)
In England we have all been instructed by the government to stay at home to avoid unintentionally spreading SARS Covid-19 which can cause viral pneumonia. It is smart to focus on doing everything you can to keep in good health. This is especially true during this difficult time, regardless of what age you are currently. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his team at Number 10 have recognised the importance of moving the body outside in the fresh air every day, on the nations physical and mental well being. Therefore despite restrictions to keep all non-family members 2 metres apart, exercise is allowed once a day for all citizens in the UK.
The BBC2 programme ‘Trust me I’m a Doctor’ explains that there are two parts to the immune system. “the innate response and the acquired response. The innate response…reacts to a problem by trying to flush out or burn out the invader and this can make us feel feverish or snotty. The acquired response…when specific invaders have been recognised, this part of the immune system identifies the cells that can kill them and sends them into battle.” (2)
Many doctors agree that aiming to eat a minimum of 5 and up to 10 portions of different coloured fruits and vegetables a day, is a sure way on getting the right vitamins and minerals you need to keep your cells healthy and resilient.
Vitamin A is essential for helping your body’s natural defence against illness and infection and can keep your vision and skin in top shape. Spinach carrots and sweet potatoes are a good source and also dairy foods, oily fish and liver.
Vitamin C is also important to help protect cells so they can function at their best. In addition to citrus fruits, good choices for a vitamin C boost can be broccoli, Brussels sprouts and potatoes. A daily supplement may be a sensible way to make sure you get enough of this key player in nutrition. Vitamin C keeps the whole body strong and lively and it is worth knowing that it cannot be stored by the body very long so regular ‘top ups’ are the way to ensure you are getting enough.
The NHS website advises that everybody should have enough vitamin D to support their immune system and states that “it is clearly important to have sufficient vitamin D to maintain a healthy body. Vitamin D forms in our skin in response to sunlight, but care should still be taken to avoid burning or over-exposure due to the harmful effect of the sun’s rays. Vitamin D is also found in foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified margarines, some breakfast cereals and vitamin supplements.” (3)
Vitamin E also plays role in maintaining a vigorous immune system. Your constitution can easily store Vitamin E for future use and plant oils such as corn, soya and olive oil are ideal. Nuts and seeds and wheatgerm are also recommended.
Selenium is a mineral that helps the immune system work properly. Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs are all an excellent way of getting the selenium needed in your diet.
“Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment.” argues Harvard Medical School who also recommends taking daily vitamin and mineral supplements if you suspect your diet is not taking care of all your micronutrient needs.
It is widely known that there are millions of cells in every human’s stomach. Most scientists agree that gut health has a major part to play in enjoying a balanced immune system. The balance of our internal system is crucial to ensure our system doesn’t overreact. An overactive immune system can produce inflammation problems within the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Paul O’Toole from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre which is part of the BioSciences Institute at Cork explained to Andrew Anthony at The Guardian that “significant links have been established between gut microbiota and inflammation, sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and cognitive function.” (5)
Other vegetables that generally considered as brilliant for keeping internally strong to keep the colds and viruses at bay are: garlic, spinach, broccoli, kale and mushrooms (as long as consuming edible fungus isn’t an issue for you). (6)
In addition to citrus fruits; berries, apples, grapes and pomegranates are all great choices and coconut has anti-bacterial properties. Other immune enhancing foods that are recommended by health food professionals include spices like clove, turmeric and ginger.
Doctors will often advise to drink plenty of hot weak tea to ward off any flu and colds. All types of tea contain special anti-oxidant properties. So its a good idea to drink tea every day.
It is widely said that chicken soup is beneficial when unwell and there might be an element of truth in that, as carnosine is found inside this warming family favourite. Carnosine can help shrug off common illnesses.
Miso soup is also a great vegetarian alternative and contains probiotics that can actively assist balancing the gut, which is a priority for achieving an immune system to be proud of.
The medical profession generally agrees that a combination of diet, exercise and getting enough sleep is the recipe for good all round health.
Superfoods are ‘tried and tested’ immunity boosters that are definitely worth incorporating into your multicoloured meal plan. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to nutrition. It is worth remembering however, there are very few medical studies with direct evidence to support these superfood suggestions and traditional remedies, that claim to boost the immune system through what you eat.
(1) ‘Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research’ Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Our World in Data, 7 April 2020 Coronavirus Statistics Our World in Data
(2) ‘Can I really boost my immune system?’ Trust me I’m a Doctor, BBC2 website, 7 April 2020, Boost Immune System, BBC2 Trust Me Im A Doctor
(3) ‘Vitamin D immune system boost?’ Analysis by Bazian, NHS UK official website, 7 April 2020, Vitamin D Immune System, Bazian, NHS website
(4) ‘How to boost your immune system.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, September 2014
(5) ‘I had the bacteria in my gut analysed. And this may be the future of medicine.’ Andrew Anthony The Guardian, 11 February 2014, Bacteria in Gut Analysed, Andrew Anthony, The Guardian
(6) ’16 Foods That Boost Your Immune System’ WebMD, 8 April 2020, 16 Foods Boost Immune System, Web MD