With the Coronavirus seemingly not done with us yet, I’m being asked by clients what I recommend to keep viruses such as this at bay. Other than scrupulous hand cleaning, I recommend the same thing as with any virus protection and that is to make sure the immune system is acting as effectively as it possibly can. Most people hardest hit by any virus tend to be those whose immune systems are compromised in some way. Not only are we less likely to contract a virus if our immune system is strong but if we do succumb then our bodies are far more equipped at fighting a virus off and recovering.
Whilst a broad range of nutrients are essential to keeping our immune systems in top health, there are some that sit higher than others on the list of ‘top immune-boosters.’ Antioxidants are a group of nutrients that play a key role in maintaining a strong immune system. The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene (vit A), vitamin C and vitamin E. You’ll find them mainly in colourful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe melon, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers.
Vitamin E: broccoli, carrots, chard, mangoes, nuts, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin D – Research also suggests that low levels of vitamin D are known to increase the risk of acute viral infections and restoring it can reduce the risk of acute respiratory infections. Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin on exposure to UV rays from the sun. Some levels are also found in foods such as fatty fish and eggs. Many of us in the Northern hemisphere can have low levels especially through the Winter months. If you are prone to infections and colds then it can be worth having your levels checked and taking a supplements if low.
Probiotics – The gut forms a unique and important line of defence against invading microorganisms. Ensuring the gut lining and the microbiome, the complex ecosystem that resides in the gut, are healthy is vital to ensure immune defences are strong. Probiotics are live organisms that either naturally live in the gut or are transient and support the growth of the natural flora. Supplemental probiotics are available with some strains having a specific impact on immunity. Feeding the microbiome with prebiotics found in foods like Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks, oats, asparagus, sauerkraut and kefir helps them to flourish.
Green tea, echinacea, turmeric, elderberry, garlic and oregano may also be beneficial in helping us fight off an infection, either due to their anti-bacterial or antioxidant properties.
Moderate exercise has also been shown to help strengthen our immunity. Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways which in turn may help reduce the chance of us getting a cold, flu, or other illness. Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells; the body’s immune system cells that fight disease.
To promote a strong immune system then, we need to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle…and I’m sorry but you can’t eat a couple of oranges at breakfast and expect to be protected that day against the office cold. Building a strong immune system means maintaining healthy eating and lifestyle habits over a period of time. The best way to do this is by consuming a broad diet, rich in colourful vegetables and fruits, good quality proteins and healthy fats, while avoiding processed, non-nutritious foods. In addition to regular, moderate exercise, we can strengthen our immune system so that it’s ready for whatever the world throws at us.