Updated: Mar 15
While the global panic around coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, there is a thing or two you can do right now to strengthen your body’s natural defenses and make sure you have the best chance to fight off any virus or infection.
This time of the year is particularly favourable to viruses and big infectious breakouts, simply because our body’s defenses are the weakest it’s been all year. The lack of fresh produce bursting in vitamins and minerals, more sedentary time indoors and vitamin D deficiencies (especially here in the
Northern Hemisphere) are making it especially easy for viruses to stick and spread like wildfire.
So instead of waiting for a vaccine (which may initially lower your immune system) or a miracle cure, there are plenty of things you can start doing TODAY to make sure you fight off germs with ease and boost your resilience.
Check out some hero foods that can help you increase your immunity and fight off intruders:
Garlic not only tastes good and is a great addition to any meal for flavour, but it is also a super-potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal that surely can be classed as a superfood in its own right. Make sure you eat it raw, as it contains a compound called allicin, responsible for these qualities (1).
Crush a garlic clove and add it on your salad, top your food with it or simply have it with an oatcake and have it as “medicine”. Best to do it before going to bed or get your family or loved ones have some too, to minimise the effects of garlic breath.
Although a popular and beautiful garden flower, echinacea is so much more than just the pretty facade. It is suggested that Echinacea supports the immune system and can cut the likelihood of catching a cold by 58% (3). It also seems that it is especially effective once the symptoms start if taken immediately.
Aim to get drops for better absorption and take them by adding in water or in your herbal tea.
If you’d like to find a herbal tea you can sip on if you’re experiencing coughs, blocked sinuses and wheezing, thyme is the on for you. Thyme contains a compound called thymol, that promotes its antibacterial and antiviral properties, boosts the immune system and especially supports the airways (4).
Make yourself a steaming thyme tea (with fresh or dried thyme) and add it to your meals for maximum effect. Also consider taking a supplement if you need extra support.
The reason coronavirus and seasonal flu hit hard this time of the year is because approximately at this time (or even January/ February) you should be running out of your vitamin D stores unless you have recently been on a sunny holiday.
Vitamin D has a balancing effect on the immune system by enhancing natural immune actions and by reducing inflammation. It boosts natural immune response against various respiratory infections, such as flu (5).
Although small amounts of vitamin D may be present in some foods, such as mushrooms, eggs and oily fish, I would certainly suggest going with a supplement for this one, especially if you haven’t been supplementing all winter.
Did you know that around 80% of your entire immune system resides in your gut (6)? Although it may not be the quick and instant support against viral infections and other germs, it’s a very good idea to make sure your gut flora is strong enough to keep the body’s defenses, front line. Research shows that healthy gut flora can protect the gut surface and support gut lining to block viral entry and reduce respiratory illness (7).
And although it’s good to add some fermented foods to your diet, it may not always be quite enough.
Make sure you consult a nutritional therapist or a functional medicine professional, who can help you discern the right strains and quantity for you to take.
Boost Your Antioxidant Status
Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent or slow down the damage, caused by free radicals.
During a time of oxidative stress, such as infection, stress and disease, inflammation is also present and making sure that your antioxidant status is high can help prevent further damage and even reduce the spread. Let’s look at a few main antioxidants that can support your immunity if you’re running on empty.
Although it is the most abundant antioxidant found in human cells, barely anyone seems to know much about this (unless you’re a medical or nutritional professional). And that is because glutathione can be made in the body, providing there are good sources of protein available.
However, glutathione levels drop with age and many people of the age 65+ have considerably low levels of glutathione available (8). It is therefore key to make sure you have good sources of complete proteins available, such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and so on.
If you feel below par and your immunity defenses are already lowered, it may be a good idea to take an extra supplement. Make sure you consult a medical or nutritional professional for your unique body needs.
When it comes to vitamin A, think eyes, skin and respiratory tract. This antioxidant is effective in supporting people through respiratory tract infections and can help reduce the severity of the infection (9).
Vitamin A precursors are found in orange foods, such as carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mango, apricot and spinach.
If you’re not already taking vitamin C to support your immune system through the flu season, you may want to start right now. Vitamin C can decrease the duration of colds, improve immune cell function and can support blood vessels and skin (10).
Vitamin C can be abundantly found in foods, especially fruit and veg. Some of the popular sources include citrus fruit, peppers, cabbage, potatoes, berries and sprouts.
A flavonoid, found in onions, apples and citrus fruit that can reduce inflammation and protect against cell damage. Especially effective for dealing with issues relating to breathing pathways, hay fever and viral infections (11).
As you can see there is plenty you can start doing NOW to boost your immunity and your body’s natural defenses. Keep focusing on filling your plate with rainbow colours and variety and you’re halfway there! And if you’re interested in adding additional supplementation, make sure you contact a medical or nutritional professional to help you get the best, most suitable options for your body.
Medical Disclaimer - I am not a doctor, medical professional or a dietician. The information I provide is based on my professional experience as a Nutritional Therapist, studies provided and on my personal experience. Any recommendations I may make about diet changes, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided to you on this website should be discussed between you a medical or healthcare professional. The information you receive in these blogs do not take the place of professional medical advice.