Though the 2020 is coming soon to an end, we are still deep in the pandemic, plus we are also in Europe in a cold and flu season, I thought I would touch upon a topic, what you can do to be more resilient, so your body is able to fight off the viruses if you contract them.
I have written on how to strengthen your immune system and on immunity boosting foods already in my blog in the past, but in this article I want to focus on specific vitamins, plant pigments, hormones etc, that have been studied to help people to combat viruses, such as corona virus.
We all have a risk to contract the corona virus- in some shape or form. We can take the preventative measures- wear a mask, wash our hands, respect physical distancing, but there is more you can do. I like to use the functional medicine approach to COVID-19 as towards to any other illness, which looks at the body as one system and has a food first approach to start to treat the illness. By avoiding sugary drinks and foods, highly processed foods, and other inflammatory food groups (foods containing trans fats, gluten (especially of you are celiac or experiencing gluten sensitivity), lactose) and instead eating wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, wild caught fish, occasional grass-fed meat, you are already helping your body to better combat the outside stressors and viruses.
What are some of the things that help you to be the healthiest you during the pandemic and strengthen your immune system?
Having diabetes, weak metabolic health, obesity, auto-immune illnesses, fighting with cancer- they all often don’t result in good outcomes when it comes to being diagnosed with COVID-19. But being fearful and just hoping all will go well if we do get the virus, is definitely not the best strategy. I believe in taking matters into your own hands and focusing on what you can do to support to be the healthiest you. Below are the vitamins, minerals and supplements that I know of from my own research and listening to health experts that are essential for the strong immune system.
It's known that during the dark autumn and winter months our bodies get depleted of vitamin D. And since there is hardly any sun during this time of the year, we need to supplement with a good quality vitamin D. I would always suggest to test yourself as well to understand where your levels are at, but supplementing with 4000ui to 5000ui vitamin D daily would be a good start. Also, it's recommended to take vitamin D with vitamin K2, as while D vitamin helps to get the calcium into the body, K2 helps to transport the calcium into your bones.
Eating vitamin C rich foods is very important to help your body fight with viruses. Some of the foods highest in vitamin C (starting with the highest containing): Acerola cherries, sea buckthorn, rose hips, chilli peppers, guavas, Camu Camu, bell peppers, blackcurrants, thyme, parsley, kale, kiwis, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lemons, lychees, papayas, strawberries, oranges.
You can also supplement with vitamin C, but it's important that you check the ingredients list and that it does not contain any sweeteners. The best absorbable form of C-vitamin supplement is ascorbic acid.
Quercetin is a flavonoid important for reducing inflammation, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and also helps with allergies, is anti-cancerous and brain-protective.
Foods that contain highest level of quercetin include onions, asparagus, green peppers, green tea, tomatoes, cilantro, watercress, radicchio, Serrano peppers, Kale, elderberries, cranberries, blueberries, black berries, figs, apples, mulberries
I have bought Quercetin Plus supplement from Biocare, but there are other brands out there as well to use.
NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine)
NAC is a supplement form of cysteine. Cysteine is important for your body as it helps to replenish the most powerful antioxidant in your body, gluthathione (along with the other amino acids glutamine and glycine. You can find cystein from many protein-rich foods, like turkey, chicken, fish, oatmeal, eggs, yoghurt, sunflower seeds, legumes.
People do supplement with NAC, especially if they are suffering from chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, flu, diabetes, osteoarthritis. But if you are taking any medication, it's best to check with your healthcare provider about NAC.
Vitamin A has many health benefits, including supporting a healthy immune system, protecting eyes, lowering risk of certain cancers, supporting bone health etc. Foods highest in vitamin A include carrots, tuna (be mindful of its mercury levels), butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, red bell peppers, pink grapefruit, broccoli, liver, meat, fish, dairy.
Curcumin is a bioactive chemical in turmeric. It reduces the inflammation in the body and helps to increase the levels of endogenous antioxidants. It can also help with anxiety and depression, reduce LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glycose.
I have added both turmeric and curcumin to foods while cooking, such as into scrambled eggs, frittatas, while frying chicken or roasting vegetables. But I also add it into warm drinks with almond and coconut milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom. I make sure that when I eat curcumin, that there is also fat in the food (coconut oil, butter, olive oil) and that I have also added some freshly grounded black pepper as it helps with the absorption of curcumin.
I personally have never supplemented with curcumin or turmeric, but as with any supplement it's important to pick the best one recommended and always check the ingredients list.
Zinc is an important mineral as its present in every cell of your body. Zinc helps with digestion, metabolism, nerve function, brain function and is paramount for healthy immune system. As our bodies don't store zinc, it's important to get it through the food. In order to get adequate amount of zinc through your food, consume the following regularly: raw oysters (highest in zinc), beef, chicken, beans, crab, lobster, wild rice, peas, yoghurt (plain), pecans, hemp seeds, oatmeal, shiitake mushrooms, pumpkin seeds.
Of course there are other foods and supplements to add in to further help and support your immune system, such as Chinese Skullcap, medicinal mushrooms, adaptogens, but the above is a good start.
Other things that help to support the healthy immune system:
time restricted feeding (intermittent fasting), where you eat your healthy meals within for example 8 hours (let's say between 7am and 5pm) and fast for 16 hours. This allows your body to rest, repair and recover.
regular restful sleep with 7+ hours a night
regular exercise with focus on HIT and strength workouts and yoga and pilates in between
daily outdoor walks in the park, in the nature
practicing mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress
It's never too late to critically look through your weekly shopping list for food, optimising your lifestyle, so that if and when you do get infected with the virus, your immune system is strong to fight it and you are able to have just a mild case of the coronavirus- not developing pneumonia, requiring oxygen etc.