By Angela Schaefer
With the current Coronavirus pandemic we are all trying to protect ourselves and our loved ones from contracting it or at least lessen the blow should we be one of the unfortunate ones. There are a number of lifestyle factors we can consider to assist our bodies through this potentially arduous journey.
To support our immune systems, we can’t go wrong with upping our daily consumption of fruit and vegetables. They contain over 10 000 plant compounds, some of which haven’t been classified yet, but they communicate with the cells in our bodies and change the way in which they function.
Fruit and vegetables fall into six different colour categories: red, orange, yellow, green, purple/blue and white/tan (see “Phytonutrient Spectrum Foods” below.) Each colour has its own set of unique disease fighting compounds called phytochemicals. We should therefore challenge ourselves to consume at least one fruit or vegetable from each different category every day! In an ideal world, home-grown and organic vegetables are always preferable in order to limit our exposure to toxins including chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Other helpful supplements are listed below. They perform specific functions in the body, but are also very important for the immune system.
They can be consumed in food-form to give our bodies a general boost in overall health or in supplement-form as therapeutic doses:
Vitamin D3 – needed to activate immune defences to fight off serious infections. Sources are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, egg yolks, liver and fortified cereal
Vitamin C – an anti-oxidant; also supports various cellular functions to do with the immune system. Sources include citrus fruits, cabbage, broccoli, berries, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, bell peppers and cantaloupe
Zinc – needed to assist in multiple aspects of the immune system. Found in oysters, shellfish, red meat, nuts, pulses, dairy, pumpkin and sunflower seeds
Probiotics – healthy gut flora promote a healthy gut barrier which is integral in the protection against pathogens. Examples are yoghurt, home-made kefir, sauerkraut and pickles, kimchi, miso, kombucha and tempeh
Omega 3 oils – form part of the cell membrane and also involved in cell signalling in the immune system. Good sources are oily fish, seaweed, algae, seeds such as chia, hemp and flax
Beta Glucans – these are immune modulators found in edible mushrooms, yeast, and grains, such as oat, barley, and wheat Garlic, onions, ginger and herbs and spices, especially oregano and turmeric are great for fighting infections.
It is also very important to remain well hydrated by drinking at least 2 litres of water a day. We can also keep our hydration levels up by having water in the form of soups or broths and herbal teas, especially ginger and echinacea.
Adequate amounts of protein are important too as proteins build and repair body tissue and fight viral and bacterial infections. Sources includes meat, fish, dairy, poultry, eggs, pulses, legumes and nuts.
According to Eric J. Olson, MD of the Mayo Clinic, a lack of good quality and quantity sleep suppress our immune system and makes us more susceptible to catching viruses as well as making our recovery time longer.
Mark Hyman, US physician and Functional Medicine practitioner, says sugar and gluten must be avoided. He mentions that refined grain products turn into sugar quickly, and that studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress our immune system for hours after ingested.
He also suggests that we get regular exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. Overexertion such as training for endurance events when you are feeling run down should be avoided as this will lower your immune defences.
*Angela Schaefer is a director of the Prue Leith Culinary Institute and a Functional Medicine Health Coach