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Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus by Supporting the Immune System

March 19, 2020
Mark Killick
photo of a family being protected by hands

One thing that I’ve observed over the past few days is how people are pulling together, offering helping hands to others, and focussing on what they can do to ride safely through this global pandemic. How can we best take care of ourselves and loved ones and take precautionary measures for the benefit of the general community, helping to halt the spread of this disease.

COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic and there are estimates that 40% to 70% of our population will be affected. The elderly and those with chronic disease will face a greater threat, emphasising the need for the rest of the population to help and pay heed to Government and medical guidelines.

This virus is different as its termed a ‘novel’ virus meaning that we are all susceptible, but there is still a lot that we can do to protect ourselves.

The virus is spreading fast in the UK with 2,626 cases so far, and a total of 71 people have died from the disease. I’m sure that this figure would have risen by the time that you read this. The Imperial College Covid-19 response team that has been advising Ministers, suggest that with stringent precautions the ‘best case scenario’ could still see 20,000 deaths in total. If advice is not followed the death toll could reach around 250,000.

It is easily transmissible and can survive on surfaces for 72 hours, some say longer, but can be killed with cleaning agents including alcohol, bleach or hydrogen peroxide. It will get worse before it gets better and we could be dealing with it for the next 12-18 months.

The majority of people infected with the virus will have mild symptoms (some will have no symptoms at all) and will recover from the infection. The groups most at risk include people with chronic disease, those over 70 years old, and those on immunosuppressive medicine.

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are recent onset of:

  • A new continuous cough and/or
  • A high temperature

The encouraging news is that China (the source of the outbreak) and South Korea have seen a reduction in cases. The outbreak has slowed due to the quarantine and case tracking strategy that the respective Governments took.

The UK has put in place a strategy of self-isolation and social distancing to ease the burden on the NHS and its hospitals and Intensive Care Units.

Best practice to protect yourself and loved ones from the virus

There are two ways to help protect yourself and your family from the virus. First is to take every necessary step to stop yourself getting the virus in the first place and to help stop the spread of the disease. Second is to increase your resilience to the infection by supporting your immunity.

Avoiding infection

  • Social distancing – Don’t shake hands with people to avoid physical contact. Keep a 2m distance from people whilst out in public. Work from home and don’t make any unnecessary journeys. This is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread.
  • Wash your hands – Use soap and water and wash your hands for 20 seconds. Do this when entering your home and after visiting supermarkets or any other essential visits. Avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Stay at home – This is not a time for going out. Use the time to cook at home, learn a new hobby, read books etc. Don’t lose contact with friends or loved ones though and make sure that you phone or Facetime to relieve the isolation that many will feel.
  • Look after the vulnerable – Some of us will need help with shopping and other supplies, especially the elderly and those in the high-risk groups.

Supporting your Immunity and the Immunity of loved ones

  • Eat nutritious home-cooked food – During a recent supermarket visit, I noticed that the empty shelves were the ones stocking highly processed foods. These foods increase inflammation and undermine the immune system. Eat a balance of wholefoods aiming for up to 10 portions a day of fresh coloured vegetables and fruits. Make vegetables your priority, including leafy greens, broccoli, sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower. When it comes to fruit, berries are best.
  • Eat protein with each meal – Ensure that you include good sources of protein which include, meat, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds. Ask yourself, “Where is the protein?” at each meal.
  • Include spices, herbs, garlic and onions – Many spices and herbs have antiviral properties, especially oregano. Turmeric, clove, rosemary, thyme, cayenne pepper, chilli pepper and black pepper all give the immune system a boost.
  • Avoid sugar and refined foods – Too much sugar weakens the immune system. Refined, processed foods often contain raised levels of sugar or raise levels in the blood.
  • Eat fermented foods – Fermented foods such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha support your healthy gut bacteria, supporting your body’s immunity.
  • Drink water and herbal teas – Your body functions better when it is well hydrated. Herbal teas and green teas contain micronutrients that support the immune system.
  • Prioritise sleep – When we sleep the body repairs. People who don’t get enough sleep can have weaker immune systems.
  • Minimise stress – Present times are stressful, but regularly practicing meditation or yoga can switch the body into a calm state that benefits the immune system. Too many stress hormones will weaken your body’s defences.
  • Exercise regularly – Gyms may be closed but your body will be stronger if you can find time for regular exercise. This can include walks, a yoga practice or a regular bike ride. Excessive exercise can weaken the immune system so be wary of this.
  • Regular sunlight - The most bioavailable source of vitamin D is the sun. Get daily exposure when you can but avoid getting burnt. Best time is in the morning as it will optimise sleep, which helps the immune system.

Supplements to support immunity

  • Multivitamin/mineral – This is not instead of a good, nutritious diet, but a good multivitamin/mineral can cover the basic vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Vitamin A and selenium in a multi will support your immunity.
  • Vitamin C – There is a lot of research show that vitamin C can support the immune system. Besides including vitamin C rich foods, supplement 500-1000 mg/day.
  • Vitamin D - Vitamin D is central to the body’s immune system. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risk of infection. One in three of us are deficient in vitamin D. Doctors are able to test your vitamin D levels, but at present I suggest supplementing 2000 iu a day.
  • Zinc citrate – Zinc is an important nutrient to support the immune system and studies have shown it to shorten the duration of infections. I suggest 25mg a day for the time being.
  • Probiotics – A healthy gut microbiota can trigger the immune systems response against a virus. A probiotic containing around 10 billion live cultures helps support a healthy gut.

Incorporating this advice can help you be the healthiest version of you whilst we make our way through this crisis. Keep as calm as possible, reach out and help others where appropriate and stay safe.