Now more than ever we need to find ways to boost our immune systems as much as possible. And, while there are no medications or immunity-boosting supplements that can cure or prevent the coronavirus, there are some simple lifestyle changes we can make and steps we can take to strengthen our defences. Good nutrition can also reduce developing other health problems including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, Head of Operations at Bonitas Medical Fund says, ‘Eating a healthy diet, high in immune-boosting nutrients, is just as important during this pandemic. What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to prevent and fight disease and recover from it. This is one of the ways in which we can improve our health proactively.’
What is the immune system?
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. It also keeps a record of every germ (microbe) it has ever defeated, so it can recognise and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again.
There is no magic pill that will instantly boost your immune system. However, together with a healthy lifestyle, various supplements can boost your immune system and give you a fighting chance.
Together with those people who have not been vaccinated, it is well documented that people with co-morbidities and poorly functioning immune systems are at the highest risk of getting really ill from Covid-19. Although you cannot suddenly reverse a co-morbidity or instantly boost your immune system, now is a good time to make your health and natural defences a priority.
Tips for maintaining a healthy diet:
- Eat a variety of food, including wholegrains (like maize, oats, rice, and legumes) as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet
- Limit salt intake to 5 grams (a teaspoon) a day
- Eat moderate amounts of fats and oils. Avoid saturated fat (animal fat). Try steaming instead of frying when cooking
- Limit sugar intake. This includes sweets, fizzy and sugary drinks. Choose fresh fruit over biscuits, cake, and chocolate
- Drink water. Good hydration is crucial for good health so make sure you drink enough water. There are many foods with high water content – such as cucumbers and celery – add these or lemon and mint, to a glass of water.
‘Ideally we should try and get all our vitamins from the food we eat. However, that’s not always possible which is why taking vitamin supplements can help bridge the gap,’ says Dr Mkhatshwa. ‘The recommendation for general health is a combination of essential vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy.’
Vitamin C: Key to fighting infection is to increase white blood cell production, eating foods high in vitamin C – such as grapefruit, oranges, sweet red pepper, broccoli, strawberries, kale, and tomato juice – are thought to help plus Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections.
Beta-Carotene: Beta-carotene converts into vitamin A, which is an anti-inflammatory vitamin that can help your antibodies respond to toxins, such as a virus. Beta-carotene is found in carrots, spinach, kale, apricots, sweet potato, apricots, and squash.
Vitamin E: Is an essential antioxidant that helps fight cell damage and supporting immune system function. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, peanut butter, seeds, avocado and spinach.
Antioxidants: Green tea is packed with antioxidants that have been shown to enhance immune system function. It also contains amino acids that may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T-cells, which reduces inflammation in the body and helps fight infection.
Vitamin D: This vitamin also fights off infections and maintains strong bones. It is found in salmon, canned tuna, egg yolks, milk, cereals, breads, and mushrooms. Alternatively, make sure you expose your body to 13-15 minutes of sunshine three times a week for a natural Vitamin D fix. Studies have shown that Vitamin D can expedite healing and stall inflammation in the respiratory system but there has not been robust clinical evidence to prove its use against Covid-19.
Probiotics: Live cultures, known as probiotics, are said to help stimulate the immune system to fight off disease. Yogurt, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, pickles as well certain types of cheese contain live cultures.
Vitamin B-6: Is essential in the formation of new and healthy red blood cells and helps maintain the lymphatic system. Chicken, turkey, cold-water fish (salmon and tuna), chickpeas (traditional hummus), bananas, fortified breakfast cereal and nutritional yeast are great options for consuming vitamin B-6.
Zinc: Is a mineral that our body doesn’t store or produce, however our Immune system cells need zinc to function as they are intended, it boosts the metabolism along with healing wounds. Red meat, shellfish, poultry, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds are high zinc foods.
‘During this global pandemic we need to understand that our actions are not just to protect ourselves but also those around us,’ says Dr Mkhatshwa. ‘The risk of contracting Covid-19 is higher in crowded spaces so, reiterating what the President said, we need to heed the call to make sure you socialise outdoors or have plenty of fresh air flowing through your homes and workplaces. The World Health Organization talks about avoiding the 3Cs: Spaces that are closed, crowded, or involve close contact.
‘We need to work together to contain the spread of Covid-19 especially during the various mutations of the virus. With the 4th wave upon us, we need to vaccinate, wear masks, keep our distance, follow good hygiene protocols, boost our immune systems and get plenty of exercise and fresh air.’