In these unprecedented times, having a robust, intelligent and fast acting immune response is more important than ever. There is a plethora of articles and posts circulating with recommendations on how to keep well during the pandemic with high dose vitamin C supplementation being the most commonly given piece of advice. Vitamin C is certainly a critical aspect of good immunity but it is not all the only thing we should be focused on.
If you are choosing to take vitamin C supplements, here are a few things to consider: the body cannot store vitamin C, so it should be taking daily, ideally in a Time Release form. Everyone’s need is different. If you are a smoker, if you are highly stressed, if you exercise a lot, your need greatly increases. To know how much you body can absorb, increase your dose daily until you notice your stools are becoming looser than usual. Then reduce your dose by 1; not all vitamin C is equal. Look for a supplement that is made from citrus pulp / wholefoods containing the bioflavonoids that assist in your body’s use of vitamin C; ensure you have vitamin C rich foods at every meal: bell peppers, green leafy veg, broccoli / purple sprouting, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kiwi fruit and citrus fruit are all good sources. Steam your veg rather than boil as vitamin C is water soluble so gets lost in the cooking water. Goji berries are also a great option.
There are many other immune-boosting foods and nutrients that we should be focused on: vitamin D3 is hugely important for a smart immune system and the vast majority of people who live in the UK are known to be at the low end of the recommended range, or below range. Being only just in range is not really sufficient to be functioning optimally. Due to our limited and weak sun in the UK, getting enough of the sunshine vitamin is virtually impossible. Relatively few foods contain vitamin D. It is a fat-soluble vitamin meaning is it found in the fat of foods and critically if supplementing, needs to be consumed with foods that contain some fat. Vitamin D rich foods include oily fish like mackerel and sardines, egg yolks some cheese and organ meats. It is advisable to get a vitamin D3 test (easily done with an online kit these days) before taking a supplement to be sure you do need some, as it is possible to have too much, but it is incredibly rare. If your levels are right at baseline or lower than the recommended range, it’s worth taking a vitamin D3 supplement that also contains vitamin K2 (it will be more expensive) as vitamin K2 greatly enhances how well your body uses vitamin D3.
Zinc and selenium are 2 minerals often lacking in the diet and also key to a strong immune systems. Zinc is found in pumpkin seeds, eggs, shellfish, red meat and beans and selenium is plentiful in Brazil nuts. Just 3 Brazil nuts a day should give you a good daily dose.
A little know in the UK super, super-food is black cumin seed oil (nigella sativa). It is quite bitter tasting, this bitterness coming from antioxidants with amazing health-giving properties. It is believed that the antioxidants in black seeds may help discourage certain viruses from spreading within the body by making it difficult for viruses to duplicate within the cells. Black seed oil can also boost your body’s natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that seek out and destroy viruses. Black seed oil must be kept cool, never heated. Ideally buy one in a dark bottle, keep it in the fridge and buy the best quality you can afford i.e cold pressed, organic. It can be used as a culinary oil in salad dressings or take off the spoon like a medicine. 1 – 2 teaspoons daily.
Garlic is well-known to be great for immunity. To ensure your garlic is fully activated and super-charged, get in to the habit of chopping or crushing your garlic when you start your cooking. Leave it exposed to the air for at least 10 minutes. As the broken garlic cells react to the oxygen in the air, the garlic makes large amounts of the active compound much studied for its immune-boosting qualities, allicin. You can now cook with the garlic and it will retain its powers.
Do not forget the importance of a healthy gut for a strong immune system. Around 80% of your immune system lives in the lining of your digestive tract. It can be very tempting to turn to sugary, processed treats, have some extra alcohol, chocolate and snacks during times of turmoil and uncertainty. However, these foods and drinks can compromise the gut microbes that are helping to keep us strong and well. Feed your gut microbes with fibre-rich foods like brightly coloured and green leafy vegetables, onions, leeks and garlic, nuts and seeds, berries, kiwi, beans and lentils. All these foods contain prebiotic fibre, your gut microbes’ favourite food. Boost your gut microbes with fermented foods like live, natural yogurt, mature cheeses, fermented vegetables like raw sauerkraut and kimchi and non-alcoholic fermented drinks like dairy, coconut and water kefir and kombucha. These all contain a range of beneficial microbes to help support gut health and immune response.
Other things to consider: keep well hydrated. Making lime and ginger tea is a great way to hydrate while also getting vitamin C from the lime and lots of further health benefits from root ginger. Simply put a few slices of root ginger in a teapot along with a few slices of fresh lime. Pour on hot water and leave to steep for at least 10 minutes. Drink hot or cold throughout the day; get plenty of sleep, your immune system will be compromised if you are tired; try not to be too worried and anxious. Stress can suppress the immune system. Do not be tempted to obsessively follow the news regarding Covid19, it can be overwhelming; keep moving, even if isolating. You are allowed to go outside for a walk, assuming you go somewhere fairly isolated. Sunshine and the outdoors is great for mental and physical health. Be well. Be safe. Be kind.