COVID Series: Top Ten Tips to Boost Your Immunity and Beat the Virus

Case studies are showing that Covid-19 can be spread by asymptomatic carriers through our communities without us even knowing.  Without a vaccine or cure on the horizon any time soon, our immune system needs to be on top form to put up the best fight against the insidious pathogen.  We reached out to Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist at the University of Sussex, for her tips on how to boost our immune systems. 

“This is a serious infection and no amount of lifestyle intervention will make you invincible”, she said, “but there are plenty of small things you can do that may strengthen your immune system”.  Let’s take a look at the advice she gives in her recently published book “Immunity: The Science of Staying Well”. 

1. Wash your hands with plenty of water

There’s handwashing and there’s handwashing during a global pandemic. When you wash your hands, it’s more about the water than the soap. Warm water is better, but getting a lot of water over your hands whilst you’re rubbing them together is much more important than the amount of soap used. As for gels, look for at least 60% alcohol, as this will stimulate antibacterial and virucidal activity (but they won’t work at all if your hands are heavily soiled or greasy).

2. Eat a colourful Mediterranean diet

“Eating a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet rich in different coloured fruits and vegetables, will give you the best chance of getting the wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients your body needs to fight infection”, says Dr Claire Bailey, a GP with a special interest in immunity and author of Clever Gut and Blood Sugar Diet. The more colours you include, the more nutrients you get. “Have the fruits and vegetables whole and ideally with the skin on as this contains essential fibre that feeds the healthy bugs in your digestive tract, crucial to fighting infection.”

3. Dose up on vitamin C

There’s little evidence showing vitamin C prevents infection, but it does show that once a cold has hit, vitamin C can shorten the duration of symptoms. Our immune cells have a high need for vitamin C when they are working hard to fight infection, so if you find yourself with symptoms, this is the time to start dosing up on vitamin C.

4. Don’t lose sleep over it

Adequate sleep is the bedrock of your whole immune system. If you’re not sleeping, no other lifestyle measure will make much difference because while we sleep, the hormone melatonin stimulates new immune cells.

5. Move around throughout your day – and build some muscle

Regular and often is the key for exercise and immunity. Movement throughout the day is essential for your lymphatic system, which relies on movement and muscle for stimulation. It is important to helping your immune cells perform their surveillance function of moving around the body fighting germs that might be trying to get inside your tissues. And while it’s not exactly quick, strength training is essential to immunity as you age.

6. That ‘two litres of water’ rule – heed it

Hydration is critically important but vastly overlooked – many metabolic functions rely on it.  Indeed, if you get dehydrated, it can change the mucus layer in your respiratory tract and your digestive tract that has antibodies that trap germs and stop them getting into your cells.  Oh, and tea and coffee are diuretics, so they don’t count.

7. A throat spray might help

Some throat sprays could help shorten the duration of your symptoms. One is ColdZyme (£9.99 from Boots, other pharmacies and Amazon), a mouth spray designed to be used at the first sign of a sore throat to help prevent a full-blown cold from developing. It works by forming a protective barrier over the throat, making it more difficult for the cold virus to cause illness. According to one double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study on ColdZyme which was published in November 2017, using ColdZyme could reduce the number of days patients showed symptoms by half, from six and a half to just three.

8. Get enough vitamin D and Zinc

Pooled data from 16 clinical trials involving 7,400 people show that taking vitamin D supplements reduces the risk of experiencing at least one respiratory infection including influenza and pneumonia by a third with positive benefits seen within 3 weeks. In those with low vitamin D status, the protection was even greater reducing the risk of respiratory infection by almost a half compared with placebo. Another analysis published in 2017 in the British Medical Journal looked at 25 studies and involved around 11,000 people from 14 countries. It found that vitamin D supplements reduced the risk of acute respiratory infections by 11 per cent compared with placebo. A cheek spray is great for fast absorption of vitamin D into your bloodstream. Try Healthspan’s Super Strength Peppermint Vitamin D Spray £4.95.

We can’t make zinc in our bodies, so we have to get it from our diets.  Yet it plays a role in hundreds of reactions in our bodies and is extremely important to fighting infection. There’s some evidence that taking extra zinc in the winter months is helpful at preventing infection, but zinc is not something to take all the time as it can cause toxicity.  Food sources include red meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds and dark chocolate.

9. Eat sourdough bread – and other gut-friendly fibre

Your gut bacteria – or microbiome – is crucial to immunity.  This breaks down your food in the digestive tract and produces metabolites known as ‘post-biotics’ that are helpful for our immune systems.  But keeping your gut happy doesn’t only involve eating fashionable fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.  What is even more important is getting the fibre foods that feed those healthy bugs and encourage them to grow.  Sourdough is one of the healthiest things you can eat for your microbiome and a great source of fermented fibre which as the best of both worlds.  Other gut-friendly fibres include fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

10. Add crushed garlic to your food

Those delicious bulbs of heaven contain a compound called allicin that has been well studied for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.  This is only released when the garlic has been crushed and left to sit for a while, before use in cooking.  Meanwhile, some studies have tried to take this active ingredient out of garlic and make it into a supplement, but they haven’t been shown to be effective.

By following these ten simple steps, we are making our own personal protection equipment for the fight against Covid-19.  Read in more detail about how we can stay healthy and well in Dr Macciochi’s book, available on Amazon UK through this link:  Check out her website too for articles, publications, recipes and more!