With many scientists around the world working to create potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, it may be hard to see why you would need to be doing anything yourself. However, there is a lot you can – and should – do to prepare your immune system naturally. After all, it is your best defence against not only COVID-19 but all infections! Preparing your body can also be the difference when it comes to the severity of the symptoms you may experience if you do get ill.
It is very important to also comply with government and World Health Organization recommendations but that does not mean you can’t take responsibility for your own health, creating a warrior-like immune system ready to fight off anything that comes its way.
Acute naturopathic treatment will focus on the systems most affected by the pathogens, including the lungs, systemic inflammation and mucous membranes (ears, nose, throat, gut, mouth). Every case will be different and may have a completely different symptom picture. It is crucial to ensure you are helping your body recover to the best of its ability to prevent any complications now or in the future. Treatment is tailored and directed to specific areas that require immediate attention.
(Our acute appointments are ideal for this type of illness as they are just 20 minutes in duration and focused on the presenting symptoms.)
Testing is also important to gauge where systems in your body may be affected or to assess levels of critical nutrients and cofactors required for immune function. Testing allows us to get a clear picture of what is going on and treat it quickly and effectively.
Immune system boosting nutrients and food
Our diet plays an extremely important part in how well our body functions. By consuming nutrient rich foods necessary for optimal functioning, we can positively affect and even boost our immune system.
Vitamin D enhances the immune system’s response to pathogens, creating a tailored response to infection. It also has a high influence on the regulation of cytokine production of the immune system. Making sure you are getting out in the sun is important as people who are depleted of vitamin D have a higher risk of infection. Fifteen minutes of sunlight in the middle of the day is a great start to boosting your vitamin D levels. Some small amounts of vitamin D are found in fatty fish, butter, eggs, fish and liver. As we head into winter it is more difficult to get your recommended daily dose so a supplement may be required.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and immunostimulant that regulates immune cells. There are certain states that compromise our vitamin C levels including air pollution (for example bushfires) and physiological stress, which unfortunately covers a lot of us in Australia this year. High amounts of vitamin C can be found in kiwi fruit, capsicum, papaya, berries, broccoli, lemon, lime, pineapple and cabbage. Aim to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in their raw state where possible as cooking reduces vitamin C significantly, with up to 100 per cent reduction in some cooking methods.
Selenium prevents pathogens from replicating and holding onto our cells. It is an antioxidant and immunomodulator meaning it regulates, not overstimulates, our immune cells. Infection is shown to severely deplete selenium so boosting stores post-infection is important. Luckily, one brazil nut is the daily recommended dose so indulge in a few to boost your levels quickly. Selenium is also found in grass-fed meat and shellfish.
Vitamin A is an important antioxidant immune stimulant and supports mucosal immunity. Vitamin A creates a surface that can help combat the pathogen at the site. Vitamin A is also a mucolytic meaning it helps to break up mucus, a problematic facet of COVID-19. Good quality vitamin A can be hard to obtain but the best sources are butter, eggs, grass-fed meats, liver and sardines. An antioxidant that converts to vitamin A is beta carotene which can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, dark leafy greens, squash, broccoli and peas. However, it does require conversion to work within the body.
Zinc is critical for all development of immune cells. Australian soils are depleted of zinc so we need to consciously consume this nutrient. Also, unfortunately, it does not store in the body making it even more important to ensure we include it in our diet every day. Suboptimal zinc ingestion can lead to reduced immune defence capacity by as much as 30–80 per cent. The best sources of zinc are shellfish, oysters, grass-fed meats, cashews, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.
Essential fatty acids are the cell gatekeepers of immune cell regulation and influence the behaviour of proteins involved in immune cell activation. They also play an important role in regulating inflammatory responses. This is crucial for COVID-19 treatment due to the out of control inflammatory response which is the cause of the more sinister issues. Most concentrated sources which are lower in heavy metals include fatty fish, mackerel, halibut, herring, sardines and salmon. Vegetarians can obtain ALA from consuming chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts however it requires conversion within the body making it less efficient.
Probiotics create a protective barrier against antigens, influence immune response and modulate the immune system (including modulation of cytokine response). You can stimulate the gut bacteria through fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir. Alternatively, stimulation through feeding your beneficial gut bacteria via prebiotics is another angle. Prebiotic foods include artichoke, bananas, chicory, garlic, leek and onions. It is recommended to further investigate microbiome levels as this can provide a more targeted approach.
Quercetin directly inhibits coronavirus replication and draws zinc into the cell to help combat the pathogens. It is found most densely in onion, capsicum, grapes, tea (black and green), cherries, leafy greens, apples, grapes and red wine. It is an antioxidant, antiviral, immunomodulator and anti-inflammatory. Quercetin is also cardioprotective and antidiabetic.
If in doubt, eat the rainbow!
A varied diet of unprocessed and organic foods covers many bases from a nutrient perspective and helps to reduce inflammation which reduces cytokine production.
(Our Immune Packs contain high quality products to assist with boosting your immunity. Check them out under Health Kits in our shop.)
More information about the virus can be found in our blog ‘Coronavirus – What you should know’.
If you would like to know more about boosting your immunity through naturopathic treatment, book an appointment with one of our naturopaths. Treatment provided is individual and targeted to your needs.
Written by Ally Stuart BHSc