In these times of uncertainty, the rise of self-isolation and working from home for a currently unknown length of time, we want you to know that we’re here for you. We’re working hard to stay abreast of the rapidly developing guidelines and research, so we can help to keep you informed and healthy.
We also want to use this opportunity to impart some positivity at this strange time. There is a lot going on, and a lot of unanswered questions, however, there are several things that we do know. This will pass. We will go back to work. Normal daily life will resume. While we do not know how long it will take to get to this point, there are many things that we can all do to support ourselves. Let’s make sure to use this time wisely for reflection and self-care.
We need to do everything we can to harness the might of our immune system to ensure that it is primed to respond swiftly and efficiently, to help minimise the risk of an infection. So without further ado, we have compiled our top tips for supporting immunity, maintaining a positive outlook, and keeping healthy at this most challenging of times.
Top Nutrition Tips You Can do Right Now
Building a strong immune system can be achieved through various measures, particularly by maintaining an optimal intake of the essential nutrients which it needs to function efficiently, together with supporting gut health and reducing stress. Aside from the hygiene tips which we receive from the Department of Health, we want to inform you about what else you can be doing right now to support yourself and your loved ones:
- Eat the rainbow. Focus on nutrient dense foods, and aim to eat a variety of different coloured foods with every meal. This is the best way to ensure that you’re achieving a good daily intake of micronutrients, such vitamin C, A, B, zinc, and selenium. Also increase your daily intake of foods with a particularly high antioxidant content such as berries, dark leafy green vegetables (e.g. kale, cavolo nero, spinach), cacao, and citrus fruits, to provide further protection for your immune system as well as respiratory tract.[i]
- Drink your broths. Vegetable and bone broths (e.g. chicken, lamb, beef) are packed with the healing amino acid, L-glutamine, which supports gut health by improving the health of the gut wall, which in turn helps to reduce inflammation.[ii] Supporting gut resilience is vital in immunity. We can also support it by increasing our daily intake of prebiotic fibre-rich foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as probiotic bacteria-rich foods such as raw sauerkraut and kefir.[iii]
- Utilise your spices. We all love a good cup of tea, and this is the perfect time to turn to your spice cupboard and opt for having freshly grated ginger or turmeric tea. Well known for their immune enhancing properties and reducing inflammation,[iv] you could even add some raw organic honey or cinnamon for a hint of sweetness.
- Stay hydrated. Unsurprisingly, we need to stay properly hydrated for our body to function optimally and this goes for our immune system too. Regular water intake can even help to wash any lingering pathogens in the throat down into digestive tract for the stomach acid to kill off, providing additional protection for our immune system.
So, what if you’re working from home and have limited pantry essentials, not to mention a dwindling supply of toilet rolls! Here are some additional practical tips for you:
- Use what you already have. This is the time to finally put those tins in the back of the cupboard to good use! Add beans and lentils to your stews and soups to increase the nutrient content. Lentils and beans offer a great source of protein, as well as fibre and minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
- Batch cook your meals. This will allow you to make what you need and freeze the rest for later, putting your mind at rest that you will have food available.
- Freeze your vegetables. With the surge in stockpiling, ensure your fresh vegetables stay that way by chopping them up and storing them in the freezer so you can easily add them to each meal. This way they will last much longer and you will have a guaranteed way of maintaining a good daily intake of those all-important micronutrients.
Lifestyle Tips For a Strong Immune system
As the world appears to be coming to a halt, we need to make the most of this time to stop and breathe, and reflect. Amidst all of the panic, the lifestyle tips below will be sure to help keep you calm and your spirits high:
- Prioritise sleep. For our body to repair and function optimally, we need adequate sleep. This is considered to be between 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. There is staggering research showing that those who have less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep are 3x more likely to develop an infection, such as the common cold when exposed to the Rhinovirus, compared with those who had 8 hours sleep per night or more.[v] Furthermore, regulating our natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) is imperative when it comes to immune health. That means going to bed when our melatonin (our sleepy hormone) is released (after sunset) and stick to a set bedtime. Research shows that melatonin has an anti-inflammatory action and exhibits an immuno-modulatory effect, specifically in flu-induced pneumonia.[vi] Reduce exposure to blue light from devices, such as phones, T.V. and computers in the evening, as these greatly reduce melatonin production which can then significantly affect sleep quality.[vii]
- Breathe. Implement deep breathing techniques daily. The breath directly impacts our sympathetic nervous system response (our ‘fight or flight’ instinct) and can help to shift our nervous system into a state of calm, as well as help to combat inflammation and strengthen lung function.[viii] The Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) is used by physiotherapists to support respiratory conditions, which gives a step by step method to clear the lungs and chest. Alternatively, try this simple breathing exercise as follows:
Empty your lungs of air
Inhale through the nose for 4 counts
Hold for 4 counts
Exhale through the mouth for 4 counts
Repeat until you feel more relaxed
- Movement. Working from home can mean we might be at risk of not getting enough fresh air or exercise, which is hugely important for our overall health and wellbeing. Ensure to take a walk daily or a morning stretch to improve your mental health and get your body moving. For those working from home, you can fit in a lunch-time stretch session, or even go crazy and throw in some burpees! Use your environment around you to inspire a creative workout. Getting outside is also an excellent way to improve your vitamin D status too, which will then further strengthen your immune system.[ix]
- Reduce stress. There is no doubt that this is a stressful time, so now more than ever we need to prioritise our daily self-care and relaxation. Stress can dampen the immune response and increase inflammation, which can make us more susceptible to infection.[x] Therefore, use this time to explore meditation, yoga, and daily journaling, indulge in fiction, re-discover long-forgotten hobbies, connect with loved ones, and listen to calming music, all to help you stay connected, relaxed, and maintain a positive mind-set.
If you have any particular concerns about the current coronavirus outbreak due to your current health status, we of course encourage you to contact your GP for extra guidance. Meanwhile, if you would like personalised dietary, lifestyle, and supplement advice, please contact our Clinical Nutrition team or seek the advice of a private registered Nutritional Therapist, especially if you are an at-risk individual.
Stay safe and keep in touch. We’re here for you and we will get through this together.
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[i] Khomich OA et al. Redox biology of respiratory viral infections. Viruses. 2018; 10 (8): 392.
[ii] Kim MH et al. The Role of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication I Intestinal Diseases. Int Jr Mol Sci. 2017; 18(5); 1051.
[iii] Huaman JW et al. Effects of prebiotics vs a diet low in FODMAPs in patients with functional gut disorders. Gastroenterology. 2018; 155 (4): 1004-1007.
[iv] Jagetia G et al. ‘Spicing up’ of the Immune System by Curcumin. Jr Clin Imm. 2007; 27;19(35).
[v] Cohen S et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169 (1): 62-7.
[vi] Huang et al. Melatonin possesses an anti-influenza potential through its immune modulatory effect. 2019; 58; 189-198.
[vii] Tahkamo et al. Systemic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm. Chronobiol in. 2019; 36(2); 151-170.
[viii] Kox et al. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. 2014; 1-6.
[ix] Telcian et al. Vitamin D increases the antiviral activity of bronchial epithelial cells in vitro. Antiviral Res. 2017; 137; 93-101.
[x] Morey et al. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015; 1(5); 13-17.