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How to protect yourself from infections

How to protect yourself from infections
By Emily Blake 25 days ago 26246 Views

We are avidly following the breaking news about the current coronavirus outbreak and its spread to other countries around the world.[i]

Read on to learn how nutrition and lifestyle can help to strengthen our immune system at this time of the year and protect us from infections.

We hope that you find this blog reassuring and helpful.


Coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of viruses which cause a range of illnesses, ranging from the common cold to severe respiratory conditions. In early January, a new strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified as the cause of several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, and it has since spread worldwide.[ii] It has been reported that those with 2019-nCoV experience mild to severe respiratory issues, starting with a fever, cough, and shortness of breath.[iii]

The Department of Health and Social Care, together with Public Health England, have issued online guidelines about the outbreak based upon the current state of knowledge. We suggest that you read these guidelines if you have not already, especially if you have returned from Wuhan, or China generally, in the last 14 days, or have come into contact with someone who has - please follow this link.

As a newly identified strain of coronavirus, little is known about it in terms of how it behaves, how it spreads, and how it can be treated, and this has left many of us feeling vulnerable and apprehensive as we watch the situation unfold. It is important to recognise though that the above authoritative bodies have emphasised that “…most cases of appear to be mild. Those who have died in Wuhan appear to have had pre-existing health conditions.”[iv]

We are keen to empower you with knowledge of the many measures which we can all implement to support our immunity. This is important for all of us, but especially for at-risk members of the population, particularly those with existing underlying medical conditions,[v] as well as young children, the elderly, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Given that the virus is principally spread from animals to humans, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have issued some general precautionary guidelines about how we can try to minimise animal-human transmission which is well worth a read – please follow this link. We also recommend that you check out the following resources provided by the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which summarise additional measures which may further reduce our risk of infection.

So, what else can we do? Well, one striking omission from the recommendations issued to date is the importance of nutrition and lifestyle. While this is a new strain of coronavirus that we do not know much about, we need to focus on what we do know about combatting viral infections naturally by harnessing the power of our immune system, which is a lot! Once more, there is actually some research available which highlights the potential benefit of nutrition for infection from other strains of coronavirus, which it would be well worth putting into practice given the possibility that it might be effective against 2019-nCoV too!


  • Keep your immune system nourished with the nutrients it requires to function properly, chiefly those with general anti-viral properties such as beta-glucans,[vi] zinc,[vii] lysine,[viii] and vitamin A,[ix] C[x] and D.[xi] Consider supplementing them on a daily basis from a therapeutic multinutrient to work on prevention, coupled with a targeted immune complex if you start to feel below par which provides these nutrients at a higher dose for extra support. For instance, look for a complex providing elderberry, since preliminary in vitro research has revealed its strong inhibitory effect on a strain of human coronavirus (HCoV-NL63)[xii] and a strain of pathogenic coronavirus found in chickens.[xiii]
  • It is worth taking vitamin C at a high dose, short-term. Up to 6-8g per day can reduce the symptoms of the common cold, and a high dose may be protective against other respiratory issues, including pneumonia.[xiv] Studies in animals have even shown that vitamin C may be effective against certain strains of coronavirus![xv] It is easiest to achieve a high dose of vitamin C using a powdered vitamin C product. Since it is a water-soluble nutrient, it is advisable to spread this dosage over the course of the day (rather than taken all in one go) to support absorption and help maintain a steady supply of vitamin C in the bloodstream. Be careful with high dose vitamin C if you are on medication (especially anticoagulants) or have a history of kidney stones. Furthermore, if you are under medical supervision, please consult a health professional before supplementing. If uncertain, please contact our Clinical Nutrition team for further guidance.
  • Optimise your vitamin D status guided by a vitamin D test. We are all prone to sub-optimal vitamin D levels during winter and the last thing we need is something as basic as this increasing our infection risk.[xvi] Increase your intake of vitamin D rich foods and contact a Registered Nutritional Therapist for tailored advice. Adults and children can start by taking a conservative daily dose of 1000 IU and 400 IU vitamin D3 respectively.
  • Support the resilience of the gut to infection by increasing your intake of prebiotics (the fibre)[xvii] and probiotics (the good bacteria),[xviii], [xix] alongside supportive micronutrients, notably vitamin A and vitamin D.[xx],[xxi] Enjoy foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, raw sauerkraut, and kefir on a daily basis. To help you reach a therapeutic dosage, consider supplementing with prebiotics and well-researched human strains of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. The LAB4 combination can stave off intestinal pathogenic overgrowth[xxii] and support the barrier function of the gut wall,[xxiii] which can then have a positive knock-on impact on the overall strength of our immune system.
  • Prioritise sleep and relaxation. Sleep is the opportunity for our body to ‘rest and repair’ and is just as important as nutrition when looking to strengthen our immune system. Strikingly, research has shown that those with less than 7 hours sleep per night were up to 3x more likely to develop the common cold after experimental exposure to rhinovirus than those with more than or equal to 8 hours sleep per night.[xxiv] Therefore, aim for 8 hours or more uninterrupted sleep per night with the help of an eye mask, ear plugs, increased intake of calming nutrients such as magnesium,[xxv] and meditation before bed, to facilitate the protective effect of sleep on our immune defences.[xxvi] Given the anxiety that we are prone to feel when it comes to the current coronavirus outbreak, this recommendation could not be more important!
  • Watch your sugar and alcohol intake. Try to choose healthier alternatives, such as dark chocolate, nuts, and non-alcoholic drinks (e.g. kombucha), since both can have a draining impact on our immunity.

All of the above nutrients are important for children’s immunity too, but at a dose that’s appropriate for their use. Therefore, use a product that’s been specifically formulated for children, or contact our Clinical Nutrition team for further guidance.

If you are concerned about the current coronavirus outbreak, we encourage you to contact your GP for extra guidance. Meanwhile, if you would like personalised nutrition 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. Keep calm and focus on prioritising your self-care.

Got a question?

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If you’re struggling with weight loss and would like tailored advice to suit your needs, please contact our Clinical Nutrition team.

We have a team of friendly Nutritionists at the end of our advice line, open to you, for free expert health and product advice (5 days a week). 0121 433 8702 or clinicalnutrition@biocare.co.uk.

Or head to our advice page where you can find Healthnotes.

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[i] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 2020. Geographical distribution of 2019-nCov cases. Accessed: 29/01/2020. Available from: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases

[ii] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 2020. Novel coronavirus in China. Accessed: 29/01/2020. Available from: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/novel-coronavirus-china

[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China. Symptoms & Complications. Accessed: 29/01/2020. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html

[iv] Department of Health and Social Care, and Public Health England. 2020. Wuhan novel coronavirus: information for the public. Accessed: 29/01/2020. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public

[v] World Health Organisation. 2020. WHO recommendations to reduce risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to humans in live animal markets. Accessed: 29/01/2020. Available from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus/who-recommendations-to-reduce-risk-of-transmission-of-emerging-pathogens-from-animals-to-humans-in-live-animal-markets

[vi] McFarlin BK et al. Baker's yeast beta glucan supplementation increases salivary IgA and decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2013; 10 (3): 171-83.

[vii] Read SA et al. The role of zinc in antiviral immunity. Adv Nutr. 2019; 10 (4): 696-710.

[viii] Rubey RN. Could lysine supplementation prevent Alzheimer’s dementia? A novel hypothesis. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2010; 6: 707-10.

[ix] Iyer N, Vaishnava S. Vitamin A at the interface of host-commensal-pathogen interactions. PLoS Pathog. 2019; 15 (6): e1007750.

[x] Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31 (1): CD000980.

[xi] Yamshchikov AV et al. Vitamin D for treatment and prevention of infectious diseases: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Endocrine Practice. 2009; 15 (5): 438-49.

[xii] Weng JR et al. Antiviral activity of Sambucus FormosanaNakai ethanol extract and related phenolic acid constituents against human coronavirus NL63. Virus Res. 2019; 273: 197767.

[xiii] Chen C et al. Sambucas nigra extracts inhibit infectious bronchitis virus at an early point during replication. BMC Vet Res. 2014; 10 (24).

[xiv] Hemilä H. Vitamin C and infections. Nutrients. 2017; 9 (4): 339: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9040339

[xv] Hemilä H. Vitamin C and SARS coronavirus. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. 2003; 52 (6): 1049-1050.

[xvi] Kearns MD et al. The impact of vitamin D on infectious disease: a systematic review of controlled trials. Am J Med Sci. 2015; 349 (3): 245-262.

[xvii] 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.

[xviii] Crost EH et al. Production of an antibacterial substance in the digestive tract involved in colonization-resistance against Clostridium perfringens. Anaerobe. 2010; 16 (6): 597-603.

[xix] Kennedy MJ, Volz PA. Ecology of Candida albicans gut colonization: Inhibition of Candida adhesion, colonization, and dissemination from the gastrointestinal tract by bacterial antagonism. Infect Immun. 1985; 49 (3): 654-63.

[xx] Flanagan PK et al. Killing of Escherichia coli by Crohn’s disease monocyte-derived macrophages and its enhancement by hydroxychloroquine and vitamin D. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2015; 21 (7): 1499-510.

[xxi] Scricciolo A et al. Vitamin D3 versus gliadin: a battle to the last tight junction. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2018; 63 (1): 1-3.

[xxii] Plummer S et al. Clostridium difficile pilot study: effects of probiotic supplementation on the incidence of C. difficile diarrhoea. International Microbiology. 2004; 7: 59-62.

[xxiii] Roberts JD et al. An exploratory investigation of endotoxin levels in novice long distance triathletes, and the effects of a multi-strain probiotic/prebiotic, antioxidant intervention. Nutrients. 2016; 8 (11): 733

[xxiv] Cohen S et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169 (1): 62-7.

[xxv] Nielsen et al. Magnesiumsupplementation improves indicators of low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults older than 51 years with poor quality sleep. Magnes Res. 2010 Dec; 23 (4): 158-68

[xxvi] Besedovsky L et al. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012; 463 (1): 121-137.