For most of us, there has never been a time where infections have taken precedence at the forefront of our minds. Fortunately, for those within Australia and New Zealand, the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has been well contained. Even so, we are more vigilant of even the mildest sniffle, staying home, isolating, and testing. For many of us, this creates fear and for some, lost income that they can’t afford to lose. Now, more than ever, natural medicine is being used to improve immune resilience. 

THE ROLE OF NUTRITION

It is essential to ensure optimal status of the nutrients vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc, which are all required for appropriate immune response. This safe and effective strategy can help build a robust defence against infection. For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis investigating vitamin D supplementation (between 800 IU and 2,000 IU for periods spanning months to years) demonstrated a reduced risk of all acute respiratory tract infections. Similarly, another review recognised that zinc supplementation, when taken for at least five months, reduced the incidence of colds. Here, prevention is truly key, while studies using vitamin D and zinc in patients already suffering from COVID-19 symptoms have not been consistently successful, those with lower levels of these important immune nutrients appear to be at greater risk of infection, and associated complications. For instance, a significant negative correlation between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 cases was established in European countries; patients with zinc deficiency had higher rates of complications, including acute respiratory distress syndrome and mortality. 

As well as the typical vigilance of our immune health, we also need to focus on:

·  Our gut health: Functional changes in our gut bacteria (microbiome), presenting as gastrointestinal symptoms, directly impact the strength and resilience of our immune system. 

·  Stress: Long-term stress alters our brain response and promotes inflammation, which compromises our viral immune defences. 

·  Poor sleep quality: Sleep dysregulation is associated with increased inflammation in the body, which will compromise the immune system and may lead to the development of critical and chronic infections.

DIET AND LIFESTYLE RECOMMENDATIONS

The below-listed diet and lifestyle recommendations have been found to enhance general immune function and, therefore, may increase vaccine efficacy and reduction of side effects.

Diet:

  • The European Food Safety Authority formally acknowledges that an effective host immune response requires adequate nutritional status, including vitamins A, B6, B9 (folate), B12, C, and D, as well as minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, and copper. Vitamin E has also been shown to support the immune system and reduce the risk of infections.
  • In fact, a randomised controlled trial involving 82 healthy volunteers aged 65 to 85 years revealed that consumption of ≥5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day for 16 weeks was associated with increased antibody response to pneumococcal vaccination, compared to participants that consumed ≤2 servings of fruits and vegetables (p<0.05).
  • Dietary patterns high in refined starches, sugar, saturated and trans-fatty acids, poor in natural antioxidants and fibre from fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains, and poor in omega-3 fatty acids, may alter the function of the innate immune system, most likely by causing excessive production of inflammation.
  • Current evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet provides protection against several diseases associated with inflammation and immune activation. The Mediterranean diet has also been found to improve inflammatory load and simultaneously balance gut microbiota.
  • The Mediterranean diet is inclusive of high intake of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, quality essential fatty acids, and wholegrains (limiting starchy grains and vegetables). 
  • Increase intake of microbiome-enhancing foods to nourish gut flora and enhance gut-associated immunity. 

Lifestyle:

  • Treatments that may help to manage common side effects following vaccination include: 
    • Applying a cold, wet cloth on the injection site to ease discomfort
    • Increasing fluid intake, including breastfeeding in infants and children
    • Avoiding overdressing children and babies if they feel warm or hot
  • Ensure adequate sleep, achieving approximately eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Engage in regular physicalactivity to improve fitness, health and wellbeing, and reduce stress.
  • Epidemiological evidence indicates that regular physical activity and frequent structured exercise reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases, including communicable diseases such as viral and bacterial infections, as well as non-communicable diseases such as chronic inflammatory disorders. Regular physical activity and frequent exercise have been found to enhance immune competency and regulation.

This piece is from our latest GHE Magazine; click here to view the magazine in full.