Covid 19 has sparked a great increase in immunity and nutrition, leading to misconceptions and ideas on ‘how to boost the immune system’. People are searching for answers and looking for miracle cures, especially when it comes to supplements. There is lots of misleading information on nutrition through media channels; some being drinking celery juice, turmeric shots, mushroom formula, cider vinegar and other remedies claiming to ‘boost immunity’.
However, there is no such concept as ‘immune-boosting foods’ and no single miracle foods, drinks or supplements that can ‘boost the immune system’. Eating a varied balanced diet can benefit our overall health and immune function and consuming macro and micro nutrients provide different functions to support our whole body system.
The immune system does an incredible job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. It has many processes which are out of our control, it has two functions: innate and acquired. Whilst the immune system protects our body from harmful substances, it is constantly active and when it stops working properly it can have an impact on our health.
Some vitamins and minerals do play a role in supporting our immune function especially in antibacterial and antiviral defence-vitamins A, C, D and E, zinc, selenium, B6, B12, folate and iron as well as amino and fatty acids. Our gut microbiota also plays a part in regulating our immune system and improving our diet to optimise our gut flora can have a positive outcome on our immune function.
Our nutritional status is a key factor to contributing to our immune function. Undernutrition can impair our immune system due to low intake of macro and micro nutrients/deficiencies in certain nutrients, whilst overnutrition can also have an adverse effect on our immune system.
Therefore, nutrition does play a role in optimising our health but perhaps look at whether our overall diet is providing us with all the nutrients we require instead of cutting out food groups and drinks and taking remedies claiming to ‘boost the immune system’.
If our diet can aid our immune system to cope with infections why not try and eat well to help us get all the nutrients our body needs. Food is also a form of energy and we should eat for enjoyment and nourishment to feel our best.
Nutritional supplements don’t replace our diet and the common reason for taking them is to improve our health. However, most of us can get everything we need from a varied balanced diet incorporating the principles of The Eat Well Guide. If you do take a supplement, ensure you buy it from a reputable source, read the dose and check if you really need them by seeking advice from your doctor.
The take home message is good nutrition is essential for optimum function of our immune system and health. However, many factors play a role in our susceptibility to infections such as stress, age, gender, activity levels, genes, alcohol and smoking consumption, history of infections and vaccinations and diet.
Ways to optimise your health:
Include a varied diet of starchy carbohydrates, protein, dairy, plenty of fruit and vegetables and healthy fats.
Include fibre rich foods which help our gut function properly
Limit saturated fat, salt and sugar intake
Getting the balance is key and diets which cut out food groups can impact our nutrition and health
Plenty of fluids to ensure good hydration
Consider taking vitamin D supplements- 10 micrograms/day for adults
Exercise & fresh air
Ensure good sleep and rest
Reduce impact of overall stress
Avoid media channels and newspaper articles for misleading information and seek advice from a health professional.
‘A balanced diet should provide all the required vitamins and minerals your body needs‘
BNF busts the myths on nutrition and COVID-19 – British Nutrition Foundation
Healthy Eating (bda.uk.com)
Dr Jenna Macciochi, PhD
The immune system: a target for functional foods? | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core
BNF Virtual Event: Nutrition and COVID-19 – British Nutrition Foundation
The Eatwell Guide – NHS (www.nhs.uk)