Wednesday | 29 April | 2020
By Essie Bester
Although no supplement, diet or lifestyle adjustment ─ except social distancing and practising proper hygiene ─ can prevent you from contracting Covid-19, certain dietary and lifestyle adjustments can increase your body’s natural resistance and help you combat harmful organisms that cause illness.
It is now more important than ever before to strengthen your immune system, and a healthy gut can help. “Without a healthy gut you are an easy target for disease,” says Mariza van Zyl, a dietician from the Paarl.
Your immune system is a complex army of cells whose job it is to identify and destroy potentially dangerous intruders. But to do this effectively the army must be in the best possible condition to fight.
Unfortunately our immune system gets weaker and less efficient as we grow older. There are, however, things we can do to keep it in good condition. One way is to strengthen your microbiome, that is the multitude of microbes living in your gut. This is the pivot on which our health, our moods, sleep, the prevention of allergies and especially our immunity hinges.
Our personal microbiome ─ a community of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes mainly found in the small intestine or colon ─ depends on our genetics but it is also strongly affected by what we eat, how we exercise and how we live every day.
As we grow older it is very important to have a lot of “good” bacteria in our gut. Not only do they protect us against diseases caused by a virus or bacteria (germ), but also diseases caused by underlying inflammation, overweight, insulin resistance, heart diseases, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, diseases of the nervous system, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
Your diet is important
One of the best ways of improving the good microbes living in our gut, is by eating foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole wheat, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, spices and olive oil, as well as oily fish, cheese and full-cream yogurt.
Other foods that are beneficial to our microbiome and therefore our immunity, are fermented foods such as kefir (home-made yogurt), sauerkraut, kimchi (pickled vegetables) and sour-dough bread. These probiotics-rich foods are also full of vitamin C, iron and zinc, which are known to strengthen the immune system. Green tea, mushrooms and garlic are also beneficial.
Avoid processed food such as take-away food and ready-made meals (or at least cut back on them) because they promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
Further hints for strengthening your body in a natural way
Research has shown that people who get insufficient or poor-quality sleep are more prone to disease while sufficient sleep can strengthen your natural immunity. Adults should try to get seven or more hours of sleep, while teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep and younger children and babies up to fourteen hours.
Don’t you sleep well? Cut your screen time by at least an hour before going to bed. The blue light emitted by your cell-phone, TV and computer screens disrupts your circadian rhythm (an internal process that regulates your sleep-awake-cycle and is repeated more or less every 24 hours) and affects your sleeping pattern. Other hints for sleep hygiene include sleeping in a dark room or the use of a sleeping mask, going to bed at the same time every night and to see to it that you get enough exercise.
Studies show that even a single session of moderate exercise increases the effectivity of vaccines in people with an impaired immune system. Regular moderate exercise can also help to lessen inflammation and help your immune cells to regenerate regularly. Moderate exercise could include walking, cycling, jogging and swimming. Aim at a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
It does not necessarily protect you against germs and viruses, but is important for your general health. Dehydration can lead to complications that make you more susceptible to diseases. While tea and juice will also prevent dehydration, water is recommended because it is free from calories, additives and sugar.
As a general guideline you should drink when you are thirsty, but you will need more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside or live in a warmer climate. As one grows older your body does not give sufficient warning that you are thirsty. Older adults should therefore make sure that they drink water regularly even if they don’t feel thirsty.
- Manage your stress levels
The relief of tension and anxiety is important to the health of your immune system. Over the long term stress can lead to inflammation and imbalances in your immune system. Activities that can help you handle your stress, include meditation, yoga, exercising, journaling and other mindfulness practices. You can also benefit by seeing a therapist.
- Avoid infections by regularly washing your hands.
- Use supplements sensibly.
Although no supplement can treat or prevent Covid-19, studies show that the following supplements can strengthen your body’s overall immune response:
Vitamin C can shorten the duration of colds.
Vitamin D ─ a deficiency can make you more susceptible to illnesses and supplements can counteract this.
Zinc can shorten the duration of a common cold by as much as 33%.
Elderberry can alleviate the symptoms of viral upper respiratory tract infections, but more research will have to be done.
Echinacea helps a patient to recover slightly faster from colds.
Garlic supplements can lower the occurrence of the common cold by approximately 30%. More research has to be done.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.