Nutrition, in a time of Covid-19
I'm going to be honest, I didn't really want to write this post!
Like you, I'm totally at saturation point with all things Covid-19 related. News bulletins, social media, updates from supplement companies... it all got a bit much after a while and rather than delve into it all it was more comfortable to switch everything off and load up another episode of X-Files on Amazon Prime.
However, I wanted to share a few thoughts and observations from the perspective of a nutrition nerd, as we're now - at the time of writing - 8 weeks into lockdown here in the UK. Note; studies/sources I reference are hyperlinked if you want to check out the evidence for yourself.
This is a newly-discovered virus and we're still learning about it. Coronaviruses have, of course, been around for a very long time, but this particular type behaves a bit differently. It takes time for scientists to research and understand how it behaves and therefore how best to manage it. We know some groups are more likely to get really ill if they catch it, but we need a lot more information. Uncertainty is horrible, right? We want answers. I want answers because it makes me feel safer to know, definitively, how I can protect myself and my family. We don't have all the answers yet, but we do know that following official guidance for prevention is very sensible.
There isn't a magic bullet (that we know of). At the time of writing, there are no specific treatments or vaccines for the disease. And, from a nutrition perspective, there is no single nutrient we know helps everyone. New data is suggesting that your vitamin D status may be an important factor in vulnerability to Covid-19 and how seriously ill you get. There is also some emerging evidence that levels of selenium (a mineral) may be an important factor. But it's very early days indeed and more research is needed.
You can't/shouldn't boost your immune system, but you can help it work better. You might hear people giving advice on how to 'boost your immune system'. Take this with a grain of salt. Your immune system is a beautifully complicated creature and your body works hard to keep it in balance. If your immune system isn't active enough you're likely to catch more infections, if it's too active then auto-immune diseases become a risk. So talk of 'boosting your immune system' is a bit dodgy, from a scientific point of view, and it begs the question of if you really want to boost it - an overactive immune system is a problem in itself. But that's not to say you can't do anything to support your immune system and help it work well - general pointers on that below.
Be really cautious whose advice you listen to. This is a really complex (and emotive!) topic and in an era of fake news and conspiracy theories, I think we need to be very selective who we listen to. And aside from that, don't you find it just god-damn stressful constantly bathing in Covid-19 news and advice? Someone I think is very wise told me they have selected ONE news source which they consult ONCE a day (or less) and limit it to that. From a nutritionist point of view, I've chosen ONE source of research updates and I'm checking that ONCE a week. I can't handle more than that.
Given the above, it would be easy for me to say 'LOL, we don't know anything, just eat some cake and watch Netflix'. Which, for some, might be the right call. But that's not an empowering (or particularly professional) piece of advice. So here are some general pointers on things you can do to help your immune system do its thing. This comes with the caveat that we're all individuals and if you're after personalised advice you must consult your GP or another allied healthcare professional.
Reduce stress levels as much as possible. We know chronic stress impairs the immune system, so thinking about where the stress in your life is coming from and what you can do to manage it is vital. I KNOW this isn't straight-forward - I am a card-carrying member of the Stress Club - but I also think we can do all the work in the world with your diet but if you're constantly stressed out it won't do much. Getting out in nature, getting at least 8 hours sleep a night, meditation, yoga, chatting with a close friend or family member... these all work wonders. I love Calm for meditation Richie Bostock's breathing exercises.
Eat the (fruit and veg) rainbow; i.e, eat as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as you can each day. Your immune system needs a really wide range of vitamins and minerals to work properly and a good way to get these in is simply to eat a wide array of different colours.
Check your vitamin D level. The role of vitamin D in maintaining a healthy immune system is well-established now. The UK government is recommending supplementing now, given we're all indoors a lot of the time. I always encourage clients to check their vitamin D levels before supplementing so you know where you're starting from. Your GP or a nutritional therapist (like me!) can help organise this and give advice on how much to supplement
There we have it, a few musings from lockdown here in London, UK. I hope you found this useful and I also sincerely hope that you are yours are safe and well in these very uncertain times.