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Can what you eat boost your immune system?

Apart from regular handwashing and avoiding contact with those who have the virus, there is no proven preventative measure against Covid-19. We know that people with certain chronic health conditions or a compromised immune system are likely to suffer more severely if they catch the virus. This isn’t surprising - a well-functioning immune system is important for fighting any type of viral infection. This begs the question, are we able to ‘boost’ our immunity in some way to build up our resilience to viruses and infections?


The jury is still out on this. Part of the problem is that our immune system is incredibly complex. It consists of a wide range of different cells, proteins and processes and like so many systems, balance is key. For example, if you eat a lot of acai berries you might boost one aspect of the system, but it is difficult to know how beneficial that is or what effect that will have against a specific pathogen.

That said, it definitely makes sense to follow the guidelines for general good health. Getting enough sleep, staying physically active and eating healthily are likely to benefit the immune system. From a dietary perspective this means:

Eating a wide variety of foods including plenty of fruit and vegetables

This will ensure you are getting enough of the nutrients that will support the immune system including vitamin A, C, D, E, zinc and selenium.

Stay well-hydrated

Aim for 6-8 glasses or cups of fluid per day. Try to drink plain water as much as possible.


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It may also be beneficial to include the following in our diets:

Herbs and spices

A number of vegetables, herbs and spices have been found to have anti-viral properties. These include garlic, basil, oregano and ginger. It should be noted that most research has been conducted in test tubes using concentrated extracts. The effect of less concentrated amounts consumed through our diet isn’t clear.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir, and live yoghurt - these foods encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Studies have linked a healthy composition of gut microbes to the proper functioning of the immune system.

References

1 Wu, H.J., Wu, E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4–14. doi:10.4161/gmic.19320