01 January 2021
by Dr Monique Hope-Ross
How to Boost your Immunity to Covid-19
The recent pandemic has forever changed our lives; we have lost loved ones, endured lockdowns and economic hardship. Seeing the tragic scenes unfold in intensive care units, watching mortally ill patients on ventilators; we’ve all thought, “don’t let it be me”. The recent pandemic has focussed our minds on what is important, and what’s important for us is family and health. Health is wealth, a truism that has never had more meaning in light of the recent world chaos.
In this post, we share with you tips to avoid catching covid in the first place and if you do catch it, reduce the risk of it being a severe one. We share known knowns with you here; evidence-based scientific facts. Of course, the unknown unknowns may become apparent in the future and change perspectives. In our current update, we show you how to help yourself and your family, improve your resilience to disease and boost your immunity.
Have a Healthy Metabolism
Your metabolism determines not just your risk of catching covid-19 but the severity of the infection. More people with metabolic disease, develop covid-19 than people with a healthy metabolism. If you do catch covid-19, you are more likely to need treatment in intensive care and more likely to die, if you have metabolic disease, such as obesity, diabetes or hypertension. 1
Over 30% or one hundred million people in the USA have metabolic syndrome, the commonest disorder of metabolism and a staggering 80% of all adults have at least one abnormality of their metabolism. If you have an abnormal metabolic marker or you have metabolic syndrome, your risk of becoming ill and dying from covid rises. But all is not lost, if you have metabolic syndrome, you can take control; metabolic syndrome can be reversed within a matter of weeks.
Poor diet, obesity and lifestyle choices predispose to the development of metabolic syndrome. A diet rich in sugars, and a sedentary lifestyle are the typical features of people with metabolic syndrome. 80% of all obese people have metabolic disease and this is related to the presence of belly fat, also called abdominal obesity or visceral fat. Belly fat is fat deposited deep in the abdomen and surrounds vital organs. It is largely invisible but pushes out the belly and increases our belt size.
Belly fat produces a range of hormones, becoming an organ in itself, causing metabolic havoc in the body. Ghrelin rampages, with increased appetite, obesity and belly fat, insulin rises: Metabolic disorders worsen. Enter covid and it is not hard to understand how people become very sick with the illness. They are already fighting metabolic chaos, while initially symptomless, it becomes apparent when diseases, such as covid-19 supervene.
When we suffer a viral inflammation such as covid-19, our bodies mount an immune response. Inflammation is part of the initial stage of the immune response, but problems can arise if inflammation is both prolonged and excessive. The immune response should be balanced with the inflammatory response, thus killing the invading virus, but not killing us. An inflammatory response involves oxidative stress, which itself is damaging to our bodies. In health, oxidants are balanced by antioxidants. In severe and deadly covid-19, the cytokine storm involves an excess of oxidants over antioxidants, and this can overwhelm the body.
Nutrition is the cornerstone of maintaining your immune defences to the covid-19. The right kind of foods provide antioxidants, balance inflammatory pathways and feed your gut bugs-all proven ways to reduce inflammation and boost immunity. Some foods are inflammatory, such as super-refined carbohydrates (sugars) and some foods, such as plants and healthy fats are anti-inflammatory, for example vegetables and omega 3s. The typical western diet is inflammatory.2 In contrast, a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation.3
Thus, you need to reduce and eliminate inflammatory foods such as super-refined carbs from your diet and eat anti-inflammatory foods, which help your immune response to covid-19. The ideal healthy diet is plant based with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, occasional fruit, nuts, dairy-moderate, cheese, chicken, fermented foods and healthy omega 3 fats, such as olive oil and fish. The more diverse your plant food, the greater the resilience of your gut bugs, and your gut microbiome is intimately connected with a healthy immune response.4 Plant derived polyphenols reduce enzymes which create free radicals, (the damaging molecules involved in oxidation) and also increase anti-oxidant enzymes.
Fat is not the enemy. Good fats such as omega 3’s, are not just ‘essential’ dietary fats, they are also anti-inflammatory and help to protect you. Omega 6’s, while also essential, in excess are inflammatory and the ratio of omega 6/3 is important. The omega 6/3 ratio is as high as 50:1 in western societies, while the ideal ratio is 4:1. To avoid an inflammatory load, you need to increase omega 3s and decrease omega 6s. Omega 6s are found in high concentration in vegetable oils, thus finding their way into many processed foods. Avoiding processed food and switching to olive oil in your cooking, salads etc. goes a long way to reducing your burden of inflammatory omega 6’s.
Maintaining a healthy immune system requires adequate nutrition with high nutrient value food. A balanced diet supplies all the necessary micronutrients, including vitamins. But this is not the case for many people; worldwide, more people are dying of overeating than under eating, and the excess food is not in the form of high nutrient dense food, but rather in the form of empty calories from added sugar. Vitamin deficiencies which were once confined to the history books in the western world are now re-emerging. Rickets, a childhood condition where bones are weakened has risen in the USA over the last 20 years.
A global health problem, low vitamin D is ubiquitous worldwide, and it is estimated that 50% of people in the northern hemisphere and up to 80% of people in middle eastern countries are affected.5 Vitamin D plays an essential role in the immune system. A recent metanalysis showed that obese people have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency6, It is not really known why this should be but one hypothesis is that vitamin D, being fat soluble is over absorbed by fatty tissue. The causes are multifactorial with additional mechanisms at play such as diet and lifestyle, in particular sun exposure 7.
Vitamin D, called the sunshine vitamin, is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Dark skin reduces the production of Vitamin D, as does sunscreen. During the summer, in the northern hemisphere, it is recommended that 10-15 minutes of sunlight exposure, in the middle of the day, on three days per week, is sufficient to keep Vitamin D stores replenished. In the winter, the sun is not sufficiently strong to make vitamin D and we are therefore reliant on food to supply adequate vitamin D supplies. Unless you eat oily fish, eggs, fortified foods and meat, your vitamin D intake may be inadequate. Vitamin D supplements should be considered, if this is the case. Public Health England recommend that everyone should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement, particularly in the winter.
Emerging recent evidence finds that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of developing COVID-19 infection. Vitamin D levels have been shown to be significantly lower in patients hospitalized due to covid, compared to the general population. In addition, low vitamin D levels are associated with poor outcomes in patients with Covid-19.8 High dose vitamin D has been shown to be of benefit in pilot studies. While these findings are not yet conclusive and there is no consensus on the role of vitamin D in covid infections at present, (correlation, not causation), these findings are persuasive arguments to ensure that your vitamin D level is optimal.
Other vitamin deficiencies, while less common, also reduce immunity. Anaemia due to Vitamin B12, iron deficiency and lack of folate (particularly during pregnancy) all contribute to lowered immunity. Restrictive diets, such as a vegan diet can be associated with vitamin deficiencies and Vitamin B12 is particularly difficult to maintain at normal levels. If you follow a restrictive diet, you should consider taking the appropriate vitamin supplements.
Moving is one of the best things that you can do for your body and your immunity, it is the cornerstone of a healthy life. Exercise does wonders for your health and critically improves your immune system. Regular exercise has a robust beneficial effect on immunity. Most of the positive evidence on exercise focuses on aerobic exercise, rather than yoga and resistance training. But evidence is emerging for the benefits of all types of exercise.
Exercise increases circulating white blood cells and antibodies, both of which fight infection. Exercise reduces stress hormones, which are known to increase your risk of infections. Your risk of catching a cold or flu more than halves if you do moderate aerobic exercise, in the order of 30-45 minutes per day.9 No other intervention replicates the effects of exercise on your immunity.
A guideline for most individuals is to aim for 30 minutes of physical activity per day or a total of 150 minutes weekly. But 80% of Americans do not meet the key guidelines for exercise.10 For those people who do not regularly exercise, a slow graded approach should be taken as unaccustomed strenuous or prolonged exercise can have the opposite effect on the immune system.
But it is that simple, to boost your immunity to coronavirus, you should move more. Use exercise to reduce the impact of covid-19 on you and your family.
At whisperer HQ, we take our sleep very seriously. Sleep is the foundation of health, the pillar that you rely on for repair, regeneration, memory and the list goes on. The less you sleep, the shorter your life, it is that important. Minimal sleep has become a sign of your commitment to the job. Forget the boasting CEOs, who describe sleep as over-rated and wear sleep deprivation as a badge of honour. Sleep deprivation is strongly associated with a risk of developing obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and increased death rates.
We were born to sleep. Humans evolved over billions of years, under a light-dark cycle, our so-called circadian rhythm and we should respect this. Many studies have shown that we now sleep up to 20% less than 60 years ago.11,12
Add immunity to the long list of sleep functions, to an environment with covid-19 and sleep takes on an entire new importance. Sleep is directly linked to immunity. Lack of sleep tips you into an immune imbalance and lack of sleep profoundly compromises both your immunity and your recovery. More sleep will not make you invincible, but lack of sleep will make you susceptible to infections.
The immune functions of sleep are complex and multiple and described as bidirectional, one affecting the other and vice versa. Sleep disruption leads to a change in the activity of immune cell populations, such as T cells, (which themselves have a circadian rhythm) and this leads to changes in circulating cytokines. And we are all aware of the cytokine storm in severe covid. T cells need to adhere to a target virus to deactivate it, this adhesion is reduced after as little as a 2-hour sleep deprivation period.13
The gut microbiome is intimately connected with a healthy immune system. Ensuring a healthy microbiome is vital to boosting and maintaining defences against covid-19. Your gut bugs, located mainly in your large bowel feed on undigested foods, largely fibre. A healthy diet with high fibre is one of the keys to a healthy gut microbiome. To help your gut7 bugs, eat lots of plants and avoid sugary foods and drinks. A diverse diet with lots of different plants is important.
Stress reduces immunity and predisposes to infection including coronavirus. Stress directly reduces immune function. While we are all under stress in our lives, and the global pandemic has increased this, what really matters is the way in which you deal with stress.14 Resilience and stress management can be learnt, and this will help to reduce the damaging effects of the current pandemic and other stressful situations.
Summary of Immune Boosting Tips to Covid-19
- Ensure that you have a healthy metabolism
- Eat a nutritious diet with a wide variety of plants with high fibre, probiotics, prebiotics, good fats with omega 3’s; avoid sugary foods and drinks
- Take Vitamin D supplements
- Have an active lifestyle; move 30 minutes per day * Ensure a good sleep pattern; sleep 7-8 hours per night * Look after your gut microbiome* Manage stress