Why healthy eating and keeping active is paramount right now...
What do you do when you’re stuck at home, socially isolating yourself from the world? Do some research! I love learning and consolidating what I studied all those years ago when I did my Bachelor Degrees. So with the world immersed in coronavirus and more information coming to hand about its pathology, I thought I would share with you some information regarding how you can best prepare your body to fight infection.
How does COVID-19 work?
I’ll try and give you the simplistic version because our immune system is a highly complicated beast that bamboozles the best of us!! We’ll start by explaining how the virus inserts itself into our bodies…….
Like many other cold and flu viruses, COVID-19 enters the body through droplet transmission from those who are infected with the virus. (hence the need to stay 1.5m apart - no more hugs guys!) A healthy person most commonly contracts the virus through inhalation of particles loaded with the virus where it then causes harm at the site where it enters the body (most commonly the nose).
Once inside the 'host', the virus uses its surface proteins to bind to receptors on human cells (it cannot survive without a ‘host’). The coronavirus seems to have an affinity for our respiratory cells and so once it binds to these, it inserts its RNA (viral genetic material) and begins to have a bit of a party! It’s a very opportunistic little beast and once its invaded a few cells, it then makes more and more copies of itself by invading neighbouring cells and doing the process all over again!
It’s now that our bodies recognise they have been invaded – sound the alarm and send in the troops, we need to shut this invasion down! Reactively, the body triggers an immune response in the form of an army of immune cells that infiltrate the infected area. Now for most of us (around 80%), this initial immune response will work just fine and dandy and we will recover rather rapidly with a mild to moderate illness. BUT for those who may not have such an awesome immune system or have co-morbidities that may predispose them to illness , the virus can overcome the initial attack and find its way into our lower airways where it can really cause some issues. WARNING, WARNING, WARNING our bodies really don’t like a viral load in the small lower airways and may now cause a powerful secondary immune response to combat the enemy. It is this second immune response that can cause some serious lung damage, as the immune cells may now start to attack our own lung tissue as well as the virus! You guessed it, this is NOT a good thing! Now I’ll stop with the pathophysiology there because what I want you to understand is that research seems to be alluding to the fact that if we have a powerhouse of an immune system and a body that is primed to fight, we can potentially mitigate the virus in its early stages and thus have a milder version of the illness. So that leads us to the question - how can you prime your immune system?
We should know that through a varied and nutrient dense diet, we can naturally source a plethora of vitamins and minerals from food! When we get our recommended daily intakes, these powerful micronutrients can provide the foundation for a healthy immune system. I found a great resource on nutrition for COVID-19 which highlights some important foods to have in your diet: (source http://food.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/138/2020/03/Nutrition-Recommendations-COVID19-Final-1.pdf)
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is an important nutrient involved in immune function and can be found in many fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, spinach, cantaloupe, mango, peppers, and tomatoes.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D has many roles in the body, including contributing to immune function. Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and in small amounts in some dairy products, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
Zinc: Zinc deficiency has been shown to increase susceptibility to various pathogens. Incorporating meat, seafood, tofu, nuts, and beans into your diet will ensure adequate intake of this immune-boosting mineral.
Vitamin C: While Vitamin C will not cure your cold, it may help maintain immunity. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits (like orange, lemon, and grapefruit), berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can promote a healthy gut and immune system. Probiotics can be found in cultured dairy products like yogurt and fermented products like kimchi.
So how does your diet stack up?
And what about lifestyle?
There are also lifestyle changes we can make in order to increase our immunity:
Find healthy ways to cope with stress. Stress has been shown to decrease immunity by supressing the immune response (thanks cortisol!). A fantastic way to do this is through meditation. Meditation has the following effects:
- Decreases heart rate
- Normalises blood pressure
- Encourages deeper breathing
- Reduces the production of stress hormomes including cortisol and adrenalin
- Strengthens immunity
- Enables more efficient oxygen use in the body
- Decreases inflammation in the body
I prefer to do guided meditation and use the app ‘headspace.’ You can choose 3, 5, 10 or 15 minute sessions so they are short and easy to add in to your day.
Be physically active: There are several theories as to how exercise helps boost immunity:
- It may flush bacteria out of the lung, reducing your risk or getting colds and flu
- It causes changes to antibodies and white blood cells- they circulate more rapidly and so can detect infection earlier.
- The brief rise in body temperature during exercise may prevent bacteria from growing.
- Exercise can slow the release of stress hormones and we know that lower stress levels improves our immunity.
Practise good sleep hygiene: getting the recommended 7-9 hours per night can help support a healthy immune system. Lack of sleep can contribute to a weakened immune response..
All right, there it is your COVID-19 survival kit! I hope you can take away some helpful tips and better understand why you need to keep being fit and active. Take care!