It's Time to stay cool
How to avoid the flu
The Coronavirus is spreading fast and, while 80% of patients will have mild-moderate disease and recover without complications, we should all be taking calm, practical steps to protecting ourselves and our families from infection.
It’s possible to contract COVID-19 and not even realise you have it, but not everyone will be that lucky. Certain nutritional deficiencies in an individual can result in them having either a suboptimal or excessive inflammatory response to infection - and I’ll explore these in this article.
There are also a few easy things you can do each day to enhance your immune response and stay as healthy as possible. Let’s go through each of these, starting with perhaps the most important: vitamin D.
Vitamin D and influenza
It was discovered in 2004 that vitamin D is essential for the production of immuno-competence proteins in the immune cells of the respiratory tract. It has an immuno-modulating action, preventing ‘cytokine storms’ - a phenomenon by which a strong immune response to influenza in a healthy individual can lead to organ damage and even death.
Vitamin D deficiency, which is incredibly common amongst the population, has been directly related to increased viral and bacterial respiratory infections. What’s more, the incidence of seasonal influenza correlates with the exact time period in which vitamin D exposure is at its lowest - during the winter months (1).
SARS followed this pattern in 2002, peaking in Southern China from February to April, where the sunlight is at its lowest. COVID-19 seems to be following the same pattern. In light of this (pun intended), taking a good vitamin D supplement at around 4000-7000 IU per day may be the most important thing you can do to prevent you and your families from getting the Coronavirus (2).
Omega-3 and other micronutrients
Omega-3 fatty acids form part of the cellular membrane and are therefore closely involved in cellular function - they also have several specific immunomodulatory effects on different cells of the immune system. For example, they enhance ‘phagocytosis’ by macrophages - the process by which specific white blood cells engulf and eliminate foreign pathogens (3). Western diets are famously deficient in omega-3, which comes from oily fish, walnuts, linseeds, seaweeds and algae.
Some signs of omega-3 deficiency include poor memory and brain function, dry skin or dry eyes, mood swings and lack of energy. Even without these symptoms, I am recommending that my patients take 3000mg per day of a high quality fish or algal oil supplement to boost their defences. Other critical nutrients include zinc (25mg), vitamin C (500-1000 mg), vitamin E (100-200 IU) and selenium (200mcg).
Getting enough sleep
We all know sleep is important for a healthy immune system. But just how crucial is it? In one 2002 study, 14 young adult males had their sleep restricted to 4 hours per night for 6 nights, while the control group enjoyed 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep. All subjects received an influenza immunization after day 4 of the trial - the trial group then rested in bed for 12 hours a night for a further 7 days. At day 14, anti-influenza IgG antibodies were only 50% in the sleep deprivation group vs. the control group, despite having had a full week of deep recovery (4). If you’ve always suffered from poor sleep, it’s time to take action.
Sweating it out
A clinical report from Hong Kong in 2003 suggested that the SARS coronavirus is sensitive to human body temperature - if body temperature is below 36ºC the virus grows rapidly, whereas above 37 the virus is attenuated or killed, and the patient has a milder inflammatory response and recovery. The paper suggested that not only can patients with a high fever kill the virus (that means no paracetamol), but that exercising, taking baths and spending time in saunas may be of benefit (5).
Immune-supporting foods and herbs
Stay tuned for upcoming articles all about the immunomodulating and antiviral foods and herbs we should be stocking our cupboards with at the moment. Hint: shiitake mushrooms, fermented foods and liquorice!
1. Cannell J, Vieth R, Umhau JC et al (2006) Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiol Infect. 134(6):1129-40.
2. Grant, William (2010) Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce the Risk of Type A Influenza Infection and Subsequent Pneumonia. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 29(10): 987
3. Gutiérrez S, Svahn SL & Johansson ME (2019) Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. International journal of molecular sciences 20(20): 5028.
4. Spiegel K, Sheridan JF, Van Cauter E (2002) Effect of sleep deprivation on response to immunization. JAMA. 288(12):1471-2.
5. Ping CK BMJ 2003;326:850.
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