As I wrote in PART 1 – with lockdown easing in the coming weeks, we’re all opening our doors to an increased risk of infection.
As a result, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to protect ourselves.
Here, I’d like to share what we’ve been doing, and why might this be IMORTANT FOR US ALL as we ease out of lockdown?
In part one, I discussed the importance of handwashing, facemasks and isolation as THE ONLY WAY to stop you catching and spreading the virus right now.
But we can’t live in isolation forever.
What about the vaccine?
Yet a vaccine is still a long way off, and its safety and effectiveness will probably not be fully known until this time next year.
Furthermore, to date, NO VACCINE has ever been 100% effective.
For perspective, the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine can vary from 10% to 60%. This depends on how well it matches the virus strain that year, as well as the age of the person receiving the vaccine. Younger people tend to respond better (reference).
As the World Health Organisation state, with or without vaccine..
‘What we don’t yet know is the level of protection or how long it will last.”
Either way, because my family haven’t had the luxury of waiting around for a vaccine, we’ve had to consider additional measures.
One of the most important ways we have been doing this is to….
SUPPORT OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Both having worked in healthcare for well over a decade, we understand the importance of increasing support for our bodies during times of stress.
This is an unusually stressful and challenging time.
However, it is one that we may need to get used to experiencing regularly if coronavirus is set to join the other seasonal bugs we see every year.
Not only that, but we can do this from the comfort of our own home.
For me it’s a no-brainer…
- It help’s support our bodies through any potential viral attack.
- It may improve our chances of our immune system responding well to a vaccine.
- It helps us prepare for the onslaught of other seasonal viruses and flu bugs that emerge every year in Autumn.
In other words, it is our insurance policy.
So, let’s look more closely at what we’ve been doing.
First, a healthy diet…
As a Nutritional Therapist, I believe a healthy diet is the foundation of good health.
But what constitutes a healthy diet?
In my opinion, it’s one that involves real unprocessed food cooked at home from scratch.
It contains, at the very least, five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
It incorporates whole grain carbohydrates such as brown rice and oats balanced with adequate levels of protein (be it animal and/or vegetable) plus healthy fats like those found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
It also contains minimal amounts of alcohol, sugar, sweeteners, refined and processed foods.
The individual breakdown of a healthy diet is too large a topic for this post, but you can get some idea of what we are eating from my recipe page.
In addition to a healthy diet we feel it is important to take vitamin supplements that have been scientifically proven to be essential to the workings of our immune system.
Let’s take a closer look at individual nutrients…
Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all, it’s a hormone synthesised in our skin from sunlight.
One of the main functions of vitamin D is to help activate killer T cells to detect and destroy viruses.
1 in 5 people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D.
A low vitamin D level in the Winter, due to little sun exposure, is almost certainly why flu epidemics occur in the cooler and cloudier months. Double blinded research shows that vitamin D supplementation results in a 42% decrease in the incidence of flu (reference).
I talk in more detail about the role of vitamin D in our overall health and the immune system here. But don’t take my word for it.
Here’s a quote from the NHS:
‘During the Autumn and Winter, you need to get vitamin D from your diet because the sun is not strong enough for your body to make vitamin D. Because it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone, everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and Winter’.
To get enough vitamin D from the sun, you need to expose your face, shoulders, and arms for 20-30 minutes every day in Spring and Summer before applying sunscreen.
If you have a darker complexion you’ll need longer, which could explain why the BAME population with darker skin are the highest coronavirus risk group. Research on this here.
Other at-risk groups include people whose skin gets little or no sun exposure, for example the elderly in care homes and those who cover their skin when outside.
Alex barely gets any vitamin D from the sun as he’s inside the hospital or office all day. When in school my children are expected to wear sunscreen before they go out to play.
Because you simply can’t get adequate levels of vitamin D from food, I’m personally giving my family the equivalent of 25ug (1000iu) of vitamin D3 a day.
BOTTOM LINE – Make vitamin D a priority. We’ve just emerged from Winter; our levels are at their lowest. Get outside every day for some sun. Take a vitamin D3 supplement to top up your levels.
Zinc is not only one of the most important minerals for your immune system, it’s also one of the most commonly deficient. Yet just about everything you want your immune system to do involves zinc.
‘Zinc’s fame is primarily due to its ability to regulate the immune system and its innate antimicrobial activity. Without enough you don’t produce T-cells or B-cells which make antibodies to tag the virus. Macrophages, which gobble up viruses, don’t work and your whole immune army becomes inefficient and, ultimately, grinds to a halt’.
Foods highest in zinc include seafood (oysters, crab, lobster), eggs, organ meats (liver, kidneys, heart) and seeds (pumpkin, flax, hemp).
I know my family aren’t always eating enough of these foods, so I’m personally giving them..
15mg of zinc every day.
BOTTOM LINE – Make zinc a priority! Eat zinc foods and top up where necessary with a supplement.
There’s been a lot hype around vitamin C on the internet, with worries that people are touting it as a panacea for coronavirus.
I personally believe that no nutrient alone can cure any disease.
As you’ll see from this post, and the entire blog – it’s never that simple.
Nutrients WORK IN SYNERGY with each other!
However, ongoing research studies in China, Italy and more recently in the USA, are demonstrating that IV Vitamin C reduces the severity and shortens the duration of COVID-19 infection in combination with other treatments (reference).
In many cases this is lifesaving.
How might a humble vitamin be able to do this?
Well, it helps in many ways.
Vitamin C increases production and function of B-cells and T-cells (reference).
T-cells are our primary defence against viruses. B cells make more antibodies to target the invading virus with increased vitamin C (reference).
Not only that, but in combination with other nutrients, Vitamin C in research has shown to stop viruses from replicating (reference).
In fact, vitamin C is strongly antiviral against every virus tested to date (reference).
Okay, I’m suspicious…
Why do we need to supplement?
Surely we can get enough from a healthy diet?
As I’ve written in another post – Do children need vitamins? I’ve always believed that we could get enough nutrients from the food that we eat.
However, something I needed to be reminded of relatively recently is that humans (and indeed all primates) used to be able to make their own vitamin C!
Most animals possess this valuable skill which makes them superior at fighting infections.
They make vitamin C easily in their body from glucose. In fact, the process has six-steps requiring just four enzymes.
A goat, for example, can make about 15g (300 oranges worth) of vitamin C a day.
When under viral attack, they produce levels of vitamin C way beyond the amount a person (or animal) can eat.
As a result, goats don’t get colds.
Primates (including us), used to be able to make vitamin C too. We have a gene that allows for it.
However, this gene has been switched off, probably because our ancestors were getting enough through their diet.
For example, gorillas in the wild eat 4.5g of vitamin C a day through grazing on incredibly large amounts of fruit and vegetables.
We, on the other hand, struggle to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.
Even when we do, it only amounts to around 200mg.
Sure, this is enough to stop you getting scurvy, BUT it is certainly not enough to efficiently fight off a virus.
And we humans tend to suffer!
Vitamin C and viruses has been the subject of research and debate for over 60 years. But as you can see from PART 1 – it took over 100 years of deliberating before handwashing became common practice.
With a pandemic on our hands, I’m personally not waiting that long.
Especially as vitamin C is cheap to buy and non-toxic even at remarkably high doses (reference). Although caution should be taken in those with kidney stones.
I’m giving my family (including my 70-year-old parents)…
1g Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) every morning and evening.
BOTTOM LINE – prioritize a whole food diet high in fruit and vegetables and top up with a vitamin C supplement.
At the moment, the best measures for protecting your family against catching coronavirus include handwashing, wearing a facemask, isolation and social distancing. Those over 70 and those with underlying health conditions need to keep shielding for another 12 weeks.
Vitamin supplements certainly won’t stop you from catching coronavirus BUT the correct dosage can support your immune system in fighting an infection, which as research is beginning to prove, could lead to milder symptoms and a shorter duration of illness.
If we all did this, what could it mean for NHS services?
FIRST DO NO HARM – Furthermore, none of the above will do any harm.
As I’ve said before, we haven’t got the luxury of waiting for a vaccine to save the day.
My family are sitting ducks for infection, so I’m doing whatever I can to protect them.
Of course, there are other important nutrients that work in synergy with Vitamin C, D and Zinc.
That’s why we take a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, plus additional vitamin C.
In Summary – What I do for my family….
I provide a healthy diet as detailed above.
I supply a good quality multivitamin and mineral with optimal levels of vitamin D and Zinc. (children get the appropriate version)
I encourage some sunshine when the sun is out.
I give additional 2g of vitamin C – 1g morning and night
We use common sense – pay attention to good hygiene, social distancing measures and isolation where necessary.
So far so good.
You can read our full lockdown journey here – Alex’s Diary of a Doctor.
Have you had any thoughts on this post or on how you are going to protect your family in the coming weeks? I’d love to hear about them.
As always, this blog post is for information and educational purposes only. If you have a condition requiring medical attention you should consult a qualified medical professional or suitable therapist. If you have a pre-existing health condition or are on any medication, do not change your prescription without consulting your doctor.