Are you currently stockpiling on vitamin C supplements to boost your immune system? What if I told you there was a better alternative that contains not only the plentiful amount of vitamin C you need, but also a combination of other vitamins, minerals and prebiotics that will further optimise your immune defences? In this article I’m going to outline where you should be getting your multivitamins from, what other immune-boosting actions you can take and what to avoid. This blog is based on evidence to date and remember – all of these measures should be taken as a prevention (do this while you’re well and healthy) because once you’re actively unwell, these measures will do little to help.
Vitamin C has long been glorified as the supplement to take to prevent a cold. While there is plenty of evidence that supports the use of vitamin C to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of infections, it is important to note that the synthetically manufactured vitamin C you take in the form of a pill can cause more harm than good due to their artificially high doses. They are unlikely to be superior to the more readily available alternative, nature’s fruit and vegetables, which also contain other vital nutrients and prebiotics in a perfectly packaged combination that is too complex to put into a pill. Try and aim for 200mg of vitamin C per day from your natural sources before turning to the artificial alternatives. Consider making a salad consisting of a handful of broccoli and sweet potato, with a side of orange juice to meet that vitamin C target.
As much of an advocate as I am for holistic and natural approaches to boosting your immune system, there is a pill that most of us should be taking and will likely struggle without in the UK. Vitamin D supplementation is something I would prescribe to everyone in the UK because of the lack of sun and the lack of time we spend outdoors in the sun. Furthermore, due to the skin-damaging effects of the sun, we advise many people to avoid excessive sun exposure. The balance is simple but delicate: being outdoors in nature has its benefits beyond that of just the benefits of the sunlight which we are beginning to better understand; however with the current social-distancing guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic, going outdoors may become even more difficult. Therefore, vitamin D (cholecalciferol) supplementation has become even more essential.
Optimising your immune system requires avoiding harmful toxins as well as supplementing with the nutrients mentioned above. Smoking has been extensively studied and many of you will not be surprised to learn that in the face of viral-respiratory-illness pandemic, compromising your lungs with cigarette / sheesha smoke is not wise. However smoking is also highly addictive and I appreciate that it may be hard to quit. There is a lot of support online and offline for this, use the NHS recommended tools to help you quit.
Slightly more contentious is whether alcohol should be consumed to ‘kill pathogens’, or avoided to prevent poisoning your blood. Although there have been some studies to suggest that polyphenol rich alcoholic beverages like wine and beer may provide some immune-enhancing effects through their anti-oxidant properties; the latest and most comprehensive research suggests that there is no amount of alcohol that can be recommended based on a systematic analysis from the global burden of diseases, injuries and risk factors Study. Furthermore, there is a clear association between binge drinking and increased susceptibility to infection. Thus, it is safer to avoid alcohol and obtain your anti-oxidant polyphenol sources elsewhere. Why not enjoy some dark chocolate instead?
As discussed, keeping your immune system maintained as best as possible requires a holistic approach with a combination of vitamins and minerals and avoiding harmful substances. My next article will look into the possible benefits of using the sauna, drinking herbal teas and the effects of zinc, as well as reiterating the importance of exercise and activity.