Food for thought in the fight against Covid-19

Nutritional therapist Martina Gallivan on how healthy eating, while no defence against Covid-19, helps the immune system to at least help you to put up a good fight.

Since we first learned about Covid-19 at the beginning of this year much speculation has surfaced regarding not only its cause, but also its cure.

Scientists are frantically working on a life-saving vaccine which probably won’t be available for many months to come. Possibly, even longer.

“Good nutrition can prevent inflammatory responses within the body and essentially triggers the immune system to fight against harmful microbes”

We know about the standard recommendations of hand hygiene and social distancing, but what else can we do as human beings to try to protect ourselves?

We are being exposed to relentless narrative that currently says we are all vulnerable. Worse still, the potential for listening to, unverified sources and unsubstantiated news offers recommendations on what we should be doing.

The truth is there is no one single panacea for total prevention of CovidD-19 until scientists discover a vaccine. For now, be aware of what you are looking at and whom you are accepting medical advice from.  

However, there are certain measures you can take to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

Healthy eating

In my practice the challenge is keeping people healthy and reducing illness and medication through diet. I have seen first-hand the endless benefits of how eating a balanced, nutritious diet immunises the body. Reducing cholesterol, hypertension and type-2 diabetes is actually the tip of the iceberg in patient success and recovery.

As a nutritional therapist, I am always cautious about giving advice at this level, but it makes sense to me that if you eat well, shouldn’t this also accelerate your immune system? I’m talking about nutritional immunology or the science of linking nutrition to the immune system which has been studied for years.

And because I have witnessed such positive and life changing results in patient health, there is no doubt that what we eat does affect the various systems in our body on a positive level.

There’s nothing wrong with eating foods we know are not that healthy, we all do it. But if you constantly eat this way there are bound to be health consequences.

So, we have all seen the media reports about Covid-19 Ad nauseam. However, I rarely see any mention of how a healthy diet can ultimately change our bodily make-up. I’m talking about Nutrigenomics, in other words how diet influences DNA or the effect that nutrients have on overall health?

Let’s take chocolate as an example. Instead of milk chocolate which has a high sugar content, and there is no doubt sugar proliferates inflammation and creates general dysbiosis in the body, opt for dark chocolate next time which is high in bioflavonoids (a powerful phytochemical) and antioxidants (which prevent oxidation within the body.)

Berries fresh or frozen are another great source of bioflavonoids which protect our endothelium – the layer of cells which line the walls of our circulatory system. They are lower in sugar and high in antioxidants.

Foods that contain high levels of sugar and saturated fat, and also foods containing lots of chemicals and preservatives, or high sodium are not going to assist your immune function. In fact, they can be dangerous in triggering pathogens which can cause disease.

Fuel for the body

Good nutrition can prevent inflammatory responses within the body and essentially triggers the immune system to fight against harmful microbes. It impacts how the cells of the immune system work.

We need fuel for the body for optimal function therefore good sources of macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrate and fats, as well as micronutrients such as Zinc, Vitamin D, Vitamin A as well as the B vitamins help to regulate molecular responses within immune cells.

There are certain factors which weaken our ability to fight infection and a compromised immune system is one of them. Elements which contribute to this weakness can range from being nutrient deficient, to oxidative stress, to lack of intestinal absorption of nutrients.

I always look to the gut first when analysing clients. What it is they’re eating and what affect is this having on their gut microbiome. That’s why prebiotics and probiotics have the ability to recolonise the gut and having a healthy gut microbiome supports the immune system.

My suggestion is to start to eat healthily in order to maximise your nutrient intake. For example, use a rainbow of colour in fruits and vegetables, plenty of nuts and seeds, plant proteins such as chickpeas, lentils as an example. Oily fish for Omega 3 and some animal proteins. Wholegrain carbohydrates and of course plenty of water. Good quality tinned fish is a wonderful source of vitamin D which most of us are lacking.

I’m not an advocate of taking excessive amounts of supplements but no doubt some are beneficial as an extra nutrient which I won’t touch upon in this article.

It is certain that how and what we eat influences the body’s ability to be able to resist and fight off infection. And good eating habits can impact whether or not we develop a host of illnesses.

Martina Gallivan is a nutritional therapist and director of RK Cardiology Healthy Living. If you are interested in learning more about health and lifestyle medicine for you or your family, contact her at martina@roseville.ie.