Nutritional Optimisation just became real.
With a global pandemic on the rise and no vaccine in sight, having a well-nourished immune system, a healthy body composition and better than average metabolic health has suddenly become a priority for a LOT of people.
People who haven’t run for years are taking to the streets to try to get fit while at the same time loading up on supplements in an effort to “boost” their immune system.
Unfortunately, the list of suggestions on what supplements you should take to give your immune system the best chance of successfully battling off foreign invaders seems to be endless.
In this article, we’ll unpack what we do know and what we don’t about nutrition and supplementation for COVID-19, and why you should be cautious before putting your faith and cash into loads of supplements.
Healthy immunity is a delicate balance
As with many things in life, a healthy immune system is a balance between extremes. You need enough of an immune response to defend against external pathogens.
However, excessive immune action to the point that it attacks your own body is called autoimmune disease (i.e. your body attacks itself). Some common autoimmune conditions that you may have heard of include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Graves disease.
There is a lot we don’t know about COVID-19
COVID-19 is a novel (i.e. new) virus.
While we are learning about it at an extremely rapid pace thanks to international information sharing, there is a lot we still don’t know.
We can’t assume that what worked for another condition (e.g. colds or flu) will work the same way in this instance.
There are plenty of anecdotes and theories, but not a lot of hard data that we can rely on.
What can you do now to prepare?
While many countries are making an effort to ‘flatten the curve’ to give us the best chance of having adequate hospital capacity, the reality is that many of us will likely be exposed to the COVID-19 virus in the fullness of time (perhaps within the next 18 months to two years).
Once we have been infected and recover we will have developed immunity to COVID-19 and can get on with living life.
At that point, as they say, the world will be your (nutrient-dense) oyster.
While there is no point rushing out to try to get COVID-19, it’s prudent to do what you can to be prepared when you are infected.
By applying what we do know, you can ensure that you are in the best condition to reduce the risk of developing severe symptoms when you do come in contact with the COVID-19 virus.
You ARE in control
With many of us in home isolation at the moment, we have a new level of control over our daily routine, that comes with its pros and cons.
- You may find it harder to get fresh food at the shops. But on the upside, many companies who used to deliver to restaurants are now delivering to people at home. The veggies are still growing and the chickens are still laying eggs! If you look you might be amazed at the people who are now prepared to deliver their nutritious produce to your door.
- You may be exposed to junk food less and have more time to devote to cooking nutritious meals at home to eat with the family.
- If you’re working from home you’re not going to be walking to the bus or moving around as much, but you probably have an hour or two that you usually spent in transit that you can devote to some type of home-based workout.
- You’re likely spending more time shut inside. But most of us can get out and walk the dog and get some sun!
What is the cytokine storm?
While COVID-19 appears to be a “flu-like” experience for many (particularly if you are young and healthy), it can be fatal due to an overreaction of the body’s immune system known as a “cytokine storm“.
Cytokines are proteins released by your immune system to coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural and healthy part of the body’s healing process. But sometimes our body’s response to infection goes into overdrive.
Excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines result in hyper-inflammation.
COVID-19 becomes serious and often fatal when it turns into an infection of the respiratory tract which results in severe pneumonia. It’s your innate immune system’s extreme response to this lung infection that leads to difficulty breathing (i.e. acute respiratory distress syndrome) and eventually death.
Can supplements make COVID-19 more dangerous?
Vitamins A, C and D are powerful immune system modulators and highly beneficial in the amounts we find in food (or get from sun exposure in the case of vitamin D). However, excessive levels of some of the most popular supplements (e.g. vitamin A, C and D) may actually do more harm than good.
Dr Chris Masterjohn PhD recently wrote in a blog post What I’m Doing for the Coronavirus:
Although I’m making sure I hit about 150 milligrams of vitamin C from foods, I am not using high-dose vitamin C.
I am concerned that vitamin C could increase interferon, which in SARS is a trigger for the “cytokine storm” that causes inflammatory damage in the lungs. As a result, I am staying away from high-dose vitamin C.
Although I’m continuing to get an average of 3,000 IU of vitamin A per day from food and continuing to get normal sunshine and eat foods that naturally contain vitamin D, I am avoiding any supplementation with A and D. I’m worried that they could increase ACE2, the protein that the virus uses to enter cells.
In a similar vein, Chris Krssser recently stated:
Early on in the COVID outbreak, some people expressed concern about elderberry because it can potentially upregulate inflammatory cytokine production, which could contribute to the cytokine storm that makes people really sick with COVID.
However, as Stephen [Harrod] Buhner, a renowned herbalist that I really love and follow pointed out, elderberry is a modulator of the cytokine response, which means it can upregulate it or downregulate it as necessary.
I think this may be also true of propolis and vitamins A and D. But since coronavirus can get into our cells by hijacking ACE-2 receptors, I think it’s probably cautious to avoid anything that might upregulate those receptors, including propolis and high doses of vitamins A and D.
So, for this reason, I would suggest not taking propolis and not taking very high doses of vitamin A and D during the COVID pandemic.
You can and should still eat adequate amounts of A and D in food, and you can supplement with lower doses of vitamin D like 1,000 IU or maybe 400 or 500 IU per day if you live in a place where you’re getting minimal sun exposure.
So, while it is critical to get adequate intakes of these essential nutrients from food, you should be cautious when it comes to supraphysiological doses (i.e. over and above what you would get from nutrient-dense foods) of immune-modulating nutrients that you can get from supplementation.
Increased risk of obesity
Another common thread in the data on COVID-19 is the correlation between severe reactions, age, obesity and poor metabolic health.
While the data is often confounded by a range of factors and no data is perfectly accurate, it appears that places with more obesity and poorer nutrition tend to experience higher levels of severe cases of COVID-19.
Analysis of data from China suggests that being obese nearly doubles your risk of severe pneumonia when exposed to COVID-19.
Mike Julian recently noted that this may be due to higher levels of inflammatory cytokines produced by excessive levels of unhealthy adipose tissue (i.e. body fat). While there’s no point in creating unnecessary fear, there has never been a better time to be fit, healthy and well-nourished!
Which nutrients support your immune function?
In our previous article What to eat to support your immune system, we detailed the way in which key nutrients that have been shown to support healthy immune function, i.e.:
- Vitamin D,
- Vitamin A,
- Vitamin C,
- Iron, and
But rather than relying on high doses of supplements, you should aim to get these from nutrient-dense foods and meals.
Why we believe in #foodfirst
When most people hear the words ‘micronutrients’ or ‘vitamins’ they, unfortunately, think of supplements, pills or some magic potion that comes in a bottle with a hefty price tag.
At best, many people just end up creating ‘expensive pee’ as their kidney has to work a bit harder to flush the excess vitamins. They also get a false sense of security that they have protected themselves against a poor diet of processed convenience food.
At worst, high levels of supplemental nutrients can be as powerful as drugs (and just as dangerous). Excessive supplementation of isolated nutrients can create imbalances and overstimulation of normal bodily functions such as your immune system.
Note: Many common drugs are thought to also increase the risk of experiencing more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
By contrast, the nutrients that come in nutrient-dense foods and meals are in the right ratios and in the form that your body knows what to do with.
Which foods contain more of these nutrients that support a healthy immune function?
Rather than focusing on individual nutrients, we can determine the foods that contain more of all the nutrients that are critical to optimising your immune system.
The list of foods below has been optimised to maximise your intake of all the key nutrients that have been shown to play a key role in supporting a healthy immune response.
- bok choy
- Swiss chard
- bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- broccoli sprouts
- green peppers
- snow peas
- lemon juice
- alfalfa sprouts
Note: If you’re serious about getting more nutrients, try eating the peel. That’s where most of the nutrients are.
- egg white
- whole egg
- duck eggs
- beef broth
- coconut water
- curry powder
The chart below shows the micronutrient fingerprint of the foods that contain more of the nutrients that will support your immune system. These foods have an Optimal Nutrient Score of 85%.
Rather than simply thinking in terms of individual foods and ingredients, we have created a range of nutrient-dense recipes that support healthy immune function.
While it’s “interesting” timing, after four years of analysis and six months of hard slog creating recipe books, we have finally finished our series of twenty-two nutrient-dense recipe books tailored for different goals.
But rather than being seen to be profiting off a pandemic (not cool), we figured we’d share some of the highest-ranking recipes that focus on nutrients that support a healthy immune function.
Salmon, asparagus, spinach and mushroom
Quick Baked Salmon
Free recipe book
To get a free abridged version of our immunity recipe book with the highest-ranking recipes for immunity CLICK HERE.
These are challenging times.
Being fit, healthy and well-nourished is more important than ever.
The essential nutrients in your food play a critical role in supporting immunity. However, relying on excess supplementation could risk overstimulating your immune system which could lead to more severe complications when you are exposed to COVID-19.
You can prepare now by ensuring your foods and meals contain adequate amounts of these essential immune-supporting nutrients along with all the other complementary essential nutrients.
Stay well. Be healthy. Stay safe.