The coronavirus presents many uncertainties, and none of us can completely eliminate our risk of getting COVID-19. But one thing we can do is eat as healthily as possible. If we do catch COVID-19, our immune system is responsible for fighting it. Research shows improving nutrition helps support optimal immune function.
Micronutrients are essential to fight against infection which includes vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc. Here’s what we know about how these nutrients support our immune system and the foods we can eat to get them.
Vitamin A maintains the structure of the cells in the skin and respiratory tract. This forms a barrier against infections and is your body’s first line of defense.
We also need essential elements of vitamin A to help make antibodies which neutralize the pathogens that cause infection. This is like assigning more of your team to target an opposition player who has the ball, to prevent them scoring.
Vitamin B particularly B6, B9 and B12, contribute to your body’s first response once it has recognised a pathogen. They do this by influencing the production and activity of “natural killer” cells. Natural killer cells work by causing infected cells to “implode”, a process called apoptosis. At a football match, this role would be like security guards intercepting wayward spectators trying to run onto the field and disrupt play.
B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat.
B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and is added to commercial bread-making flour.
When your body is fighting an infection, it experiences what’s called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the production of free radicals which can pierce cell walls, causing the contents to leak into tissues and exacerbating inflammation. Vitamin C help protect cells from oxidative stress. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and capsicum.
Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection. Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D. People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements.
Vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative stress. Vitamin E helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the body’s natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system). Vitamin E is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables and vegetables oils.
Vitamin E is a vital nutrient for good health, and it’s found in a wide variety of foods and supplements. The best way to consume this vitamin is through a healthy diet.