2021 is starting on a rather anxious note, especially for us in the UK where the new strain of coronavirus seems to be spreading like wildfire. As every winter, there are steps we can all take to boost our immune system and protect ourselves from viruses. Coronaviruses are viruses that affect the respiratory tract, with a very wide range of symptoms from cough and fever to difficulties to breathe. We will then look at how to support the respiratory system during the coldest months.
- Most importantly, check your Vitamin D levels. Most of us develop a vitamin D deficiency in the winder due to lack of exposure. People from minority ethnic backgrounds are even more at risk, and several studies suggest a correlation between developing severe covid symptoms and Vit D deficiency. Here are some academic studies on this topic if you are inclined: Improving vitamin D status in the management of Covid-19, Role of Vitamin D in preventing of Covid-19 infection, progression and severity and Vitamin D deficiency aggravates COVID-19: systematic review and meta-analysis.
Getting good quality vitamin supplements is thus important, and make sure to check dosage. 1000 IU (or 25mg) of Vitamin D3 is what is usually recommended for people with mild deficiency, but a GP might prescribe a higher dose after a blood test. For my children, I used Vit D drops which I usually add to their breakfast porridge. Of course, it’s always better to get the “real thing” rather than take supplements, so try to get some sun even when it’s cold outside! It’s hard to get enough vitamin D through diet as few food items contain it, but it’s mainly found in fish (salmon, herring, sardines, tuna), and egg yolk to a lesser extent.
- Vitamin C is another very important vitamin during the winter. There is a reason we have an abundance of citrus fruits in the colder months: pomelos, oranges, clementines and grapefruits are good options to raise your Vitamin C levels, as your body will always get more benefit from a naturally occurring vitamin than a pill. Kiwis are also brilliant, and in fact they contain more vitamin C than oranges!
- One of my personal favourite immune boosting recipes is elderberry syrup or rob (recipe here). Unfortunately I didn’t find enough berries this year, but I usually use Sambucol. The great thing with elderberry generally is that it tastes great, so we all love having it. Elderberries have strong anti-viral components and can slow the spread of virus through the body. Elder (Sambucus negra) can also be used as a tea made from dried flowers, and it has long been used in traditional medicine to cure viral infections such as flu, bronchitis and sinusitis. It is particularly helpful to clear mucus from the throat and nose, as it is a natural decongestant. It is also perfectly safe for children (as long as you make sure you have the real thing!).
- Honey is an easy to find, popular, delicious product, and I personally have excellent results with it. I use it as a preventive measure throughout winter (for myself and children) and we are very rarely sick. A hot lemon or ginger tea with a big spoon of honey works a treat if you feel a bit rundown or are developing a cough. I usually have a teaspoon before breakfast every morning, and as with most things, what makes the difference is quality honey. Most supermarket honeys are a mix of different ‘honeys’ including Chinese ‘honey’, which mostly is not honey at all but sugar syrup. To be fair, real honey costs money, so if you see a product that seems particularly cheap, the real honey content is probably very low. Get raw, organic honey, preferably local to you: always check the source. I also use Manuka honey (definitely NOT local to me!), but we all love it. Get a small pot of the higher concentration you can find (currently 350 for me); it is expensive but if you only have a small teaspoon a day, it will last for a while and you will see the benefits.
If you do catch Covid-19, remember to drink plenty of fluids, give yourself a rest, and try to act early. Once the virus has reached your lungs, it will be much harder to get it out. At the first sign of a runny nose or tingling throat, get your honey, ginger and lemon out, and put the kettle on.
Steams can be a very efficient tool to clear your airways if you are struggling to breathe. Thyme is usually recommended and it is easily accessible; many people have dry thyme in their kitchen (but make sure you use thyme that is not too old!). Simply boil water, pour over your thyme in a large bowl and inhale deeply. You can also put a towel over your head. This should give you temporary relief so can be repeated several times throughout the day. Thyme might also help prevent secondary lung infections.
Diet is also very important for the recovery process (as always!): allow your body to focus on fighting the virus by eating easy to digest food: plenty of fruit and veg, broth, boiled eggs, veg juices, plain rice, and avoid processed food. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and herbal teas throughout the day.
REST! I know it’s hard when you have a busy job or young children, but with the prevalence of long-term effects with Covid, it is really crucial to let your body recover and get some proper rest. You will experience fatigue, and this is completely normal. It is simply your body telling you to go to bed, let go of stress and daily mental load, and focus on yourself. Everything else can wait!