I wrote this document at the start of the year for my current patients, to support them through the months ahead. This still is very relevant now, so I am posting it on my blog.
Supporting the Immune System – by Dr Jessica Robinson March 2020
Foods and Supplements
- Vitamin C.
This is probably the most important one – if you take nothing else, take some vitamin C. The cheapest form is Ascorbic Acid and you can buy 250grams of powdered ascorbic acid from Lambert’s or Biocare for around £16-£18. This should be dissolved in water and drunk. If you don’t like the acid flavour, you can neutralize it with sodium bicarbonate, or you can buy a powder of magnesium ascorbate. Alternatively, there are many formulations of vitamin C in tablet form. You need to take at least two grams per day, increasing this at the first sign of an infection. Vitamin C is very safe. You can take several grams daily with no more adverse effect than a loosening of your stool once you have reached your personal limit.
- There are three other ways vitamin C can be formulated: Food-based, such as Cytoplan’s Cherry-c. This is a lower dose of vitamin C (200mg) but it is supposed to be better absorbed and used by the body. Alternatively, there is Liposomal Vitamin C, which is very well absorbed into cells. I recommend this strongly to anyone who is at risk of serious infection. In hospitals, intravenous vitamin C has been used successfully to treat people in intensive care units suffering from sepsis.
- Vitamin D3
In the UK, we are all low on this vitamin at this time of the year and it is crucial for immune function (as well as many other functions in the body). I recommend that you take at least 2000iu-3000iu daily of Vitamin D3, preferably with Vitamin K2 (which prevents calcium being laid down in blood vessels).
- Zinc and Selenium
These two minerals are important co- factors in immune function. You can get the Selenium from 5 brazil nuts daily, or in a combination supplement with Zinc. Zinc is found naturally in certain foods – the highest amount in oysters and beef; small amounts in soya, hemp seeds, beans and pulses. There are some Zinc lozenges around which can be OK, such as Lambert’s Zinc Plus lozenges. Don’t take excessive quantities of these minerals – just have a small daily dose. If you notice a loss of sense of smell, this is an important symptoms suggesting zinc deficiency, in which case, make sure you take at least 15mg of supplemental zinc daily.
The best place to start with this is with probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt or coconut milk yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi or sauerkraut. If you don’t like these, you may benefit from a supplement. Buy a supplement from a reputable company such as Biokult, Optibac, Biocare, Cytoplan. Interestingly, if you have healthy and well-balanced gut bacteria, they make for us the Vitamin C that we need. If your gut bacterial balance has been upset, for example by antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a diet high in excessive sugar or low in healthy vegetables, you are at risk of becoming unwell and needing more supplemental Vitamin C.
Compounds found in mushrooms, called Beta Glucans, are very supportive of the immune system. There are also supplements which contain Beta Glucans: Cytoplan has one called Immunovite, which has Beta Glucans with Vitamin C, Zinc and Selenium.
This is antiviral and it can calm the immune system when it is overreacting (Cytokine Storm). It is found in onions, apples, asparagus and capers. There are also various supplements containing it.
This is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
- Organic Bone broth
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential for protecting the lining of the respiratory system. Ideally, make sure you include Vitamin A –rich foods in your diet, such as liver and mackerel. Alternatively, most people can make this vitamin from carotenoids in food such as carrots, sweet potato, kale and other dark leafy greens. It is possible to supplement with Vitamin A if you don’t like any of these foods, but do not take any more that the Recommended Daily Allowance, as high doses of Vitamin A can be toxic. If you take a good multivitamin, it will likely have some Vitamin A in it.
- Other immune supports include Elderberry, N-acetyl Cysteine, Astragalus, Turmeric with Black Pepper. N-Actyl Cysteine has been reported to thin the mucous in the lungs and so improve breathing.
In summary, the most crucial substances to support immune function are: Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Zinc, Selenium, Probiotics.
- Avoid using paracetamol or non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs to bring down a fever: fever is your body’s first line of defence against the infection. If you block the fever, you are less able to combat the infection.
- Eat as healthy a diet as possible
- If you can, avoid eating processed foods and instead concentrate on plenty of vegetables and fruits, as wide a variety as possible, fish and meat (if you are not vegetarian), nuts, seeds, eggs, avocados, coconut etc.
- Additionally, coconut oil is antiviral and so if you like the taste, this is a good addition to your cooking.
- Use herbs such as rosemary and oregano in cooking, and spices such as ginger and turmeric, as these are all great for the immune system.
- Keep hydrated – drink green tea and herbal tea.
- Try to get good sleep. To help with this, make sure you switch off phones and wifi at night, and avoid looking at blue-lit screens late as this prevents your body from making the sleep hormone Melatonin.
- If you feel ill, rest. This allows your body to concentrate its resources where they are needed – on recovery.
- Spend time doing the things you love. Perhaps this enforced isolation will give to those of us who lead over-full lives “time to stand and stare”.
- Practice gratitude – review all the things that have helped you in your life.
Update – September 2020
Since I wrote this document 6 months ago, a lot of research has been published about treatment for the pandemic. There is a burgeoning body of evidence that links low vitamin D status to severe covid morbidity and mortality, as well as evidence of the effectiveness of Vitamin C as adjunctive therapy. Loss of sense of smell has been identified as a key symptom of the disease (which is also a key symptoms of zinc deficiency) and there have also been studies showing that zinc deficiency has been linked to more severe covid disease. Finally, there has been huge controversy over the role of Hydroxychloroquine, an old, cheap and well-known drug, which has previously been shown to be effective in treating SARS. Hydroxychloroquine works as a zinc ionophore: that is, it helps zinc to enter cells, where the zinc prevents viral replication. Studies of hydroxychloroquine, sometimes in eye-wateringly high doses, but given without zinc, have (not surprisingly) shown no benefit, but when zinc and hydroxychloroquine are given together, there is significant benefit.
Fortunately, if you can’t get access to hydroxychloroquine, Quercetin, which I talk about above, does the same job.