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How to boost your immunity for the third wave of COVID and winter

We know that it’s likely that SA will have a third wave of COVID-19, and that it will probably hit in the middle of the winter flu season. Here’s how to boost your immunity to prepare.

Immune-boosting supplements

This clinical review suggests that healthy nutrition and taking vitamins, minerals and probiotics may benefit immunity and prevent or ease viral infections. The strategy of boosting our immune systems may help when it comes to COVID-19. The most commonly suggested supplements include vitamins C, E and D, microminerals such as zinc, iron and selenium, and probiotics.

The positive effects of supplements

Many nutrients and supplements have positive effects on immune response and may prevent or lessen viral infections. How?

  • Vitamin D may help reduce the incidence of colds by 50%.
    Countries with lower vitamin D levels are linked to higher mortality rates during the pandemic. Other studies show vitamin D may reduce the risk of COVID-19 by 9% and that low levels of vitamin D are associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 hospitalization. Vitamin D is the ‘sunshine vitamin’, so spending some time outside in the sunshine each day can also help.
  • Vitamin E protects immunity.
    It also protects cell membranes from free radicals. 
  • Vitamin C boosts immune cells.
    It also helps increase antibodies, protects against oxidative stress, reduces tissue damage and may help shorten the duration of colds.  
  • Zinc may help shorten colds by up to 40%.
    It may also reduce the risk of pneumonia in the elderly. Studies show that increased zinc levels may enhance the antiviral effect against COVID-19.
  • Selenium’s immune boosting properties may help fight COVID.
  • Echinacea has been found to help prevent colds.
  • Proanthocyanidin (found in pine bark and grape seed extract) is a powerful antioxidant, immune booster and blood stabiliser. 
  • Pelargonium (African geranium) can help the healing rate for acute bronchitis and colds.    

“Follow a diet of fruits and vegetables, take high quality supplements, exercise, get enough restorative sleep, manage stress and practice mindfulness. This will support immunity.” 

Maria Ascencao, HPA Chairperson

Diabetes and immunity

We asked HPA Chairperson, Maria Ascencao a few questions about diabetes and boosting immunity. Here’s what she had to say.

What is your advice for people with diabetes?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first step to managing diabetes and reducing the risk of developing further health complications. Regular exercise is an excellent way of keeping active and managing stress. (Here’s our best advice about exercise!)

Increase your intake of nutrient rich foods: 

  • Fruit and vegetables; 
  • Healthy fats like nuts seeds, avocados and olive oil; and 
  • Legumes like beans, lentils and peas that are high in fiber and don’t affect blood sugar levels too severely. 

Cut down on refined sugars, processed foods and toxic habits like smoking or overindulging in alcohol.

Supplements can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle for diabetics. Diabetes medication can make you deficient in vitamin B, so that’s always a good idea to take. Boost your immunity with vitamin C, D, zinc and selenium.

What about those who can’t afford nutritional supplements?

Focus on good nutrition: a diet rich in healthy vegetables and good quality meat with some fruits as a treat. Be sure to manage your blood glucose levels and consult a doctor or nurse to be sure that you’re following a suitable treatment programme.

What should you do if fruit spikes your blood sugar – can you get the same nutrients from vegetables?

Fruit contains high levels of sugar, which is likely to spike blood sugar levels. Best practice is to enjoy fruit as an occasional treat rather than an everyday staple. You can get the same nutritional value by eating plenty of fresh and whole vegetables. Here’s a diabetic’s guide to fruit.

Did you know?
An orange contains 12g of carbohydrates with only 67mg of vitamin C, while a red pepper contains 3.5g of carbohydrates and a whopping 190mg of vitamin C!

Maria Ascencao, HPA Chairperson

What do you think about the conflicting views on nutrition and supplements when it comes to COVID-19?

Our knowledge and understanding of the effects and the effective treatment of COVID are improving on a daily basis. In my opinion, there is no question that a healthy diet, combined with high-quality supplements, forms the cornerstone of good health. 

“A healthy body is more capable of protecting itself against foreign invaders, whether it’s COVID-19 or the common cold.”

How has our immune system changed in a COVID-19 world?

It’s not that our immune system has changed so much as learned and adapted. The immune system consists of two separate systems: an innate immune response and an adaptive immune response. 

  • The innate immune response is our first line of defense that helps fight infectious invaders. The innate immune response does not change. 
  • Our second line of defense, the adaptive immune response, usually kicks in after about seven days. This is the “specialist team” that includes antibodies and white blood cells that seek out and destroy invaders. 

This is the part of our immune system that learns and adapts; every time it defeats an invader, it becomes better equipped to deal with that invader the next time.

 So there you have it! Everything you need to know about supplements and your immune system and COVID-19. Do you have any other questions you’d like us to answer? Let us know.

What to read next?

Do or Don’t: Diabetic dietary supplements: An A to Z of dietary supplements, with some essential Do’s and Don’ts.

What to do if you have diabetes and COVID-19: A step-by-step guide, from one of SA’s top diabetes specialists.

10 Fast ways to improve your immunity: Want to give your immunity a boost? Read this quick list!

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.