COVID-19 Supporting Immunity

March 17, 2019


In light of the rapid global spread of coronavirus I thought I would take this opportunity to share what we currently know about the virus and some effective ways we can all strengthen our immune systems.
 Now more than ever we should all be taking proactive steps to boost our natural defence mechanisms.

I have kept this simple and omitted most of the science. I have included a very brief description of the pathophysiology of COVID-19 as we currently understand it, scientists are learning more every day.

I am offering Zoom appointments to anyone who would like some personalised nutrition support or immune guidance in this difficult time. Please do get in touch if you would like to book in.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is part of the SARS family of virus’s so we have some knowledge about how it behaves. Corona viruses are enveloped RNA viruses that take about 6 days to develop fully in the body. They are spread via respiratory droplets but the virus sheds through faeces and urine too. The virus attaches to ACE2 membrane proteins on cells predominantly in the heart, lungs, kidneys and vascular cells. Some foods and herbs may help block attachment to a certain degree (cinnamon, elderberry, liquorice, red grapes, acai berries).

The virus specifically targets and replicates within ‘ciliated cells’ and damages our ‘mucocilary escalator’ - this is our natural ability to move pathogens from our lungs via mucous. This is why pneumonia can develop. Herbs and nutrients that have been shown to help protect these ciliated cells are - olives, olive oil, olive leaf extract and medicinal mushrooms (reishi, cordyceps, coriolus etc).

The virus also has an affinity to dendritic cells (immune cells) which are found mainly in the lining of the lungs. The virus prevents these cells from stimulating an effective response. Key nutrients that can enhance and support our dendritic cells are zinc, elderberry, liquorice and again medicinal mushrooms.

Our immune system is complex and works hard daily to protect us from pathogens such as COVID-19. It is important that we provide the nutrients it needs and create the best possible environment we can so that it can serve us well.

There is so much we can do ourselves to support our innate healing ability and immune response. I hope the following will serve as a reminder and offer some inspiration for the weeks and months ahead.


Focus on eating a diet rich in brightly coloured vegetables and fruit (a rainbow!).  All the colours contain different phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals which are hugely strengthening to our immune system.  Reduce your sugar, alcohol and refined carbohydrate intake as these all deplete immune function. In addition, think about adding in the following:

  • Olives and Olive oil - Rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral
  • Apple cider vinegar - highly beneficial for gut and immune health
  • Antiviral foods - banana, cinnamon, ginger, mushrooms, garlic, green tea, culinary herbs (sage, oregano, parsley, coriander)
  • Vitamin C rich foods - Citrus fruits, melons, pineapples, blackcurrants, strawberries, kiwi, peppers, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables are all good sources
  • Zinc rich foods – pumpkin seeds, fish, grass-fed lamb
  • Raw honey – delicious and a great immune system boost
  • Omega 3 fatty acids – help stimulate immune cells and reduce inflammation in the lungs (salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, flax, chia, walnuts)
  • Protein – vital to fight infections so include a quality protein with each meal. Antibodies and immune cells rely on protein intake

Gut Health

Over 70% of our immune cells are located in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). The GIT is populated by bacteria collectively called the microbiome which profoundly influence our health and play a fundamental role in the healthy functioning of our immune system.  Our gut mucosa is our first line of defence. Here are some key tips for a healthy, happy gut:

  • Eat a diverse array of plant fibres daily (30 plants a week)
  • Remember the prebiotic foods to feed your good gut bacteria – onion, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichoke, cooked and cooled rice
  • Bone broth and stewed apple are wonderful for the gut mucosa
  • Fermented foods – kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi
  • Consider a probiotic supplement


Stay hydrated, water is best but also try coconut water and herbal teas.


There are many supplements that can support immunity. These are the ones with the most evidence base for this type of virus. For dosage instructions do speak to a registered nutritional therapist.

  • Vitamin D - crucial for a healthy immune response. Deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection.
  • Zinc - helps the body respond quickly to fight infection and vital for our adaptive immune capacity.
  • Vitamin C - is a powerful antioxidant that can increase antibody production and promotes resistance to viral infection.
  • Medicinal Mushrooms – powerful antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Probiotics - help support mucosal immunity and barrier function, our first line of defence.
  • Saccharomyces Boulardi - supports mucosal immunity and SIG A production.
  • Olive Leaf Extract – powerful antiviral properties. Strengthens the immune system and protects the ciliated cells that this virus targets.
  • Elderberry – Antiviral and immune boosting
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) - NAC supports glutathione production (our master antioxidant) which can support with mucus elimination and help prevent pneumonia.

This information is not intended to replace any specific advice you have had from your GP or other health professional and please do remember to check with a professional nutritional therapist first before taking any new supplements so they can ensure there are no interactions with any of your current medication.

Prioritise Sleep

Sleep is crucial for a robust immune system. Aim for 8 hours if you can. Research shows us that the following can all help support healthy sleep patterns:

  • Stop screen time 90 mins before bed to prevent disruption of melatonin
  • Ensure your last meal is 3 hours before bedtime
  • Ensure your bedroom is completely dark
  • Aim for 20 mins daylight exposure every day before mid-day
  • Turn all phones onto aeroplane mode before sleep

Minimise Stress

Stress down regulates our immune systems so it is really helpful to be as calm as possible and not lean into the fear and panic that is circulating. Not easy right now I know… Avoid scrolling the plethora of social media and news reports about the virus and find one reliable source and just check it once a day.

Be kind to yourselves and take some daily ‘me time’ to walk, meditate, listen to music, read, stroke your cat, chat to friends – whatever helps you feel relaxed.

Laughter up-regulates the immune system so get out the comedy box sets, spend time with people who make you smile.

Keep Active

Moderate exercise supports immune function but do bear in mind that intense exercise will temporarily suppress it. 
 It’s all about balance. Walking, Yoga, Pilates are all perfect.

Perhaps this is a good time for reflection and to revaluate our relationship with health? Do we do enough outside of crisis to nourish ourselves? Our immune system is our greatest defence but it requires specific nutrients and conditions to function. I will be posting regular recipes and tips over the coming months to all who are interested in learning more. If you have any specific questions, concerns or would like guidance then please do get in touch.

Stay safe everyone and be kind to yourselves, these are challenging and difficult times and we must work together.

With love

Anita Beardsley is a qualified Nutritional Therapist using a functional medicine approach to support women's health. Anita offers 1:1 nutrition support online or at her Bristol clinic.

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