Updates from College of Health Sciences

 

How to keep your Immune System Healthy

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Many claims about the prevention, treatment or cure of COVID-19 with dietary interventions have been circulating on social media. You may have heard the claim that you can boost your immune system to treat COVID-19 by consuming herbal tea, citrus fruits, or certain supplements. The international health authorities have declared that no specific food, supplement, or natural health product will help in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

However, a healthy immune system offers protection from illness and other health problems.  Focusing on eating nutrient-rich foods regularly and healthy lifestyle behaviors will help you and your family maintain a healthy immune system.

Immune-Supporting Nutrients

The following nutrients play a role in the immune system:

  • Protein comes from both animal and plant sources including milk, yoghurt, eggs, lean meat, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans, peas and lentils).
  • Vitamin A is found in sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs, and foods labeled ‘vitamin A fortified’ such as milk or some cereals.
  • Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, and melon, peppers, greens, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice and foods fortified with vitamin C, such as cereals.
  • Vitamin E- rich foods include sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), nuts and peanut butter.
  • Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and 100% juices that are fortified with vitamin D also are sources of this important nutrient.
  • Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.

Other nutrients, including vitamin B6, B12, copper, folate, selenium, and iron may also support the immune response and play a role in healthy eating.

Lifestyle Factors that support Immune Function

To help keep your immune system healthy all year long, focus on a balanced eating plan, adequate sleep, and stress management.

Make it a habit to eat foods from all five food groups: grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Aim for five to seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily to get the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that may support immune system health. 

While practicing home food safety and good personal hygiene are always important, frequent handwashing is especially critical in reducing the spread of COVID-19.  Remember to wash produce before eating or using in recipes. Kitchen hygiene is also essential – regularly clean utensils and countertops to minimize the spread and growth of bacteria.

Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, listening to music, or reading. Physical activity is also a great way to help manage stress and may help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases that could weaken your immune system.

Sleep also supports immune function. For adults, seven to nine hours is recommended, while children need eight to fourteen hours, depending on their age.

Supplements and Herbs

Untested supplements, herbs, and other products marketed as a prevention or cure for COVID-19 that are not regulated by the FDA may be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Currently, there are no known cures for COVID-19, although research is underway to develop a vaccine. In its continuing efforts to protect consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring and warning companies that offer fraudulent products claiming to help prevent, diagnose, treat or cure COVID-19.  Check with your health care provider before taking any supplements or medications.

Dima El-Halabi, MSc, RDN
College of Health Sciences
Abu Dhabi University

 

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