There has never been a more important time to be proactive with our nutrition, with the aim of supporting the very best immune system defence.
Our immune systems play a role not only in fighting off infections, but also in promoting tissue repair to recovery. To function properly, our immune system requires plenty of both macro and micronutrients.
To help support your health over the next few months, we’ve put together a few diet and lifestyle pointers to keep you going in this worrying time.
Avoid strenuous exercise
Moderate-intensity exercise can be protective against illness by boosting the immune system, whereas high-intensity sessions actually compromise the immune system. Our immune system takes a hit for up to 72 hours following high-intensity training, making this a key time for susceptibility. This is especially important to note if you exercise in a class with others, where you’re more likely to pick up bacteria and viruses.
Let yourself sleep, rest and recover
Rest and recovery are key to prevent getting ill and further unwanted illness. If you’re always on the go with minimal rest, your immune system can be compromised long term. Poor sleep can affect the immune system and make you more susceptible to infection or illness. Sometimes it’s hard to stop, particularly when the future feels so uncertain, but don’t ever underestimate the importance of rest and relaxation! Run a hot bath, read a book, get a massage or listen to relaxing music every now and again.
Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol
Excessive chronic intake of alcohol can decrease the number of a few white blood cells types, which means that your immune system will not be as able to fight off any bugs. Keeping within the alcohol guidelines will help, which in the UK is currently set at 14 units per week. That’s 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine if that’s your preferred tipple. If you do prefer to round off the week with a few drinks you could pick drinks with healthy, vitamin-packed mixers such as orange, tomato or pineapple juice.
It’s not the time to diet
If you are unlucky enough to pick up an infection, you will need plenty of energy to fight it off. That means that it might not be the wisest time to start a calorie reduced diet – unless of course you have a pressing health issue that means you need to lose weight urgently. Low intakes of carbohydrates such as bread, rice and potatoes, which end up as glucose in the blood, can be a contributing factor to impaired immunity.
Keep well hydrated
Unfortunately, being dehydrated can also contribute to a compromised immune system. Still at this time of year when there’s still a bit of a nip on the air, it’s easy to forget to drink. One of the front-line defences in our immune systems are the immune proteins in our saliva. When we’re dehydrated, the levels of these proteins decreases, meaning our initial defence to bugs entering through the mouth is also decreased. Make sure you don’t wait to feel thirsty before you drink up, carry a water bottle with you (everywhere!) and keep sipping throughout the day.
Taste the Rainbow
Fruit and vegetables contain a wide range of different micronutrients with varying roles within the body. Many of these nutrients are involved in immune function such as iron, vitamins C and D, selenium and zinc. Anyone with even mild deficiencies in any of these micronutrients can have an altered immune response.
The easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and other phytochemicals is to consume a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables. Taste the rainbow- choose different coloured and textured fruit and veg every single day!
Vitamin C, vitamin D and selenium all help to support a healthy immune system. Not everyone can eat enough to get these micronutrients (or get enough sun in a UK winter), so consider taking a food supplement if you are lacking some antioxidant or immune protection. Contrary to popular belief, huge doses of vitamin C are not required in winter. At doses of say 400-500mg a day, the excess vitamin C is simply excreted in urine, making it literally money down the toilet!
In summary: consume enough antioxidants to support your immune system, sleep well, drink plenty (but not too many drinks of the alcoholic kind), avoid strenuous activity and wash your hands before eating to stay well.
At the moment we are all keen to maintain good health and do our best to support our immune systems. There’s adhering to lockdown rules, washing our hands, not touching our faces and getting plenty of sleep. But what are the nutrients and vitamins hidden in our food which enable our bodies to effectively fight bacteria and viruses if we get exposed to them? You’ve probably heard of vitamin C in relation to immunity; perhaps vitamin D too… but what about selenium? Is this lesser-known micronutrient something you need to be aware of in these challenging times?
What is selenium and which foods is it found in?
Selenium is an essential trace element with a number of biological functions. Selenium levels affect the ability of the body to repair DNA by protecting cells from oxidative stress. Selenium is also heavily involved in the endocrine (e.g. thyroid function) and immune systems. Selenium occurs in organic and inorganic forms. The organic form is found predominantly in grains, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products and enters the food chain via plant consumption.
What happens if you are deficient in selenium?
Selenium deficiency has also been associated with increased incidence, severity (virulence) and/or progression of viral infections such as influenza (flu), HIV and Coxsackie virus. For example, flu infections are known to cause significantly greater lung problems in selenium‐deficient mice compared with selenium adequate mice. Another study found the amount of inflammation and severity of illness was significantly higher in selenium deficient mice.
It has been suggested that increased severity of viral infections in selenium‐deficient mice could be the result of increased oxidative stress caused by impaired antioxidant enzyme activity. Excessive inflammation may be the result of viral‐induced tissue damage and an increased expression of NF‐kB, which controls inflammatory responses, because of increased oxidative stress.
What can you do to help ensure optimum selenium levels?
Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. For that reason, it’s essential to eat a balanced diet so that you are giving your body the best chance of getting all the nutrients it needs. If you are concerned that you don’t eat enough of the foods listed above, perhaps because you are adhering to a strict vegan diet, it could be worth exploring a selenium supplement.
Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. Altruvita’s selenium is from selenomethionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) and provides over 180% of the adult daily requirement for health (nutrient reference value). We are also vegan and vegetarian approved by the Vegetarian Society, so this is the perfect selenium supplement for those sticking to a plant-based diet.
We recently wrote about the effect of a low selenium blood level in men causing male infertility, and the positive effects of supplementation.* Perhaps it is not a surprise that the rest of the diet can also play a role
A team in Spain examined the diets of men who were analysed within 35 studies. Their paper was published in Human Reproduction Update.
Generally, the results indicated that healthy diets rich in some nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, some antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, β-carotene, selenium, zinc, cryptoxanthin and lycopene), other vitamins (vitamin D and folate) and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids were inversely associated with low semen quality parameters.
In terms of specific foods, the diets high in fish, shellfish, poultry, cereals, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and skimmed milk reflected in good sperm quality parameters.
Diets rich in processed meat, soy foods, potatoes, full-fat dairy and total dairy products, coffee, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets were detrimentally associated with the quality of semen in some studies.
The analysis also showed that a high intake of alcohol, caffeine, red meat and processed meat by males has a negative influence on the chance of pregnancy and fertilisation rates in their partners.
Although this review may show links or associations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something causes or prevents infertility. However the study is helpful to couples planning a pregnancy so they can be generally aware of what could be good, and what could be bad for their chances. As suggested in the first blog post, if possible, micronutrient screening blood tests of males can be done to see if deficiencies are present prior to conception.
* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS
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