Can you boost your immune system to prevent coronavirus?

By Sarah Noone Coronavirus News   |   26th Mar 2020

Our expert dietitian Sarah Noone busts the myth that you can boost your immune system through diet or supplements.

The simple truth is that it is not possible to “boost” your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you from getting COVID-19/Coronavirus. Good hygiene practice and social distancing continue to be the best means of avoiding infection.

While several things can support our immune function through long-term general behavioural change this does not justify people peddling misinformation around nutrition and the immune system. People sharing unproven diet based solutions to COVID-19 could increase the risk that others don’t take proper hygiene and social distancing actions.

To date, the European Food Safety Authority has not authorised any claim for a food or food component to be labelled as protecting against infection.

The only way to truly ‘boost’ your immune system is through vaccination. This works by introducing a harmless amount of a pathogen into our system, so that the body can create antibodies. Therefore, the immune response occurs more efficiently the next time it comes into contact with that pathogen. There is currently no vaccine against the coronavirus.

It is not possible to “boost” your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you from getting COVID-19/Coronavirus

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Although we may not be able to ‘boost’ our immune system through diet and lifestyle, we can support it to work well and a diet that includes enough energy and a variety of nutrients is an important part of this.

No one food is recommended over another, instead it is important to eat a variety of foods to maintain a healthy balanced diet. See our nutrition news section for more tips.

Most of us in Ireland need additional vitamin D in our diet, especially between October to March as sunshine not food, is where most of our vitamin D comes from. Vitamin D is found naturally in oily fish and egg yolks and it is added to foods like fortified breakfast cereals, fortified milks and spreads. Not only does Vitamin D support our bone health but it is also used by our immune system.

Now we are in spring, if you can, you should try to spend some time outdoors in the sunshine. If you are indoors most of the time/ self isolating, don’t eat many foods that contain vitamin D and/ or are within the high-risk groups which include those with dark skin, pregnant women, elderly and sedentary people, you may require supplementation.

Getting enough sleep, avoiding too much alcohol, not smoking and hand hygiene also support your immune system.

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Other factors are equally important. Physical activity helps to mobilise our white blood cells by increasing blood flow it is also a great de-stresser. Stress management (as difficult as this is at the moment) is also important as stress can increase hormones like cortisol that repress some of your immune cells i.e. decrease immune function.

Getting enough sleep, avoiding too much alcohol , not smoking and hand hygiene also support your immune system. Eating enough is also vital. One of the most important dietary aspects when it comes to supporting your immune system is to eat an adequate amount of calories.

Finally remember to try not to put yourself under pressure in an attempt to have the perfect diet (stress will only negatively impact your immune system). Do the best you can in the circumstances. We are all in this together. Stay safe and don’t forget to wash your hands.

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