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Now, more than ever, is the time to support your family’s immune health. Apart from encouraging frequent thorough handwashing, what else can you do? Our nutritional advisor Steph Lowe shares four of her ways.
1. Eat well
Start with a wholefood diet, rich in both vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, including berries, broccoli and capsicum as well as zinc from seafood, legumes and pumpkin seeds. Children and adults should aim to consume at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.
2. Go outdoors
Getting out in nature and exposing bare skin to small amounts of sunlight does wonders for your immune system. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which triggers an antimicrobial response and acts to protect the body from bacterial and viral agents. The best time of day is between 10:00 am‒3:00 pm in summer and closer to midday in winter for peak exposure to the UVB rays that make vitamin D.
3. Supplement with vitamin C powder
While vitamin C is most famous for treating and preventing scurvy in the 1700s, the powerful health benefits of vitamin C has been demonstrated for decades. Vitamin C enhances our response to oxidative stress from inflammation, which helps to fight microbes and viruses that would otherwise proliferate to create an infection. Not only can vitamin C minimise symptoms of illness it has also been found to improve recovery by neutralising free radicals and downregulating inflammation.
Pure supplemental vitamin C can be given as young as one year of age.
As vitamin C is water soluble, the upper limit of tolerance is based on avoidance of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, including heartburn and diarrhoea. This is age dependent and considered to be the amount that can be tolerated in one dose:
1–3 years: 400mg
4–8 years: 650mg
9–13 years: 1200mg
14–18 years: 1800mg
18+ years: 2000mg
The easiest way to get around this upper limit us to take smaller, split doses throughout the day. This enables maximum absorption and for vitamin C levels to be kept high. Adults, for example, can take one dose, one to two times daily for general immune support and more often during times of stress, travel or exposure to pathogens. In children, a plain and pure vitamin C powder can be added to a breakfast smoothie and to fruit and yoghurt for dessert. Should more frequent doses be required, this can be mixed into water or freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. The advantage of the pure powder means a gram for gram dose, allowing optimal levels to be supplemented and for it to be easily hidden in food and beverages. If any GI upset does occur, the dosage can be quickly and easily scaled back, or split into even smaller, more frequent doses. As vitamin C has a half-life of 30 minutes, most of what you have consumed is used or eliminated with 60 minutes, so doses can be taken as close as one to two hours apart.
The current literature indicates that anywhere between 1000mg or 1g/day up to 8000mg or 8g/day can reduce the severity of viruses, such as the common cold. It’s extremely individual and depends on factors inclining dietary intake of vitamin C, genetics, immune function and pathogen or illness.
4. Maintain good gut health
Your health starts in the gut and over 80% of your immune system resides here. You can support your digestion and immune system with probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, gelatin gummies and bone broth. It is also important to reduce refined sugar intake as over consumption can lead to an overabundance of pathogenic bacteria in the gut. Try one of healthy treats here.
Hemilä H. 1994. Does vitamin C alleviate the symptoms of the common cold? A review of current evidence. Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Disease, 26, 1, 1-6.