A varied and balanced diet can boost immunity

 

Pharmacists are ideally placed to offer evidence-based advice on diet and nutrition as well as healthy lifestyle. Ellis Nugent shares his experience of dealing with patients…

As part of community service in our pharmacies we provide advice, help and support on the importance of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

This has been especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic as many of our customers are understandably even more concerned about their immune health and how they can help boost their immunity during this time in order to protect themselves as far as possible.

We help them understand the relevance of good nutrition, the importance doing exercise (where possible), and how they can take steps to reduce risk over these worrying times.

For example, through our pharmacy services, we offer the flu jab to customers and support the NHS in administering the jab, for which demand has been greatly increased this year as people look to protect their immune system from flu (which for some – can prove fatal).

By protecting from illness, our body’s immune system can remain stronger, as is not distracted into fighting illnesses that could have been prevented.

Stopping smoking

Quitting smoking will no doubt improve immune health but there is no specific research indicating that by having a good immune system one is protected against Covid-19.

It has been identified that making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking may help to reduce the risks associated with Covid-19, which in some cases, is known to adversely affect major organs such as lungs.

Pharmacies are ideally placed to help those who want to give up smoking. For example in our pharmacy, we offer a smoking cessation service which has continued throughout the pandemic.

Eating healthy

We all need vitamins and minerals to keep our immune system healthy, especially vitamin D and vitamin C – both of which can come from food sources. Vitamin D can be found in cheese, oily fish, milk, yoghurt, eggs, red meat and fortified foods such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals. Vitamin C can be found in fruit and vegetables especially peppers, oranges, kiwi fruit, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.

There is no evidence to say that having more than the daily recommended amounts will boost your immune system even further, but it is good to make sure you have plenty of sources of vitamin D and vitamin C into your diet.

Vitamin D has been hitting the headlines recently with suggestions that we should all be taking vitamin D to help reduce the impact of Covid-19 and there is some evidence that this is the case.

As vitamin D comes from the sun into our skin, this time of year is difficult to get enough vitamin D into our bodies as we have the long dark days and with Covid-19 the majority of people are staying indoors.

Vitamin D is important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and it’s recommended that if we were to take vitamin D supplements we should take a minimum of 10 micrograms a day.

As well as a healthy diet, we all need to make sure we keep active by exercising regularly. If we can achieve a healthy diet and exercise regularly we will be doing everything we can to keep our immune system in tip top condition.

It is important to note that some patients may take medication or have treatment that may affect their immune system, e.g. steroids and so for these patients a healthy balanced diet is even more important.

Covid-19 risks

Public Health England states that being obese or excessively overweight increases the risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19.

A report summarises findings from evidence published during the pandemic on the effects of excess weight and obesity on Covid-19. Evidence suggests that being severely overweight puts people at greater risk of hospitalisation, Intensive Care Unit admission and even death from Covid-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index increases.

The current evidence does not suggest that having excess weight increases people’s chances of contracting Covid-19. However, the data does show that obese people are significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 compared to those with a healthy BMI.”

There is no better place than pharmacy to promote healthy eating and active lifestyle for better immune health in the community.

Better hygiene means less colds and cough, better immune health. Interestingly, we have noticed a reduction in sales of cough and cold remedies in our pharmacies which we think is most likely due to the increased hygiene measures and social distancing in place due to Covid-19. This in itself will have an impact in reducing the spread of all types of infections, not just Covid-19 and in doing so is helping to keep us all healthier.

Ellis Nugent is a pharmacist at Well Llantwit Major Pharmacy in Cardiff, Wales.

If you want to share your stories and/or experiences with us, please send an email to [email protected]

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