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Keeley Berry advises pharmacy teams on how they can continue to support customers concerned over their immune health…

As the UK awaits a mass roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination and continues to observe social distancing, there is a sense of hope that everyday life may to return to its former glory before the end of 2021.

Only the essentials

At a time when the public may feel bombarded with information – alongside contrasting opinions on what they should (and shouldn’t) be doing to best support their wellbeing – it’s important to remain a stable source of the facts and advise that people focus on the essential nutrients that are known to support immunity.

In November 2020, it was announced that more than 2.5 million people in the UK were to be given free vitamin D supplements over the winter. Acknowledged as; “important for our bone and muscle health” by Dr Allison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, vitamin D will be supplied to people on the clinically extremely vulnerable list from January 2021 for four months, including all care home residents.

Whilst the government has not reported a link between vitamin D and Covid-19 treatment, or a relationship between the nutrient and immune support, vitamin D has been widely reported on by the media throughout the pandemic.

The evidence to suggest that vitamin D plays an important role in supporting the immune defenses continues to grow and, in particular, clinical studies have demonstrated a link in vitamin D deficiency to a decline in immune response for respiratory viral infections.

And whilst the vulnerable will be taken care of with free supplies of the ‘sunshine vitamin’, Public Health England has long championed supplementation of vitamin D for everyone throughout the dark winter months, something which should be reiterated to customers regardless of the pandemic.

Champion antioxidants

Another key nutrient pharmacy teams can recommend with confidence is vitamin C. A known antioxidant, vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting cellular functions for the immune system. Researchers believe that our white blood cells draw the vitamin in, in order to protect the body from oxidants and ensure harmful pathogens are killed.

For those that may have recovered from coronavirus and feel continued lethargy, vitamin C also contributes to energy metabolism, providing a much-needed ‘boost’ in natural, every day energy levels.

Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, red, green, and yellow peppers, oranges, strawberries and tomatoes. However, whilst many foods are rich in the nutrient, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that the body cannot store, so the diet must supply it each day for levels to be maintained. Supplementation is advisable for customers that suffer food allergies or conditions such as Crohn’s and Colitis, as this may cause malabsorption of the vitamin from food.

The elderly and those taking medications such as aspirin, oral contraceptives, and some anti inflammatories, may also be at risk of vitamin C deficiency and as such, should consider a supplement as we continue to fight the pandemic and prioritise the efficiency of our immune defences.

Remember the ‘rainbow’

To practitioners and pharmacists alike, simple habits such as ‘eating the rainbow’, aiming to get a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats and vegetables during daily mealtimes, and avoiding overly processed foods may feel like second nature. Yet this is simple, easily applicable advice for customers that are concerned about their immune health.

At BetterYou, we champion a food-first approach, with nutritional supplementation required to plug the gaps we cannot gain from diet and lifestyle alone. A gentle reminder of government guidelines surrounding five portions of fruit and vegetables a day can make all the difference to the mindset of busy professionals, working parents and those whose immune health may be compromised such as the over 65s or people with underlying health conditions.

Tailored advice

Diet and nutrition are increasingly personal, with a one-size-fits-all approach and recommended daily intake of certain nutrients becoming an ever-outdated approach that many people believe fails to keep up with modern diet and lifestyles.

What’s more, the percentage of those following specialist diets, such as plant-based or vegetarian eaters, increases with each passing year and must be considered when advising customers on the most tailored way they can support their immune health in the winter months and beyond.

Thanks to Veganuary, the New Year sees tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of people pledging to eat only plant-based foods for the duration of January and, whilst adopting a plant-based diet may be beneficial, as low-fat, plant-based foods are reported to support the immune system, it is important to advise customers to research potential nutritional gaps before restricting certain food groups. B vitamins in particular, which contribute to normal energy levels and help to keep the nervous and immune systems strong, are predominantly found in animalbased foods like red meat, tuna, milk and cheese.

Promote healthy sleep

A cornerstone of overall mental and physical wellbeing, good quality sleep can often evade us and should be front-of-mind when supporting customers with their immune health during the pandemic. Poor sleep and stress can develop an unfortunate cycle with one causing, or leading to the other, so ensure customers are aware of the nutritional factors at play.

A common deficiency known to directly affect our ability to fall – and remain – asleep is magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is no longer abundant in western diets, so supplementation to elevate the body’s levels will provide a natural support for restful sleep whilst also promoting muscle relaxation and recovery.

Good quality sleep will bolster the T cells the body needs to fight off infection, meaning restful sleep should be high priority for everyone as we continue to face the threat of COVID-19 and navigate the ‘new normal’ that 2021 is sure to bring.

Keeley Berry is nutritional expert and product developer at BetterYou.

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