How to boost your immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic

During this period of uncertainty, you may be wondering how to give yourself the best chance of staying healthy. Could certain foods, activities or supplements boost your immune system, helping you to stay well as you prepare your body for pregnancy and/or make plans for fertility treatment?

Assuming you are relatively healthy, your immune system is already capable of preventing you from getting an infection most of the time. Occasionally, however, bacteria or viruses do overwhelm our immune defences and we get sick. When faced with the possibility of coming into contact with a strong virus like COVID-19, the idea of boosting one’s immunity is even more attractive than usual, particularly if you are looking to fall pregnant. We all want a strong immune system that is well-primed to defend us from any harmful infections that may be lingering in the community. Unfortunately, research has not identified any single lifestyle strategy, supplement or food with the ability to strengthen the body’s immune defences. This means that if you are healthy, your immune system is probably already as ‘boosted’ as it’s going to get. That being said, if you shift your focus to giving your immune system everything it needs to ‘stay boosted’, there is still plenty you can do. Other than following the latest hygiene and social distancing recommendations, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle will enable your immune system to function at its best.

What can I do to stay healthy?

You can support your overall health and give yourself the best chance of staying well by following these tips:

Diet

Although ‘comfort foods’ may tempt you during this time, maintaining a nutritious diet has never been more important. Deficiencies in nutrients such as zinc, iron, and vitamins C, A and E may impact your immune system’s ability to protect you. For this reason, foods that help ‘boost’ your immune system are simply those that allow you to get the nutrients you need. Enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, wholegrains, fruits and protein-rich foods such as lean meats, reduced fat dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds. For more information on how to eat right, download the Australian Dietary Guidelines Healthy Eating brochures. While it is always best to try and improve your dietary habits first, if your day-to-day diet is lacking in micronutrients, a women’s multivitamin may be of benefit. Of course, if you are planning a pregnancy, you should already be taking a pregnancy supplement containing at least 400mcg of folate.

Vitamin D

For many of us, staying home has meant less time in the sun, leading to fewer opportunities to make vitamin D. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, this important vitamin is produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight. As we head into the cooler months, deficiency becomes more common. In fact, approximately 50% of Australian women are deficient in vitamin D during winter.1 As vitamin D deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of respiratory infections2, correcting a deficiency may, in effect, ‘boost’ your immunity. If you aren’t able to consistently meet the sun exposure guidelines for adequate vitamin D, or you haven’t met them for a while, we suggest you speak to your GP about whether or not you meet the criteria for getting your vitamin D level checked.

Exercise

While Netflix is an appealing way to pass the time as you #stayhome, maintaining a regular exercise routine will promote your general health and support your immune system. Resist the pull of the couch and make sure you engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times a week. Go for a jog, bike ride or brisk walk in the park, or see if your local gym is currently offering online classes instead. Just make sure you observe social distancing recommendations if you’re exercising outside and stay at least 1.5 metres away from people who are not part of your household. For in-home exercise, you may like to try an app called Daily Yoga which is great for building strength, stretching and relaxation.

Stress management

It is common (and absolutely normal) to feel stressed and anxious at this time. Unfortunately, research does indicate that persistent stress may impair your immune system’s ability to defend you. In this case, the best way to help your immune system ‘stay boosted’ is to reduce the level of stress and anxiety you are feeling. Try these techniques to get you started, but if you are struggling and need additional support, know you’re not alone. As a Newlife patient, you are always welcome to reach out to Newlife’s team of specialist counsellors. A quick phone or Zoom chat may be all you need to unpack your ‘mental load’ and quell the frustrations that come with isolation.

Sleep

Studies indicate that inadequate sleep can increase your risk of getting sick if you are exposed to a virus such as the common cold (however, note that there is currently no evidence relating to COVID-19 and sleep). Aim for the recommended 7 to 9 hours per night, and use these tips to get a better night’s sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping because you are stressed, finding ways to actively reduce your stress level will naturally help improve your sleep and ‘boost’ your immunity.

When to get help

If you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, or are worried about the implications of delaying or pausing your fertility treatment because of COVID-19, we are here for you. Get in touch with our team by calling (03) 8080 8933 or emailing [email protected]. We’ll be able to direct you to one of our fertility specialists, nurses or counsellors for further support as appropriate. In the meantime, here’s to staying safe and staying well.

Further reading

Your fertility treatment and COVID-19
Tips to optimise your fertility and prepare for pregnancy

References