How to harness the power of nature and nutrition to help your immune system fight winter bugs.

Naturopath, herbalist, functional medicine practitioner and founder of NatureDoc Clinic, Lucinda Miller tells us how to harness the power of nature and nutrition to help your immune system fight winter bugs.

Gosh, this horrid virus has reached so many more people than we ever expected. We all now have friends and relatives who have currently got the virus or who had it last year. Originally we were led to believe that it was only the elderly and those with underlying health conditions who got Covid-19 badly, but it seems that there are also many other people who have been hit hard or are still experiencing long Covid symptoms months afterwards, even if they got the virus quite mildly in the first place. And that’s not forgetting the thousands of previously well children and younger adults who have ended up in hospital with significant health complications associated with coronavirus too.

What is still puzzling us all is why we are all hit by this virus so differently? There have been over a hundred symptoms associated with acute and long term Covid-19 and even close family members experience it differently from one another. Symptoms can include breathlessness; fatigue; brain fog; headaches; dizziness; loss of taste and smell; nausea and diarrhoea; rashes, sneezing and allergies and even ‘Covid toe’ (purple/red numb tips to the toes). Everyone has their own unique story.

New research is also finding the wide-ranging causes and manifestations of coronavirus symptoms. I think it’s fair to say, it boils down to a number of things, which include: genetics; predisposing autoimmune or inflammatory conditions; an imbalanced gut microbiome; nutrient depletion; and resistance to infection. Many people we have seen in our clinic who are suffering from long Covid seem to have hypermobile joints and underlying food, chemical or environmental allergies or sensitivities.

The NHS is doing an amazing job and I salute them for everything they are doing to keep the serious cases and most vulnerable alive. However, there seems to be very little advice for the rest of us on what to do if Covid-19 hits. Simply staying at home will, of course, help to stop spreading the virus to others, but self-isolating is usually not helpful to your immune system when it needs to overcome the virus.

I have specialised in nutrition and functional medicine for over twenty years. In that time, I’ve seen a number of post-viral conditions, including chronic fatigue and mast cell activation syndrome, as well as immune mediated neuropsychiatric conditions like PANS and PANDAS. This means I have observed how other viruses and bacterial infections can, in some cases, trigger longer-term health issues. We often see the cases where the health issues have not resolved themselves alone or responded to the NICE guidelines of psychiatry, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and recuperation techniques, such as rest and pacing yourself.

At NatureDoc my clinical team uses laboratory testing to assess the damage done by the virus, such as inflammation and oxidative stress. We then use lifestyle, diet and food supplements to help to slowly repair the damage; it is often a marathon and not a sprint, but what we generally find is that people end up coming out the other end more resilient and less likely to succumb to the aftermath of another viral infection.

In the blood, urine and hair tests that we carry out, we usually find that there is chronic inflammation from the cytokine storm that occurred whilst the virus was active. This inflammation has never been resolved or been perturbed by an unhealthy diet, lifestyle and stress as well as poor gut health. And, in turn, this inflammation can lead to oxidative stress in the cells. Visualise this oxidative stress as your cells ageing faster and going ‘rusty’, as well as the cell membranes becoming rigid, both of which compromises the cellular uptake all the nutrients from what we eat.

This in turn affects the mitochondria, which are the batteries inside the cell that help us generate energy. When we don’t have enough nutrients or oxygen and the mitochondria function is compromised then this is when our health gets into trouble. And it is why we need to take measures to prevent this pesky inflammation from getting out of hand in the first place, and then work on our nutrition and oxygenation to stop the wheels falling off.

From all the research I have done and with our clinical experience I have drawn together a few things that you can do at home that might help to keep the inflammation down and the nutrients and oxygenation optimised. They are the steps that that we at NatureDoc have learnt over the past year from our clients – and that most people interested in the role of optimal nutrition can agree on too.

They are simple and practical steps that can generally help your immune system get primed for winter bugs:

A Breath Of Fresh Air

The lung function is often affected when people get coronavirus; and, as you have learned, optimising oxygen intake is key to keeping us vibrant, energised and brain sharp. What can you do?

• Open your windows at home as breathing in fresh air can make all the difference.

• Try to sleep on your front/ or on your side, just never on your back, as this will help with oxygenation overnight, so symptoms are a little better in the morning.

• Learn to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, as this helps to train the lungs to get the most out of your breathing.

Keeping Hydrated

• As with any virus keeping hydrated is paramount, so drink plenty of fluids. Consider rehydration salts if you are getting dizziness or headaches.

• Warm or hot drinks are better, and this is where herbal teas or hot honey, ginger and lemon come in really handy.

• Reduce or avoid alcohol, as apparently it can make you more susceptible to pneumonia. Meanwhile, caffeine can compound the headaches and is dehydrating. However, withdrawal effects from these two mean you shouldn’t stress your body by suddenly coming off significant and regular consumption.

Diet Tips

• If you are hungry and can stomach food, then try to eat plenty of warming and nourishing foods such as soups, stews and roasts.

• Aim to eat at least five different fruits, salads and veg a day – adults should aim for more like ten a day when then are struggling with their health. Encourage kids by helping them ‘eat the rainbow’ of coloured fruits and veggies every day.

• Add in lots of oily fish, olives, olive oil, cocoa, butter, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices as these constitute the Mediterranean Diet which is known to be anti-inflammatory.

• Whilst you are unwell, and recuperating try to avoid white carbs, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, as these are known to affect the immune system. Swap to wholegrains, sweet potatoes, honey and maple syrup.

• Also avoid trans fats and hydrogenated fats from margarines and other vegetable oils added to convenience foods. These are known to be pro-inflammatory. Swap to butter and olive oil instead.

Food Supplements

Sometimes a good diet is not enough when you are experiencing a significant inflammatory response to a virus. This is because the body needs extra nutrition for the duration of the infection as well as during the recuperation period. The extra nutrients are needed, as it is harder to absorb all the goodness from food when your body is inflamed. You also need additional nutrients to give the body the fuel to help overcome the inflammation and oxidative stress.

Obviously, everybody’s nutritional needs are different, so take the food supplements that you feel you really need. Ideally take daily for two to three weeks from the onset of the virus, or until you feel better and stronger. If you get a virus relapse later down the line, then pick up these things again until you feel better. Those with long Covid might need to take these daily for several months and I would advise you seek one to one help from a nutrition expert to get the longer-term supplements right for you.

• Vitamin D. This is a non-negotiable, especially in the mid-winter in the UK when we don’t benefit from the sunshine. I suggest at least 1000iu for littlies & 3,000iu for teens and adults aged 12 and over. Some people with dark skins or with a known low Vitamin D status could take 4,000iu daily for two months to give themselves an extra boost.

• Vitamin C. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, kiwis, parsley and red peppers are rich in vitamin C, but this is usually not nearly enough if inflammation and oxidative stress has kicked in. Toddlers can take 250mg a day, older children 500mg and anyone 12 plus can take 1-2,000mg 3 x daily. Occasionally people experience a loose stool at the higher doses of Vitamin C, and this is a sign to cut back a little.

• Zinc. This amazing mineral helps with immunity as well as fuel for the gut to help make gastric juices. Low zinc levels can lead to a poor sense of taste/smell. Aim for 7-8mg for littlies and at least 15mg for ages 12 plus daily.

• Quercetin. This is derived from the Japonica tree. It has natural antihistamine properties and research has found it is helpful for acute lung cell damage. It is especially important to take if you have breathing issues, allergies or an atopic disposition like eczema, asthma and hay fever, well as those with histamine intolerance. Littlies can take 250mg 2 x daily and teens and adults over 12+ can take at least 500mg 2 x daily.

My biggest tip to everyone is not to be too complacent about this pesky virus. Lots of people think they have only got the virus mildly or are getting better nice and quickly. And then on day nine or ten (or even a few weeks down the line) the wheels start falling off and medical care is needed or long Covid symptoms kick in.

Obviously, every single person experiences this virus differently and most of you reading this will feel absolutely fine all the way along. However, if you do need additional nutrition support, feel free to email us with your questions on or book in for a full consultation with one of my NatureDoc clinical team.

Lucinda Miller is the clinical lead of NatureDoc, and runs a team of UK-wide nutritional therapists specialising in women’s and child nutrition as well as running an online health food shop She has been practising as a naturopath for over 20 years, qualified in Functional Medicine and is author of the bestselling cookbook The Good Stuff. She is the mum of three and lives in Wiltshire.

By Lucinda Miller
February 2021

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