It’s now more important than ever to know what steps we can take to stay healthy. Everyday preventive measures—such as hand-washing, social distancing and getting plenty of sleep helps in reducing risk for viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. And while we don’t yet know everything about the Novel Coronavirus, we do know that nutrition plays a major role in influencing our immune defences and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

As such, we have compiled a list of key nutrients that are well established in supporting the immune system.

1. Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil has long been used as a natural, effective remedy for illnesses that are common during cold and flu season. Many studies have shown that the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in cod liver oil supports immunity and the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response, both of which help individuals fight off colds and the flu.

In addition, cod liver oil contains naturally occurring vitamin D which acts as an immune system modulator, preventing excessive inflammation and supporting respiratory health against infection. A number of studies have examined the effects of cod liver oil on respiratory health. One study in which cod liver oil was given to 185 adults for four months showed a reduction in colds by 50%. Another study undertaken in 2004, in which individuals took cod liver oil with vitamin D, found a significant reduction in the mean number of upper respiratory tract infections over time.

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been used for centuries to ward off illness and has more recently become known to support the functioning of two important systems that go hand-in-hand, the nervous and immune systems. The adrenal system depletes vitamin C during times of stress, which in turn strains the immune system, leading to greater susceptibility to acquiring colds and flus.

Vitamin C can be taken as preventive nutrition, supporting the body under stress, and supplying a vital nutrient involved in immune mechanisms that fight off invading pathogens. Thousands of studies have proved the health benefits of this well-known but often underestimated vitamin. Specific to the immune system, it has been shown to reduce the severity and length of cold/flu symptoms, inhibit bacteria, and increase the production and function of lymphocytes and their response to invading pathogens. For best results, ensure that moderate doses (200–250 mg) are given frequently. A great food source that can be more palatable during colds is rosehip tea.

3. Garlic & Ginger

Garlic is one of the best natural remedies for flu prevention because it appears to combat the viruses that are responsible for colds and the flu. Many studies have shown the potential of garlic in supporting immune cell function. The results of one specific study found that supplementation of the diet with aged garlic extract enhanced immune cell function, and thus may have been partially responsible for reduced severity of cold symptoms.

Similarly to garlic, ginger has been a popular remedy for colds and the flu over many decades. It has been reported that ginger or its extracts have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that are beneficial to the overall support of the immune system. One particular study found that the oil of ginger influences the cell-mediated immune response, and may exert positive effects in a number of clinical conditions, including chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.

There are a number of ways to incorporate garlic and ginger into the diet. Specifically for a cold or flu they can be added to a chicken broth or soup. If garlic is taken on its own, it is best raw, chopped fresh into small slices, or dipped in olive oil and swallowed like a tablet. Ginger can be added alongside lemon and honey as a tasty, warm remedy during the winter months!

4. Zinc

Zinc is a natural element found in several foods that play a role in immune function and may reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Researchers have suggested that zinc works in this manner by inhibiting rhinovirus binding and replication in the nasal mucosa, thus suppressing inflammation. Numerous studies have examined the effect of zinc treatment on cold symptoms showing that zinc is beneficial under most circumstances. One particular study found that intake of zinc lozenges every 2–3 wakeful hours within 24 hours of developing a common cold significantly reduced the duration of cold symptoms, including cough, nasal discharge, and muscle aches. More recently, a review of many studies involving zinc concluded that “zinc is beneficial in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold in healthy people, when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.” Therefore, good quality zinc-containing remedies are recommended as soon as cold symptoms become evident.

5. Probiotics

Considering that the digestive system plays a large part in healthy immunity, it is essential to support the correct type and amount of beneficial bacteria in order to fight off pathogens. Supplementing with high-quality probiotics has proven to ‘tip the scale’ when fighting colds/flus by supplying large doses of the helpful bacteria in order to balance gastrointestinal health. Some strains have been shown to improve production and function of lymphocytes and their response to invading pathogens (much like the action of vitamin C) as well as reduce cold/flu duration and severity.


BHSc (Nutr. Med.) GradCert (Hum. Nutr.)

Warren Maginn is a Clinical Nutritionist, College Lecturer and Public Educator with both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in clinical human nutrition. Warren has a passion for helping all individuals to gain greater personal understanding of themselves and their needs to achieve greater personal health potential.

Warren is a highly sought-after speaker at health conferences and has been interviewed on many popular radio and television stations.

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