Whilst optimum health and immunity is always at the forefront of my mind and daily work with my patients, 2020 is bringing new world-wide focus to the essential value of our health.

As a mum of a young toddler, an asthma sufferer and someone with elderly and frail family members, I’m right with you on this one, the COVID-19 era is a challenging time for us all. Whilst we recognise that this virus will be mild for most young and healthy people – with children showing little to no symptoms, it’s important that we protect our health care system from collapse. The healthier and more resilient we all are, the less likely we are to require medical care or hospitalisation – which preserves our medical centres and hospitals for those who really need it.

A few simple changes to our daily routine, in addition to good hand hygeine and social distancing, can help strengthen our innate immunity and protect us all.

Top 3 Tips For Improving Immunity

There is so much we can (and should) do daily to support optimum immunity. Some of this is really simple, others require a little more focus. Today let’s run through the top 3 things you can do to support natural immunity.

Step 1 – Sleep!

Getting adequate sleep daily is a key factor in supporting optimum immune surveillance.

Sleep improves T-Cell function and production. T-Cells are a type of immune cell which targets infected cells and kills them.

T-Cells are able to better adhere (stick) to and kill infected cells in the absence of inflammatory proteins called prostaglandins and stress hormones called adrenaline and noradrenaline. All of the above are at their lowest during sleep – which makes sleep the most effective time to fight off a cold/flu/COVID-19.

This could be why we feel more sleepy while we’re unwell. This is also why it’s not so good to just pop some Codral or drink coffee and ‘push through’ when you’re feeling symptoms. Nap when you can and get as much sleep and rest as possible.  For parents that’s a lot more difficult so consider going to bed earlier and cutting your caffeine through the day. Nap when your children do if you can – the laundry can wait a while.

Even if you did nothing else to enhance innate immunity, getting more sleep would ensure your immune system has the time and the freedom to fight infection.

To read more on the science behind this click here.

Step 2 – Eat Well!

Eating a healthy, balanced diet has never been more important. There are many reasons to eat well during this time – from including nutrients that actively support the production of white blood cells, to maintaining optimum blood glucose balance, to incorporating health-promoting and medicinal foods.

Below I’ll include a quick overview of what to consume in order to maintain optimum immune-surveilance. Of course – there is so much we can do, so today I’m really going to focus on some simple and quick tips you can action right away to improve immunity.

  1. Eat your fresh fruits and veggies: Fresh fruits and veggies are the richest source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can help to provide key nutrients such as Zinc, Vitamin C, Betacarotene and Vitamin E. These nutrients help to ensure steady production of white blood cells and other natural defence processes. See a couple of quick examples below:
  2. Keep your junk and sugar low – but don’t go sugar free: A study conducted in the 1970s determined that our white blood cells experience post-sugar fatigue for several hours after consumption. As a result, we were advised to reduce sugars in order to improve innate immunity. However, since then, we have seen further studies such as this onewhich indicated that we need glucose to fight viral infections. So what’s the answer? Cut processed sugars and maintain a good intake of fresh fruits. Also, don’t shy away from beetroot, pumpkin, sweet potato and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats etc.
  3. Eat your protein: A regular intake of healthy protein ensures adequate serotonin (makes you calm) and melatonin (makes you sleep) levels which of course will then greatly assist immunity. Oily fish is a great source of protein which is also anti-inflammatory and therefore promotes better T-Cell function.
  4. Eat sources of Vitamin D: Food sources of vitamin D include Mushrooms, Butter, Egg Yolks and Salmon. Vitamin D helps regulate immunity and the production of white blood cells and antibodies. Deficiency of Vitamin D leads to reduced T-Cell activity and increased risk of infection. For those with autoimmunity, recurrent infections or cancer – or if you just get little sunlight – consider taking a supplement too. (click here for more info on vitamin D and immunity).
  5. Eat medicinal foods: These may change from person to person depending on tolerance, however there are foods which are well studied for their beneficial effects. These include: Citrus fruits, Pomegranate, Garlic, Mushrooms, Turmeric, Ginger, Green Tea. The benefits of these foods are numerous and too much to cover here but here’s a couple of notes:
    • Garlic boosts white blood cell production and is a natural antiviral and antibiotic – see one study here(whilst also being antiinflammatory – which improves T-Cell function and therefore immunity).  I also brew ‘garlic tea’ at home – a chopped clove of garlic and some hot water in a tea pot – allow to cool well in the fridge (lid on). My 14month old just loves to drink this – I give her a syringe of it every few days (or multiple times per day when unwell). Garlic can also help to bring down a fever and help relieve congestion.
    • Mushrooms boost white blood cell production. I was recently advised by Metagenics that an extract of the mushroom Shiitake called AHCC is currently being used in Wuhan Zhongshan hospital and Leishenshan hospital for COVID-19 infected patients- it’s effects on COVID-19 to be determined. Watch this space for more info.
    • Turmeric, ginger, extra virgin olive oil, green tea and pomegranate are anti-inflammatory. Remember, reduced inflammation means better T-Cell function which means better ability to kill virus’.
  6. Avoid your problem foods:Consumption of foods to which you are sensitive may decrease your absorption of important nutrients whilst also increasing inflammation (which – remember decreases T-cell function and therefore immunity). Avoid foods which make you feel unwell and/or diagnosed food sensitivities or allergens. If you’re unsure of these but recognise that you feel unwell after you eat, consider a consultation with a Nutritionist or Dietitian who can help you to determine the foods which work for you and those that do not.

Step 3- Supplement

In an ideal world, our diet would provide all we need. However, of course, there are times where we just need an added boost.

Personally, I consider this to be one of those times. I take daily medicinal mushrooms to optimise my immunity, I take a multivitamin to ensure I’m getting all I need (and have extra to support my breastfed baby) and probiotic support to help maintain the balance of my ‘gut-bugs’ which help support natural immunity.

Key supplements for optimum immunity will of course change from person to person and it’s important to always discuss with a qualified practitioner before starting any new medicine – natural or not. For now, here’s a quick overview:

  1. Vitamin Dto support your immune regulation – this should always be an oil-based liquid form for best results. I like Biomedica sublingual spray and the Metagenics D3 drops – both are naturally preserved in an MCT oil which ensures optimum immunity. Cod liver oil is also a natural source of Vitamin D and some multivitamins now have it added too. Cod Liver Oil and Vitamin D are generally safe to take for most people in standard doses.
  2. Zinc and Vitamin C – to help support white blood cell production and natural interferon production (see notes above). I love the Bioceuticals ‘Ultra Potent C Chewables’ which have added Zinc. You can also get a home-test for zinc which is a taste test. This is quite fun to do with kids and is a good way of assessing if they need more. Observational signs of deficiency would be a desire to excessively flavour foods, getting regular colds/flu and poor wound healing. White spots on the nails are another possible sign – when you see these, up the zinc.
  3. Medicinal mushrooms – to help balance immunity – ensuring good protection whilst also reducing allergic responses (helping to reduce unnecessary sick-days due to allergies which appear to be a cold/COVID-19). I’m taking Metagenics Super mushroom with Astragalus daily to protect myself, my baby and my patients. An ingredient in this formula is an extract of Shiitake which is currently being trialled in infected patients in Wuhan.
  4. Probiotics – the healthy bugs which help to balance immunity and support optimum absorption of nutrients. In those who can’t take any other supplements due to medications or health conditions, I often use larger doses of probiotics for patients who are unwell with cold/flu symptoms. Ethical Nutrients have some great probiotics for children and babies. I also like Qiara probiotic (made from breastmilk) which is particularly beneficial for sensitive children.
  5. Garlic extract – great for some, unsafe for others – use with caution and only if overseen and approved by a practitioner. Do not use if you’re on warfarin.
  6. Cod liver oil – great support for babies who are too young to take much else. Surprisingly, though it tastes pretty awful in my opinion, my toddler just loves cod liver oil. It’s considered a treat – she asks for the ‘num num’ whenever I open the fridge and would drink it by the bottle no doubt if I allowed it. Cod Liver Oil is a great, natural source of vitamin A, Vitamin D and Omega 3 Fatty Acids (good fats). Cod Liver Oil has a long history of recognition as a natural immune booster and can really help to control a fever.
    • Tip: I give my daughter Cod Liver Oil off a metal spoon and then immediately rinse it with soap and boiling water before soaking it in a cup of hot soapy water. This to help prevent stinky, fishy spoons, sinks and sponges. Nordic naturals offers a great baby cod liver oil with a very high level of purity – Ethical Nutrients is another great choice.
  7. Magnesium: Whilst not having a direct effect on immunity, a good dose of magnesium at night can help to reduce stress and enhance sleep. Sleep, as we covered earlier, is essential for optimum immune surveillance and a reduction of stress hormones is highly beneficial too (remember – increasing the stickiness of T-Cells). Magnesium also helps to keep the bowels regular for improved overall health and can assist in the reduction of asthma symptoms. There’s a lot of great magnesium options out there but my two favourites are Bioceuticals Ultra Muscleze (the night version also tastes amazing I’m told) and Ethical Nutrients Mega Magnesium tablets. Of course, you can also take Epsom Salt baths and use magnesium creams to further top up your levels. Signs of magnesium deficiency include increased asthma symptoms/tight chest, eye twitch, chocolate cravings, constipation, muscle cramps, anxiety and general tension.

I hope you found this article helpful and that you now feel a little more informed in how to strengthen immunity for yourself and your family. Of course, sitting down with a qualified Nutritionist or Dietitian is always the best way to get the most appropriate advice to suit your unique needs. My clinic will continue to remain open throughout this time for telehealth consultations throughout this time. I’m also available for limited face to face consults whilst we’re able to remain open.

I wish you the best of luck in getting through this time. Though it’s stressful for us all, with a little re-focusing we may see ultimately positive change that will improve the health and wellbeing of our community as a whole.

For now, stay well and know me and my team are here if you need us.


Jennifer May is a Nutritionist in Sydney CBD where she works as the Principal Nutritionist and Director of Sydney City Nutritionist and Food Intolerance Australia. Jennifer’s organisations take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, assisting patients to achieve optimum health through corporate health presentations, telehealth consults and face to face. Jennifer is also the author of Pure Health & Happiness – 8 Weeks to Change Your Life. In her 9 years of practice, Jennifer has helped thousands of patients to recover from burn-out, chronic health conditions, stress and trauma and has worked with many major corporations to assist the health and wellbeing needs of their employees. Working closely with some private laboratories, Jennifer offers a range of testing to assist in determining the unique requirements of each patient and tailoring the most effective plan to suit their needs and goals. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Nutritional Medicine.


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