Good nutrition: better immunity, better healthUncategorised
Posted by: The Probe 8th August 2020
In April, three leading food experts wrote to the government, calling for a coordinated public health campaign to promote the importance of nutrition in the fight against coronavirus.[i] In their open letter, “Food Planning for Health in a Time of Coronavirus Crisis”, the experts stated “there is considerable evidence that nutritional status crucially affects our immune responses, as well as wider health and well-being”. One central concern was the food supply chain and enabling the wide access to food that can strengthen the immune system and aid recovery.
The immune system is what protects us from “infectious agents that exist in the environment (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) and other noxious insults” and its efficient functioning is heavily determined by our level of nutrition.[ii] Good nutrition and eating well has always been about far more than maintaining a healthy weight, but this became part of the conversation too when headlines linked obesity with an increased risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. These were based on early research which appeared to show a connection.[iii]
Healthy eating – a long-term concern
The alarm about food planning during the coronavirus pandemic reflects long-term concerns about eating for health in the UK. Years of data indicates that people aren’t always making good choices, despite the ongoing advice.[iv] As per the last figures for England, in 2018/19, there were 11,117 hospital admissions directly attributable to obesity (an increase of 4% on 2017/18).[v] For children, the same data set found 20% of Year 6 children were obese, with the prevalence of dangerously overweight children being greater in deprived areas.
In the UK, the lockdown period didn’t just limit how active we could be, for many of us it changed how and what we ate. Some of these were changes were beneficial; anyone used to a takeaway sandwich/baguette/burger during their work break will have discovered the perks of lunch at home. Eating homemade is generally a healthier option than a takeaway for any meal and it is certainly kinder to your bank balance. Other positives? More meal planning as we got used to shopping for food less frequently and having limited access to certain ingredients, so we had to think ahead. Families were eating together more often, also cooking with children is a well-worn method to get them to appreciate food, by taking pride in preparing a meal for others to enjoy.
But there were negative changes too, some of which are reflected in the experts’ letter. Due to the lack of choice at home, for many school-age children it would have been highly detrimental to not be having a hot school lunch every day. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people eating too much of the “wrong” things (and drinking too much alcohol) out of anxiety, or boredom during this period.[vi] Comfort foods, of the kind that people reach for when they eat emotionally, tend to be high in fat and sugar. Being indoors for most of the day, in stressful circumstances, meant that many would have failed to find one good reason why not to reach for that third biscuit if they were feeling in need of a pick-me-up. A caveat should be added here that if a certain “unhealthy” food does make you genuinely feel good, this would have been the time to enjoy it, in moderation.
The problem is the lack of balance and when the link between nutrition and immunity is under-appreciated. Good nutrition will not just make you feel and look better, it will give you the tools to reduce the risk and impact of illness. Even a mild deficiency of certain nutrients can alter an immune response; these micronutrients include zinc (in meat, wholegrains and nuts), vitamins A, C, E (rich sources are fresh fruit and vegetables) and folic acid (in leafy greens and citrus fruits).[vii] Oral health and general health cannot be separated and nutrition is a modifiable risk factor for dental situations that will impact/exacerbate certain conditions, such as periodontal disease.[viii] Bacteria in the oral cavity can lead to inflammation that could impact on the immune response, so it must be managed and removed efficiently with good home cleaning, as well as monitored with regular maintenance visits when possible.
The best way to support patients is to include nutrition as part of your preventive message, along with instruction on optimal cleaning. You’ll get maximum compliance if you recommend tools they will enjoy using, such as the Hydrosonic Pro electric toothbrush from Curaprox, with ultra-fine CUREN® filaments and CURACURVE® ergonomics to gently remove plaque.
With many of our patients now motivated in better self-care, we have a good opportunity to teach them how to improve their immunity and general good health via improved nutrition. We can use this current situation to make our preventive message stronger, so our patients understand how all the different threads of wellbeing are linked and what they can do to protect themselves, and their families, better.
[i] Healthy eating important in COVID-19 fight, experts warn Government. Published 3 April 2020. Link: https://www.city.ac.uk/news/2020/march/healthy-eating-important-covid-19-fight-experts-warn-government?fbclid=IwAR2-UmjrzR8l1vNbiFCc11XxCD7MVysDwVg7SgCWIGDjZ7zRGXBU74qla5Y (accessed May 2020).
[ii] Marcos A, Nova E, Montero A. Changes in the immune system are conditioned by nutrition. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003 Sep;57 (1):S66-9.
[iv] The Eatwell Guide. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide/ (accessed May 2020).
[v] Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2020. NHS Digital, published 5 May 2020. Link: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet/england-2020
[vi] Eating well during coronavirus/COVID19. BDA – The Association of UK Dieticians, 7 April 2020. Link: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/eating-well-during-coronavirus-covid-19.html (accessed May 2020).
[vii] Chandra RK. Nutrition and the immune system from birth to old age. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002 Aug; 56 (3): S73-6.
[viii] The Impact of Nutrition and Diet on Oral Health. Editor(s): Zohoori, FV; Duckworth, RM. Published 2020 (online 2019). ISBN: 978-3-318-06516-9. DOI: 10.1159/ISBN: 978-3-318-06517-6
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