Pregnancy is a time where immunity naturally reduces to prevent the activation of it’s own immune system against its growing baby. Pregnant women are considered an at-risk population when it comes to viruses like the flu.
BUT, with that being said, current evidence suggests that pregnant women have the same risk for Covid-19 as other non-pregnant adults, which is really reassuring. For more information about Covid-19 specifically for pregnancy check out National Perinatal Association.
We know that correct nutrition is critical in building a strong immune system, but by far the best strategy is to prevent exposure to the virus in the first place by:
- Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water regularly.
- Prevent touching your face.
- Cover mouth when coughing/sneezing.
- Don’t come into contact with someone you know to be sick.
- Thoroughly cook all meat and eggs.
Now that you’re reducing your exposure to the virus, let’s dive into the nutrition and foods which will boost your immunity to help prevent and reduce the severity of viruses such as Covid-19.
This food group is responsible for giving us amino acids, which are used to make antibodies and other immune compounds that attack foreign invaders and prevent infections. Generally speaking, those of us in Aussie and NZ are eating plenty of protein so this shouldn’t be one that requires too much focus. However, on the other hand, if you’re following the craze which is the plant-based diet, then paying special attention to this food group is a must.
Omega 3 fatty acids
These are found in oily fish, algae, as well as linseeds, walnuts and chia. Research shows that omega 3 oils help reduce acute inflammation (an immune response to attack or injury). They also help turn off the ‘attack’ cells to stop them when their job is done. It’s a good idea to have your omega 3 levels tested to know you’re getting enough in your diet as poor status is common in western countries. If you’d like more information about Omega testing, please get in touch with me.
Required for the production of immune cells (B cells + T cells) & ensures that cells get the oxygen they need to function properly and resist disease. Iron requirements increase from 18mg to 27mg/day in pregnancy and deficiency is common particularly in the third trimester. It’s important to have your iron levels checked by a blood test before supplementing. So if you haven’t had yours checked in the last few months, now would be a good time. The results of the blood test determine the correct dose of supplementation, so check with your Lead Maternity Carer (LMC). The best dietary sources are red meat, legumes, green veggies, tofu, dried fruit and fortified cereals.
These are key for fighting free-radicals, which are compounds that can cause harm if their levels become too high in the body. Research suggests that the anti-oxidant activity of carotenoids, such as lycopene (found in tomatoes) and beta carotene (found in orange, red and yellow foods and dark green veggies), may prevent immune cells from destructive free radicals. Blueberries, blackberries, grapes and green tea contain compounds which are powerful antioxidants that have potent immune stimulating properties.
Found in nuts + seeds, vegetable oils and avocado and may enhance T cell activity and assist in the production of antibodies. So what are T cells? Well, they’re a type of white blood cell with key importance to immunity. Several studies have demonstrated the effect of Vit E on improving resistance to infections possibly due to the mechanism that it has on enhancing T cell function. Impaired T cell functions are associated with an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases and poor response to immunisations.
Found readily in fruits and veggies with many functions in cell integrity and is believed to enhance the function of the immune cells. Think Kiwifruit and red capsicum! If you’re in an inflammatory state, then a higher dose of Vit C is recommended, which is where taking a Vit C supplement may play a role in reducing severity and duration of the common cold.
So key is Zinc for human immune function, which cannot be better demonstrated by a group of Zinc deficient patients in the Middle East over 50 years ago. These patients suffered from such severe immune dysfunction, that they died from intercurrent infections by the time they were 25 years of age. A deficiency of zinc is associated with slow wound healing but an excess (from supplementation) can actually suppress the immune system. With Zinc being so key for supporting immunity be sure to include rich food sources safe in pregnancy such as meat, poultry as well as eggs, beans, nuts and whole grains. Supplementation may be required if you’re and particularly so, if you’re following a plant-based diet, so be sure to discuss this with your dietitian.
A trace mineral and potent antioxidant which is essential for a strong immune system. It’s not surprising that dietary selenium strongly influences inflammation and immune responses particularly in viral infections. Just 2 brazil nuts a day (3 in pregnancy) will meet your needs.
Garlic & Onions
These foods are powerful in fighting macrophages (a large white blood cell which is an important part of our immune function – they can actually track down and eat things like viruses) because of their sulphur compounds which actually block enzymes that allow organisms to invade healthy tissue.
Found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, promoting beneficial bacteria which may help to improve immune responses against viruses.
So, in summary, eating a mediterranean style diet rich in fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, oily fish and omega 3s and some meat, as a whole will go a very long way in improving our immunity. There is no one food or nutrient that can act alone, it’s the whole diet approach that gives us benefit. As you’ve learned the immune system is quite complicated and nutrition acts as building blocks to many cells and factors involved in a healthy functioning immune system.
If you are pregnant and worried your diet may not be the best thing since sliced bread, then let me help you by booking in a free chat to see how we can nourish you with baby loving nutrients.