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Building Immunity Now: Fruits, Vegetables, and Vitamin C

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Our lives have dramatically changed these days with the threat of Covid-19 viral disease among us. Staying home, maintaining physical distancing, hand washing, and now facial coverings are recommended to reduce the spread in communities and allow our healthcare system to focus on the most sick. The fact that every time we leave the house now and ask ourselves - is this an essential trip - is indeed an indication of the seriousness of this virus.

Yes staying safe means staying home. And as we find ourselves at home there is probably no greater opportunity to build your immune system than now. Chronic stress, anxiety, poor sleep quality, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking will all lower immunity, increase risk of infection, and delay recovery. Also, diets high in salt, refined carbohydrates , sugars, and saturated fats as well as excessive coffee consumption (caffeine intake >400mg/day or 3 to 4 cups-250ml/cups) will invariable leave one a little more susceptible to infection with prolonged recovery and at increase risk from complications. No one ever said to stay home and load up on pizza, burgers, fries, chips, cookies, pop, cake, and endless movie watching as a way to bolster health and immunity.

Vegetable Bowl

Increasing vitamin C intake from eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is a great start in building immunity. Yes oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C. Papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, and pineapples are also excellent sources that have higher amounts of vitamin C per serving compared to oranges. Other excellent sources of vitamin C that are comparable to oranges are kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Bok Choy, tomatoes, spinach, and asparagus. Heat destroys vitamin C content of foods so eat fresh as much as possible or use steam or quickly stir fry vegetables to soften and improve their digestion. The other key is eating a variety of these fruits and vegetables when trying to increase vitamin C intake and derive the immune boosting benefits.

In addition to a diet high in fruits and vegetables the other way to increase Vitamin C intake is from supplementation. Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid) is a potent antioxidant that can help reduce systemic inflammation and protect the skin and lining of the respiratory tract from microbial invasion. Vitamin C also participates in the activation of all branches of the immune system including improving antibody response and repairing the aftermath of damage from viral infections. The majority of evidence shows benefit from vitamin C supplementation in decreasing complications and improving recovery from cold and flu viruses as well other systemic infections.

Vitamin C supplementation in daily doses that do not exceed 2000mg/day is generally regarded as safe and well tolerated for all adults 19 years of age and older. The safe and tolerated limit of Vitamin C for children ages 1 to 3 is 400mg, for children ages 4 to 8 it is 600mg, for children 9 to 13 it is 1200mg, and finally for teens 14 to 18 it is 1800mg. There are numerous formulations of Vitamin C that are available in easy to take powders, capsules, and chewables that combine key immune supporting minerals such as zinc and selenium, and vitamins such as A, D, E, K.

Yes staying safe means staying home. Staying safe should also mean increasing physical activity, getting adequate sleep, water, and fruits and vegetables, and vitamin C supplementation to strength your immune system. Eventually we will all be outside again. Please stay safe and connected.

Farid Wassef is a pharmacist who has been practicing in Stouffville since 1989. Farid is the coauthor of Breaking the Age Barrier, Strategies for Optimal Health, Energy, and Longevity (Penguin 2003). In 2006 Farid was honoured as the Canadian Pharmacist of Year for his excellence in patient care. He has been invited to appear on a number of radio and television programs, which includes CBC, CTV, Global, the Health Discovery Channel, and TVO concerning health promotion, disease prevention, and the safe and effective use of prescription medicines and natural health products. Currently, he continues to provide patient care via telephone consultations.

Farid Wassef BSc Pharm, RPh Stouffville IDA Pharmacy

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