Over the next two or three months, most UK adults will be offered a Coronavirus vaccine. Inevitably there are some people who are concerned about whether the vaccine will actually work and give them the immunity they need to protect them against the various strains of coronavirus. Some people are also worried about any potential symptoms and negative side effects they might experience from having the vaccine administered as they have a delicate immune system.
Most people are keen to know what can give them the best long-term protection and how to minimise any negative outcomes. Since these vaccines are very new and have been rolled out very fast, there is very little research on how to optimise the vaccine response to Covid jabs. However, it is important to draw on sensible and practical advice from the preliminary research on the Covid vaccines, as well as from past research on optimisation of vaccines.
At NatureDoc, we have a policy of not advising you about the merits of particular vaccines, as this is the role of your GP. We are simply here to support you, whatever decisions you make. I have already written at great length on how to optimise your own immune system; and now it is time to consider what you can do if you decide to get vaccinated. These are suggestions you can implement now and can continue for around three weeks after the vaccine.
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Dr Philip Calder from the University of Southampton is the UK’s leading researcher who has been looking most into optimising both Covid 19 outcomes and the Covid vaccine response through nutrition. He has written in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that Covid 19 vaccine outcomes could potentially be much improved if a person has adequate levels of some key micronutrients including A, B6, B9, B12, C and D and the minerals zinc, selenium, iron and copper. This is because these vitamins and minerals are all needed for the immune system to function as it should.
You would have thought that the British population ate well enough to have consumed enough of these key nutrients through their daily diet, however it seems that a great deal of research is finding that we are a nation who in the main are overfed but undernourished. This means that we are eating lots of food, but the food we are eating is lacking in these key nutrients so important for our immunity.
Fruit, vegetables, meat, oily fish, eggs, butter, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds contain most of the nutrients we need for a healthy immune system, but on the other hand, ready meals and ultra-processed convenience foods like takeaways, biscuits, crisps, white flour, pizza, fizzy drinks etc don’t contain valuable amounts of any of these micronutrients. And even worse, white flour and other refined foods can actually deplete our nutrient stores, so in turn we can become more deficient.
This is another reason to start cooking more from scratch and really stepping up on eating more nutritious home-cooked foods. If you have not been eating that well during lockdown and the highly processed stuff has got the better of you, then also consider taking a good quality multinutrient that contains a broad spectrum of BOTH vitamins and minerals (hint multivitamins only contain vitamins!).
Focus on Vitamin D
This is the time of year when our vitamin D levels are at their lowest, so unless you have been very conscientious and been taking your vitamin D over the winter, you could be at your lowest vitamin D level. The current minimum RDAs for vitamin D are very low at 400iu, and are only a tenth of the upper suggested limit, which is 4,000iu for an adult. If you have only been taking a little bit of vitamin D or you haven’t at all, then I recommend you step up to a 3-4,000iu daily dose for the time leading up to your vaccine and for a few weeks afterwards. Unless of course we have an unexpected heat wave with lots of glorious sun in the meantime… but even then, there’s not much UV-B in sunlight this time of year!
Cut Back on Alcohol
A very clear message from the research I have done is that alcohol does your immune system no favours when it comes to Covid 19 outcomes, and heavy regular drinking (more than 14 units a week) can interfere with your body’s ability to build immune response to vaccines. So, this is a good reason to consider cutting right back on the booze before the vaccine and for three weeks afterwards to help your immune system do what it needs to do to protect you from Coronavirus.
We all know exercise is important, but quite a few people have not been utilising their daily walk recently due to the weather and dark early evenings. Walking not only improves mood and wellbeing, but evidence recently from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) indicates that being more active can also help to boost vaccine-specific antibody responses particularly among older adults. This study has found that a brisk 30-minute walk even two to three times a week may well help to improve your vaccine outcome.
Chronic stress can affect immunity and vaccine response, we have all had a really stressful year, so my message to you is to be extra kind to yourself until you are over the hump of the vaccine. Whether is working less, deep breathing, having a lovely long magnesium bath or simply saying no to things you really don’t want to do… that’s OK!
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
The University of California published this year a report to show that a reduction in sleep for two nights before the flu vaccine predicted fewer antibodies both one and four months later. So from this is seems that getting enough sleep on nights prior to vaccination are critical to vaccine response. This is a great excuse for some early nights and if you have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep then consider taking supplements to help.
Manage Your Histamine
Because some people with anaphylaxis have been told not to have the vaccines, other people with milder allergies, histamine intolerance and mast cell activation also have some concerns that their allergic response may be heightened. There is no evidence that the vaccines will cause more problems with their histamine response, but since Quercetin and Vitamin C have been found to be helpful in reducing allergic response and have also been muted to help with Covid-19 outcomes, it may be prudent to be proactive and take these for some time before and after the vaccine.
Gut health is fundamental to a healthy immune response and I wrote about the importance of the right balance of gut bacteria in Covid 19 outcome in a previous blog. Even though probiotics and prebiotics have not specifically been studied for the Covid 19 vaccines yet, we do know that prebiotic and probiotic supplements are effective in elevating the immune response in adults who receive flu vaccines.
Dietary approaches to achieving a healthy microbiota can also benefit the immune system, and this is another reason to eat a wide range of fruits, veggies, nut, seeds and whole grains as well as fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar, sourdough bread and miso.
I hope that you find these recommendations helpful, and that that they give your immune system the important fuel to get it in the best place possible if you decide to have the vaccine!
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- Optimising COVID-19 vaccine efficacy by ensuring nutritional adequacy
- Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19
- Nutritional status of micronutrients as a possible and modifiable risk factor for COVID-19: a UK perspective
- Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19
- A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System-Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection
- Effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on immune function in older people: a randomized controlled trial
- Does Vitamin D Deficiency Affect the Immunogenic Responses to Influenza Vaccination? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China
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- Temporal Links Between Self-Reported Sleep and Antibody Responses to the Influenza Vaccine
- Factors That Influence the Immune Response to Vaccination
- Histamine receptors and COVID-19
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- Roles of flavonoids against coronavirus infection