How should we protect ourselves from respiratory infections?

Respiratory infections, like flu and coronaviruses, come every winter. Let's look at some preventative measures you can do at home.


1. Get enough sunlight

Prevention starts the previous spring with sensible exposure to the sun. The gentle spring sunshine starts to colour the skin, and that protects you against the more powerful summer sun.

If you don’t go out in the sunshine, and then suddenly go sunbathing in fierce sunshine, then you are likely to be burnt. If you swim in a hot country, protect your back with a t-shirt and wear a wide-brimmed hat in hot sunshine. The sun builds up your vitamin D3 level, protecting you from infection. Most of us also need to take a vitamin D3 supplement. Those with darker skin do not make enough vitamin D3 in Northern latitudes and need a higher dose supplement.

If, whenever you go out into the sun you wear sunscreen, it will prevent you from making vitamin D3. And if you are going outside to exercise, do so in clean air, not by busy roads, that damage the lungs.

2. Up your zinc intake 

Zinc is crucial for making immune cells to fight infection. It is easily obtained from meat. Vegetarians can obtain zinc from pulses, nuts and seeds, but often need to take a supplement. Selenium is protective, and half a dozen brazil nuts a day are enough to provide this. You don’t want too much. It may be most cost-effective to take a well-formulated multivitamin and mineral supplement.

3. Ensure you get enough vitamin C

Vitamin C is provided by fruit and vegetables. However, if you have silvery grey amalgam dental fillings, you will lose vitamin C and will need to supplement it. Also if you eat a lot of sugar, you will need more vitamin C. Green vegetables also provide you with magnesium, which is in chlorophyll, a green substance.

4. Up your iodine 

Fish provides iodine, which is needed by the thyroid to fight infection. Eat mushrooms for beta-glucans, which help the immune system.

There is evidence that garlic, ginger and turmeric protect us against infection, and we can incorporate these into our diets. 

5. Minimise intake of drugs

Many drugs deplete vitamin D and other nutrients. Try to only take drugs if they are really necessary.

If despite taking these measures, you go down with a respiratory infection, ramp up the vitamin C to whatever is the highest level you tolerate. If it is a bad infection, you will tolerate much more vitamin C than you usually would. Include vitamins B1 and B2 in your supplements.

For coughs and sore throats, you can put half a flat teaspoon of Epsom salts BP from the chemist into a litre bottle of water, and drink it through the day. Chew a vitamin E capsule, or take drops, and don’t eat or drink for an hour so it has time to promote healing. You can also chew L-lysine 500mg tablets up to six times a day to reduce respiratory symptoms. Have extra vitamin D3, as it prevents the immune system from going into overdrive.

A selection of soups on a chopping board

Nutrients for post-viral fatigue 

Key nutrients for post-viral fatigue are B vitamins, magnesium and the ubiquinol form of coenzyme Q10. After Covid-19, anaemia is common. Ask your GP for a full blood count. If you are anaemic, take iron as bis-glycinate, as it is well absorbed and unlikely to cause constipation.

Why have many people in care homes died of Covid-19? Partly it is because many were near the end of their lives, and couldn’t cope with an infection at that stage. In the past, an elderly friend of mine died of a cold, because he was so fragile anyway. Partly it is because our very elderly tend to take many drugs, and it is difficult to arrange for nutritional supplements in care homes, as the GP has to endorse them. Some will not do that.

People in care homes rarely go outside in the sun, and visitors were not allowed to take them out, under Covid regulations. This country is far from the Equator, and so we need to make an extra effort to go in the sun. Children are protected by their desire to play outside.

Vitamin D and Covid-19

A study in Asia found that those who had inadequate blood vitamin D were 10 times as likely to become very ill or die of Covid-19 than those whose levels are acceptable. In Indonesia, they found no one of any age died of Covid-19, if their blood vitamin D was 85nmol/litre.

We cannot guarantee we will not become ill, but we can take sensible steps to protect ourselves, in the expectation that looking after ourselves makes illness less likely, and serious illness less likely too.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 3NP
Written by Margaret Moss, MA UCTD DipION MBANT CBiol MRSB
Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 3NP

Margaret Moss.

Nutrition and Allergy Clinic
11, Mauldeth Close

Margaret is a nutritional therapist and chartered biologist with an international clinic. She has published many articles in medical journals and for the general public. She specialises in those people who have complex illnesses

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