What you can eat and do to reduce becoming infected with respiratory pathogens like the corona virus

An immediate concern of everyone at the moment is the risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus and many questions are asked about a role for nutrition, many supplements are promoted to "boost" immunity. But if we really want to protect ourselves, what should we do. I asked a real expert in Exercise Immunology: Prof Mike Gleeson.

Coronavirus, the flu and common colds

An immediate concern of everyone at the moment is the risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus and as it is still winter in the northern hemisphere there is also the increased risk of picking up other respiratory tract infections such as influenza and the common cold which are also caused by viruses. The symptoms of these illnesses have some similarities but also some differences: Infection with coronavirus is characterized by having a fever and developing a dry tickly cough; having a sore throat and a runny nose are less common. Influenza also causes a fever, aching joints and has symptoms similar to (but usually more severe than) the common cold which include a runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. We generally do not get a fever with the common cold. Most people who get these infections will recover within one to two weeks but they make you feel weaker, tired and generally unwell while symptoms are present. Among the elderly, the infection can be more debilitating, and they have an increased risk of developing more serious complications such as chest (lung) infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia which can be fatal particularly in people with underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.


An immediate concern of everyone at the moment is the risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus and as it is still winter in the northern hemisphere there is also the increased risk of picking up other respiratory tract infections such as influenza and the common cold which are also caused by viruses

What is our susceptibility influenced by?

Our immune system protects us against the viruses that cause these infections, but because there is a genetic influence on the efficacy of our immune systems, some people are more prone to infections than others. However, our susceptibility to common infectious diseases is also influenced by what we eat, how much exercise we do, and how well we sleep. In addition, other lifestyle behaviors such as good personal hygiene practices can help to reduce our risk of picking up infections. This article explains the various nutritional, behavioral, and lifestyle strategies that we can easily implement to help minimize our risk of respiratory tract infections.

There are two main factors that influence our chance of picking up a respiratory tract infection: one is the degree of exposure to pathogens like coronavirus and the other is the status of our immune system. We can reduce our risk of infection by doing various things that limit the transmission of infections and there are several behavioral and nutrition strategies that we can do to help make our immune systems more robust.


There are essentially two main factors that influence our chance of picking up a respiratory tract infection: The degree of exposure to pathogens like coronavirus and the other is the status of our immune system.

How can we limit the transmission of infections?

Some practical guidelines for limiting transmission of infections among people are listed below. The most important of these are good hand hygiene and avoiding contact with persons that are infected. Hand washing (using the correct technique for about 30 seconds to ensure all parts of hands are cleaned effectively) with soap and water is effective against most pathogens but does not provide continuous protection. Hand gels containing a minimum of 60% alcohol disinfect effectively, but the protection they provide does not last more than a few minutes, so they need to be applied frequently, and this can cause dry skin and irritation. Other sanitization methods include the use of non-alcohol based antimicrobial hand foams that contain cationic biocides and hydrophobic polymers which are claimed to disinfect hands for up to six hours. However, individuals need to be aware that these products are removed by hand washing and excessive sweating, therefore they also need to be reapplied every few hours.

Behavioral and lifestyle strategies to limit transmission of infections: