Clare Collins, University of Newcastle

The coronavirus presents many uncertainties, and none of us can completely eliminate our risk of getting COVID-19. But one thing we can do is eat as healthily as possible.

If we do catch COVID-19, our immune system is responsible for fighting it. Research shows improving nutrition helps support optimal immune function.

Micronutrients essential to fight infection include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.

Here’s what we know about how these nutrients support our immune system and the foods we can eat to get them.

Read more: What is a balanced diet anyway?

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A maintains the structure of the cells in the skin, respiratory tract and gut. This forms a barrier and is your body’s first line of defence. If fighting infection was like a football game, vitamin A would be your forward line.

We also need vitamin A to help make antibodies which neutralise the pathogens that cause infection. This is like assigning more of your team to target an opposition player who has the ball, to prevent them scoring.

Vitamin A is found in oily fish, egg yolks, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.

Further, vegetables contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert into vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in leafy green vegetables and yellow and orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots.

2. B vitamins

B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 and B12, contribute to your body’s first response once it has recognised a pathogen.

They do this by influencing the production and activity of “natural killer” cells. Natural killer cells work by causing infected cells to “implode”, a process called apoptosis.

At a football match, this role would be like security guards intercepting wayward spectators trying to run onto the field and disrupt play.

Fish is a good source of vitamin B6. Shutterstock

B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat.

B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and is added to commercial bread-making flour.

B12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in animal products, including eggs, meat and dairy, and also in fortified soy milk (check the nutrition information panel).

3. Vitamins C and E

When your body is fighting an infection, it experiences what’s called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the production of free radicals which can pierce cell walls, causing the contents to leak into tissues and exacerbating inflammation.

Vitamin C and vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative stress.

Read more: Coronavirus: it's time to debunk claims that vitamin C could cure it

Vitamin C also helps clean up this cellular mess by producing specialised cells to mount an immune response, including neutrophils, lymphocytes and phagocytes.

So the role of vitamin C here is a bit like cleaning up the football ground after the game.

Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and capsicum.

Vitamin E is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables and vegetables oils.

4. Vitamin D

Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection.

Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D (meaning extra has been added).

Most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.

People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements. A review of 25 studies found vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people who are deficient.

5. Iron, zinc, selenium

We need iron, zinc and selenium for immune cell growth, among other functions.

Iron helps kill pathogens by increasing the number of free radicals that can destroy them. It also regulates enzyme reactions essential for immune cells to recognise and target pathogens.

Whole grain foods contain a variety of important nutrients. Shutterstock

Zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes. Zinc and selenium also act as an antioxidant, helping mop up some of the damage caused by oxidative stress.

Iron is found in meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian sources include legumes, whole grains and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.

Zinc is found in oysters and other seafood, meat, chicken, dried beans and nuts.

Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), meat, cereals and mushrooms are good food sources of selenium.

Read more: Health Check: should I take vitamin C or other supplements for my cold?

Putting it all together

It’s true some supermarkets are out of certain products at the moment. But as much as possible, focus on eating a variety of foods within each of the basic food groups to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals.

While vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended for the general population, there are some exceptions.

Pregnant women, some people with chronic health conditions, and people with conditions that mean they can’t eat properly or are on very restrictive diets, may need specific supplements. Talk to your doctor, Accredited Practising Dietitian or pharmacist.

Read more: Social distancing: What it is and why it's the best tool we have to fight the coronavirus

And beyond diet, there are other measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible in the face of coronavirus.

Stop smoking to improve your lung’s ability to fight infection, perform moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking, get enough sleep, practise social distancing and wash your hands with soap regularly.The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The trillions of bacteria living in our gut (called the gut microbiota) can help determine our risk of cancer, as well as how we might respond to cancer treatment.

Each person’s unique gut microbiota is in constant communication with their immune system. This ensures good bacteria can thrive in the body, while bad bacteria and foreign material are eradicated.

The gut microbiota is therefore critical to making sure the immune system is in the best possible state to fight diseases – from the flu, to serious ones like cancer.

Researchers are now exploring how your unique gut bacteria determine your cancer risk, and whether modifying its composition can control cancer progression and predict response to treatment.

He wants to sell you a $300 ‘fasting diet' to prolong your life. It might not be as crazy as it sounds

LOS ANGELES - He knows he sounds like a snake-oil salesman. It's not every day, after all, that a tenured professor at a prestigious university starts peddling a mail-order diet to melt away belly fat, rejuvenate worn-out cells, prevent diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer - and, for good measure, turn back the clock on aging.…


Michael Thomsen is very familiar with the concepts discussed in this article and is working on bringing the Fasting Mimicking Diet to Australia.

Fasting may improve cancer treatment, but needs further exploration

Veronique Chachay, The University of Queensland

The gold standard treatment for cancer in the last few decades has been a combination of surgery – to remove tumours – and chemotherapy and radiotherapy – to kill cancer cells. With the progress of personalised medicine, where identifying specific mutations in the tumour guides treatment selection, there has been increasing success in survival rates.

But there has been little improvement in reducing side effects on healthy cells caused by chemotherapy, which also limit the dosage that can be administered.

Over the last two decades, research in animals has shown restricting calories - with alternating periods of fasting and feeding – promotes protection mechanisms for healthy cells, while increasing white blood cells that kill cancer cells.

A 2008 study showed mice with neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer, that had only water for two days before receiving a large dose of chemotherapy, experienced less or no side effects compared to mice fed normally. In another study, tumour cells were killed more efficiently in mice who weren’t fed than in those that were.

Since then, further animal studies and early trials in humans confirmed short-term fasting prior to, and after, chemotherapy treatment reduced side effects. It also protected healthy cells from the toxicity of the drug, while killing cancerous ones.

So does this mean we can use fasting to help with cancer treatment?

Glucose and cancer

Cancerous cells are known to rely on glucose, a type of sugar, for their energy metabolism, rapid growth, and resistance to chemotherapy.

That cancer cells thrive on glucose was first shown by German physiologist Otto Warburg in the 1950s. He also showed they were unable to use fatty acids as efficiently for energy, or at all. This idea of cancer being a disease reliant on rapid glucose metabolism, has reemerged recently.

Under total fasting conditions, where someone only has water, the body initially uses carbohydrate stores, called glycogen, to maintain blood glucose levels, and for cellular energy production. When these stores are depleted, protein from muscle is used to produce new glucose, and fat stores start to be used for energy production.

Cancer cells rely on glucose, a type of sugar, for energy metabolism and growth. from

Body cells that would normally use glucose as their main energy source have the ability to gradually switch to a different fuel: a product of fat metabolism called ketone bodies. This is to spare muscle mass so it is not used too much to make new glucose.

Cancer cells are unable to use ketone bodies efficiently, because the mechanism that would convert ketone bodies to energy does not function well in cancer cells. So under low blood glucose conditions, cancer cells are in effect being starved, becoming more vulnerable to chemotherapy.

Healthy cells on the other hand, can use ketone bodies for energy. They are also protected from chemotherapy side effects because fasting stimulates the expression of genes that promote cellular clean-up and defence systems, called autophagy. This means larger doses of the drug can be administered to better kill cancer cells.

In a case report of ten patients, those who fasted between two and six days prior to, and between five hours and two and a half days after, chemotherapy reported greater tolerance to treatment and less fatigue and weakness. They also reported less gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Fasting didn’t impair the impact of treatment.

But fasting to aid cancer treatment is a difficult balancing act, because malnutrition is a significant problem for many with specific cancers such as head and neck, pancreatic, colon and lung cancers.

Balancing nutrition

Malnutrition in cancer patients is estimated to be as high as 88% depending on the stage of the cancer. This is due to a number of factors, including appetite loss as the disease progresses, side effects of treatment, and cancer’s increased demands on metabolism.

Malnutrition and related weight loss are associated with lower survival rates. Further, the side effects of chemotherapy, which may include severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea increase the risk of malnutrition and related weight loss.

So practice guidelines recommend patients receive enough energy and protein to counter weight loss. For head and neck cancer patients, for instance, the aim is to have 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, which is higher than what’s recommended for an average healthy adult male.

But clinical trials are underway that investigate various fasting protocols, including something called the fasting mimicking diet. This protocol addresses the difficulty of hunger discomfort experienced by patients who fast with water only.

The fasting mimicking diet is a seven-day fasting protocol tailored around chemotherapy treatment. It ensures the provision of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), while significantly reducing the energy intake, in particular from carbohydrates (which become glucose once absorbed) and protein. Patients return to a normal diet after the seven days, thus limiting the impact on weight loss and malnutrition over time.

Less may be more when it comes to dealing with certain cancer cells. Suppressing the specific energy supply that uses an inborn protective mechanism in human physiology to prevent cancer development deserves close investigation.

The Conversation

Veronique Chachay, Research & Teaching Academic, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lindsay Wu, UNSW Australia

“A glass of red wine a day could keep polycystic ovaries at bay,” said a news headline this week. This and similar reports were based on research from a team in Poland and California that showed high daily doses – 1,500 mg – of a natural compound found in red wine, called resveratrol, could lower steroid hormone levels in women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This, in effect, should lower symptoms of PCOS including weight gain, excess hair, infertility and abnormal menstrual cycles.

This is not the first time resveratrol has been linked to health benefits. Back in 2006, headlines announced a “natural substance found in red wine” could extend lifespan in mice. The internet soon became flooded with online sellers of resveratrol supplements ranging from highly pure, to pills containing mashed up grape skins with very little resveratrol.

The fact resveratrol is naturally found in the skin of red grapes then led to the happy idea that drinking lots of red wine can make you live longer. But unfortunately, resveratrol is found at only trace levels in red wine - so you would need to drink over a thousand bottles per day to obtain the amount of resveratrol found in two 250 mg pills.

Resveratrol is naturally found in the skin of red grapes. Harsha K R/Flickr, CC BY

The 2006 reports - based on a paper published in the esteemed journal Nature – were exciting for science though. Resveratrol turns on an enzyme called SIRT1, which is thought to enhance the age-delaying benefits of diet and exercise. The Nature study showed resveratrol extended lifespan in a mouse, an animal far more complex than the simple organisms the compound had previously been tested on, such as yeast, worms and flies.

Other studies of resveratrol in mice then showed benefits to lifespan, diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and inflammation. So why has resveratrol not been made into a drug yet?

When it is taken as a pill, the liver quickly degrades the majority of resveratrol before it can make it into the rest of the body. This means only a very small amount actually gets to other tissues where it could have an effect. So it would have to be given at very high doses.

But at doses where it can have an effect, resveratrol can cause gut problems such as diarrhoea. Despite this, small clinical trials using resveratrol in humans have shown some benefits to their metabolism, markers of inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease.

There has also been controversy as to how resveratrol actually works; in particular whether it activates SIRT1, the enzyme thought to delay the ageing process.

David Sinclair, an Australian based at Harvard Medical School, first showed resveratrol could “turn on” SIRT1 in 2003. With a series of papers in quick succession, Sinclair showed resveratrol extended lifespan in yeast, worms, flies, fish, and mice.

Controversy struck when it was suggested resveratrol was working through “off target” effects, meaning it was interacting with enzymes other than SIRT1. As a small molecule with a simple structure, it is likely resveratrol has non-specific interactions throughout the body, especially at higher doses.

Products containing resveratrol range from being highly pure, to pills containing mashed up grape skins with very little resveratrol. Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/Flickr, CC BY

But then in 2012, these doubts were assuaged, when mice genetically engineered to be missing the SIRT1 gene were found to be immune to the effects of resveratrol. In 2013, it was found resveratrol binds to and activates SIRT1 in a very intricate manner. So that part is clear.

There are still uncertainties as to how specific it is; such as with the recent study involving women with PCOS. PCOS is a common endocrine condition that occurs when follicles in the ovary, which contain egg cells, swell up and the egg cell itself does not mature properly. The eggs contained in these cysts fail to be released at ovulation, which can cause infertility in women.

PCOS is thought to be caused by high levels of male steroid hormones known as androgens. Key risk factors for PCOS are metabolic problems such as high insulin levels, obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes. Body weight reductions can therefore reduce PCOS risk.

Women suffering from PCOS experience irregular or no menstrual cycle, acne, hair growth and elevated levels of the male steroid hormone testosterone. In the recent study, resveratrol treatment lowered levels of testosterone, and its precursor DHEAS – two key steroid hormonal markers of PCOS.

But it’s actually not clear whether the testosterone reduction was due to a direct effect on the release of the hormone itself. This is because insulin, which at high levels can cause metabolic disease, was also reduced. As with other studies, it may be that resveratrol is actually improving metabolism, with reduced PCOS severity as a secondary side-effect. So there is still a lot we don’t know about the compound.

Should people want to go online and buy resveratrol, be aware it has not yet been approved as a drug by regulatory authorities. Also, plant-based resveratrol extracts such as Japanese knotweed contain a crude cocktail of compounds, some of which may be harmful, with only a small amount of resveratrol. Meanwhile, red grape skin pills are likely to contain vanishingly small quantities.

Stay tuned though: efforts to formulate resveratrol so greater proportions actually reach the rest of the body are underway.

The Conversation

Lindsay Wu, Senior Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Natural therapies are likely to actually save the government more money than what they will save. Many of our patients are light users of the public health care system because of the care we provide.

This is just so wrong. Speak up if you think this is wrong!



Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen announced on Friday that from July 1, 2017, taxpayer-funded private health insurance rebates would no longer be available for natural therapies.

The measure would save $180 million over four years, and $704 million over the decade.

Mr Bowen was quick to insist there was nothing wrong with seeking natural therapies like aromatherapy, herbalism or iridology.

“I myself use them from time to time — my personal favourite is the Bowen treatment, I can recommend it to you,” he said.

“But in times of difficult budgetary situations, it is not appropriate for taxpayers to have to fund and subsidise private health insurance cover for these treatments.”

Mr Bowen also announced Labor would continue the threshold freeze for private health insurance rebates for another decade to 2026, saving $2.3 billion.

Well it’s over a month now, since we returned from our fantastic 10 days in Japan!


The Japanese are renowned for their longevity and good health; including so far avoiding the obesity crisis that is the scourge of so many other cultures today.
So we’ve decided to recap some likely contributing factors to this phenomenon.

Firstly, the Japanese have a diet high in fermented foods. Miso soup, pickled vegetables and fermented soy products are a daily consumable for Japanese on a traditional diet. The research into fermented foods, GIT health and the link to helping prevent overweight and obesity is very promising.

The Japanese diet is fairly low in fat. Fried foods exist but are not regularly consumed apart from specialty dishes such as tempura and some street foods.
The diet is also high in seaweeds which are high in iodine; a nutrient important for thyroid health.

The diet is also high in soy products. Good for hormonal health, bone density, anti-cancer properties and a great low-fat protein.

Portion sizes tend to be quite small. A lot of meals consist of simply small “tastes” of a variety of dishes. And the Japanese practice Hara Hachi Bu: Eat Until You Are 80% Full.

Most of us have no idea what 80 percent full feels like. We do know that if we eat until we are full, in 20 minutes we are likely to feel too full, as it takes about that long for the stomach to communicate with the brain just how full it is. But how do you tell when you are “80 percent full”?

DSC03889It takes sometimes 15-20 meals to reset the muscle memory of the stomach to get used to less food and people need to trust that will happen. Most are used to eating until full, which is past satiation and which keeps weight on. We suggest eating just half of what you normally eat and then checking in to see how you feel. Once we begin to feel any stomach pressure we are at the “80 percent full” stage.

The Japanese are also quite physically active. In the cities, the majority of people seem to cycle, walk and use public transport. We saw septuagenarians still cycling and gardening frequently.

So it’s probably not a bad idea to introduce some Japanese “ways” into our daily routines.


common coldOn another note, as always with winter coming it’s always good to consider looking out for your immune health.

Coughs and colds are around again, but a healthy immune system will either help you avoid them altogether or seriously limit their longevity and severity.

Herbs such as Andrographis, Echinacea, Holy Basil, Astragalus and Baical Skullcap among others are renowned for their ability to support the immune system.

These are available for convenience in several good tablet formulations as well as our trusty liquid formulas.

Adequate vitamin D is also important for immune function, especially in Tasmania where it is simply not possibly to get enough winter sunlight to produce sufficient vitamin D.

supplementsThe episode broadcast on Four Corners was a wholly-US program that examined the use of dietary supplements from a US perspective, but with limited relevance to the situation in Australia.

The fact is that there are significant differences between the way the US and Australia regulate these products.

In Australia, complementary medicines are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is considered one of the most rigorous systems for regulating supplements in the world, and companies marketing complementary medicines must comply with a range of TGA requirements.

Features of the Australian regulation of complementary medicines include:

  • Complementary medicines (e.g. fish oil, vitamins and mineral supplements) are regulated as medicines in Australia and must be manufactured to medicinal standards in TGA approved sites
  • The TGA conducts a safety assessment on ingredients in Listed (displaying an AUST L number) complementary medicines
  • Complementary medicines must contain the ingredients listed on the label and no other active ingredients, and they must only be produced from ingredients approved as low-risk by the TGA
  • The TGA routinely conducts manufacturing site inspections, sampling and testing of products in the market to monitor compliance
  • Companies marketing complementary medicines can only make limited claims regarding their effectiveness and are required to hold evidence supporting those claims
  • All complementary medicines legally available for sale in Australia must be included on the TGA's publicly accessible database, the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG)
  • The TGA maintains a rigorous system for recording, monitoring and responding to adverse events for all medicines, including complementary medicines.
  • The features of the Australian regulatory environment are very different to those in the US that were featured in the Four Corners program, and they should give Australian consumers a high level of confidence in the safety and efficacy of their medicines.

Fish oils

The Four Corners program also raised issues in relation to omega-3 fish oil supplements.

The majority of Australian do not eat enough fish, and omega-3 supplements play an important role in helping people to consume adequate marine-sourced omega-3s.

Companies that market fish oil products in Australia must comply with TGA requirements including strict manufacturing standards that maximise the purity of these products.

Australian consumers can be confident that fish oil products available in Australia are of the highest quality as they are required to comply with medicinal manufacturing standards.

As with all medicines, fish oil products must be labelled with an expiry date, and products are required to comply with content standards for the duration of their shelf life.
Source: Australian Self-medication Association

Prescribed herbal and nutritional medicines

We consider the safety of our patients the highest priority. We only prescribe medicines from reputable sources, and only in very limited situations do we recommend medicines produced overseas.

The majority of the herbal and nutritional medicines we prescribe are known as practitioner-only medicines. They are not available directly to the public and need to be prescribed by a qualified health practitioner. These products are often of a higher quality and strength compared to retail products.

As health professionals, we prescribe these medicines in a much more targeted and focused way. We check against potential drug interactions with any pharmaceutical medicine a patient may be taking and we monitor and adjust the combinations and dosages carefully.

We constantly review the prescription ensuring a patient is taking the appropriate medicines and only for as long as necessary.

You are in safe hands when using practitioner-prescribed herbal and nutritional medicines.

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