Opinion: What I found out from global health experts about the resilience-nutrition connection

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Gillian Fish.
Gillian Fish.

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During the height of the pandemic, I spoke with 21 health experts about our ability to cope during troubled times, writes Gillian Fish, the founder and CEO of Sydney communications agency 6am.

Notably, the global integrative practitioners – cardiologists, neuro surgeons, integrative specialists amongst others from USA, Europe and Australia - shared insights into the role of supporting and building a healthy immune system through good sleep habits, nutrition and having a clearly defined sense of purpose – all key to unlocking mental, emotional and physical resilience, during these challenging and unprecedented times.

A common theme that ran throughout the interviews is how mental health and regular exercise go hand-in-hand with good nutrition to holistically boost our overall health and wellbeing.

We also need to make sure we keep a track of our eating patterns during this time- the global pandemic has sent our usual routines into upheaval, we’ve been thrown off kilter and it’s important for us to find the balance again.

Here are some of the expert’s top tips on nutrition for building resilience…

Dr Ross Walker - leading integrative cardiologist, Australia.

The best way to maintain a healthy strong immune system is to practice the five keys of good health – enjoy a balanced, healthy lifestyle that incorporates a healthful diet, nutrition, sleep, exercise, achieve happiness, and more. While dietary supplements should not be viewed as a replacement for quality food and daily nutrition, they can be helpful. Essentials for the immune system include:

Vitamin C:​ Promotes the body to produce white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which can protect the body against infections.

• Vitamin D:​ Enhances white blood cell activity and decreases inflammation.

Vitamin K2:​ Not only to support the absorption and activation of Vitamin D in the body, but for its anti-inflammatory effects.

Polyphenols:​ the wonderful strong, natural chemicals from plants. Not only should you be having the suggested dose of fruit and vegetables, but also supplementing with polyphenols. My favoured polyphenols come from supplements created from bergamot oranges grown in the Calabrian region of Italy.


Dr. Mark C. Houston- Integrative cardiologist, author and world expert on cardiovascular medicine, USA.

Follow an anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulating dietary pattern​. Inflammation is interconnected with metabolic dysfunctions and these can impact immune health.

In today’s stressed world, inflammation throughout the body can become chronic – especially if we are prone to being sedentary, eat poorly, are exposed to toxins, or experience other insults to the cells of our body.

Nutritional support should include:

• Colostrum:​ a probiotic, abundant in immunoglobulins that may help to strengthen the immune system

Mushroom extract:​ rich in B vitamins, vitamin D, amino acids, and other immune- supporting compounds

Elderberry extract:​ plentiful in antioxidants, studies suggest that elderberry extract can shorten the length, and curb the severity, of colds and flu Always consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

Vegetables:​ 5 to 10 servings per day of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, asparagus. These are lower in calories and carbohydrates as compared to starchy vegetables such as potatoes or corn.

• High quality organic protein​ and cold- water fish. 1.5 grams/kg per day. Fish from cool waters tends to contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruit:​ Limit to 2 servings, because fruit contains natural sugars so they can be calorically dense. One serving can be a half- cup of fruit pieces, or 1 small whole fruit.

Water:​ 50% of body weight (pounds) in ounces of filtered or distilled water per day. If you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg) that is 75 ounces (2.2 litres) of water, herbal teas, and/or broths, daily. Avoid plastic bottles or containers, which often can contain Bisphenol-A (BPA) – a known cancer-causing agent.

Tea:​ 16 ounces (1/2 litre) of decaffeinated green tea per day. Also try ginger tea. Both contain compounds that can inhibit inflammatory cellular processes.

Pomegranate:​ ¼ cup (60 cc) of pomegranate seeds or 6 oz. (180 ml) of pomegranate juice per day. The pomegranate is high in anthocyanins – plant-based antioxidants.

Omega-3 foods:​ a variety of fish, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds. These are abundant in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – compounds that can have anti- inflammatory effects.

As healthy fats:​ instead of saturated and trans-fats – which can be detrimental to cellular processes, adversely affect the gut microbiome, and raise metabolic toxins, select unsaturated fats. Opt for omega -3 fatty acids (1 to 2 grams per day) and extra virgin olive oil (4 tablespoons per day).


Dr Joseph C. Maroon - award-winning neurosurgeon and professor of neurosurgery, USA.

Address gut health​. The microbiome is our second brain and in our intestinal tract we have about 2.5 pounds of bacteria – and our brain weighs the same. 70% of our immunity is found in the cells in our gut, and the gut is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve. So, what we eat is an important influence on how our brain functions. We should avoid inflammatory foods, such as added sugars, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and processed meats.

Dr James L Wilson - Naturopathic Doctor and world leader in integrative medicine, USA.

Antioxidants ​can be obtained through highly colored fruits and vegetables as well as supplementation.

Zinc​ is one of the most critical things you can take to increase immunity. Zinc has almost 300 biochemical functions in the body, many of which are related to immune health. One concern I have about vegans during this crisis is their lack of zinc intake. All assimilable sources of zinc come from animal foods. The zinc in vegetables is tightly bound to the fiber and cannot be released without a large amount of heating. So although pumpkin seeds contain one of the highest levels of zinc of any food, that zinc is mostly unavailable unless the pumpkin seeds are first roasted. Even then the phytic acid that binds the zinc to the fiber must be degraded before the zinc is released. In the digestive tract, the intestinal environment must be in an acid state for zinc to be absorbed. Most vegetables are alkaline in nature, making it difficult to absorb zinc if is it freed from the vegetable fiber.

Vitamin C​ with bioflavonoids has so many functions for health and resistance to pathogens, immune system activity while infected, and tissue repair during the recovery phase. The adrenal glands use more vitamin C than any other organ or tissue. During the added stress of an infection, the adrenals need much more vitamin C in addition to the increased general demand for vitamin C during infections. So taking a large amount of vitamin C is of great overall benefit.

Vitamin D​ has been overlooked as a key facilitator of many immune reactions in the body. During cold and flu season, be sure to get at least 20 minutes of sun daily, or consider taking a supplement.

Vitamin A​ is key to minimizing damage to the alveoli of the lungs and post infection scarring when the lungs are endangered or infected. Vitamin A works with zinc and vitamin C to support immunity and they all work with cortisol the most powerful anti-inflammatory in the body to help fight the infection. Consult your healthcare practitioner before taking supplements.


Dr Leila Masson - a paediatrician and Harvard-trained public health specialist interested in disease prevention through healthy nutrition and lifestyle, AUS.

Magnesium​ – in order to be calm and relax your muscles, and have low anxiety, we need magnesium. If we eat a junk food diet with lots of white flour and processed foods, we will have low levels of magnesium. 60% of Australians, Americans, and New Zealanders are magnesium deficient, which means it is hard to go to sleep. Symptoms include sore legs, restlessness and feeling anxious, and this means sleep will not be restful. It is easy to get sufficient magnesium from one’s diet, for example, by eating nuts and seeds, vegetables, legumes or one can take an Epsom salt bath in the evening where the magnesium is absorbed through the skin and helps us to relax.

Iron​ – a diet lacking in iron can also affect our sleep.


Gillian Fish is a two-time author and CEO of Sydney-based specialist health & wellbeing creative communications agencies, The 6AM Agency and Igloo.  Resilience ​is her second book, her first being Good+Well. To download the first three chapters of the Resilience book for free, click here: https://www.the6amagency.com.au/books/resilience.

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