Dr Michael Mosley: How Your Immune System Can Ward Off COVID-19

Dr Michael Mosley
Michael Sheather


Jul 10, 2020

Medical commentator Dr Michael Mosley says that while COVID-19 is a deadly virus with the potential to kill, there are ways to boost our immune system which may help us beat it.

As we know, the world is awash with the deadliest virus in more than a century. COVID-19 has changed our lives enormously, and without an effective vaccine it may have also changed them irrevocably.

Yet Dr Michael Mosley, the English television presenter and producer famous for his documentaries on everything from obesity to exercise and the effects of aging, says there is ample evidence to suggest that we can all enable ourselves to better fight the virus if we make a few relatively minor adjustments to our lifestyles.

China first alerted the world to the spread of a virulent “pneumonia-like” virus in December last year. Since then, that virus, known both as COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus, has swept across much of the planet, locking down entire cities, infecting millions, and bringing death to hundreds of thousands more.

COVID-19, mask

These are indeed grim times for humanity but Dr Michael Mosley, the author of COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus and the race for the vaccine,  says it’s possible that we can all improve our bodies and their immune systems in the face of this pandemic, and along the way give ourselves an edge when it comes to infection.

Not only is Mosley a world class medical commentator and journalist, he is also an expert of diet and its effect on the human body. He and his wife Dr Claire Bailey have worked together on a series of diets as methods of combating disease. These include the Fast 800 diet, the 5-2 Diet and the 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet, which have both proven effective in fighting diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

It is certainly no co-incidence then that Dr Mosley also has strong opinions about how to rewire the human immune system to take on the coronavirus. It is. He says it is mostly a matter of getting back to the type of diet that science has shown works best for human beings. And, as a start, that means switching to the age-old Mediterranean Diet.

“Of course, the best way to protect ourselves in this current environment is to regularly wash our hands with soap and water and to follow the rules of social distancing,” says Dr Mosley, who managed to cured himself of diabetes by making changes to his diet and lifestyle a few years ago.

“But this winter in the southern hemisphere and the coming winter in the northern hemisphere are likely to provide ideal environments for a second wave of virus infections.

“We’re all hoping that our scientific community will be able to provide us with an effective vaccine some time soon, because it’s only with a vaccine that we will be able to defeat this virus. But in the meantime, there are many things that we can all do to give ourselves the best chance if we are infected.”

snapper fish

The traditional diet in Mediterranean countries has existed for centuries. It is rich in olive oil, nuts, oily fish, and legumes, all of which are among the healthiest foods on the planet. Not only does this diet help you lose weight – a major factor when it comes to risk and the coronavirus – but as it has lots of fibre it helps boost the microbes in your gut. Those microbes, it runs out, are vital in stimulating the body’s immune response to infectious pathogens, even such deadly ones as that responsible for COVID-19.

Dr Mosley says that the western lifestyle has left many of us with a potentially deadly side-affect. Many of us are overweight.

Is Being Overweight Really A Big Deal?1

Fat, he says, is the root cause of inflammation in the body and that in turn makes people more susceptible to the coronavirus. “Visceral fat is linked to a disease that is known as metabolic syndrome,” he says. “That is a combination of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels and elevated or abnormal cholesterol in the blood. Put that all together and you are suddenly in one of the highest risk groups for this virus. That is at least a part of the reason why we are seeing such high fatality rates among older men with the virus.”

In fact, he says, up to one in three adults in England, Australia and the United States suffer from metabolic syndrome and many do not even know they have it. But here is the sting – a recent study in the eminent scientific journal Nature that says that patients with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome over 50 might have as much as 10 times greater risk of death when the contract COVID-19.

So, what should people do about it? The short answer is, lose weight. “Shrinking your waistline is an extremely effective way to minimise the risk of inflammatory disease,” says Dr Mosley. “There’s plenty of evidence, too, that shows that you can do this very quickly with the right diet and rapid weight loss doesn’t in any way impair the immune system. This rapid weight loss also rapidly normalises blood sugar levels and minimises the risk should you suffer a coronavirus infection.”

There are many other things you can do to stimulate the immune system, he says. These include reducing stress in your life, switching to the Mediterranean Diet, eating fermented foods such as Korean kimchi and sauerkraut, and making sure you get at least the minimum recommended eight hours of sleep each night.

Eat Your Greens: Kimchi-Loaded Sweet Potato Fries with Egg Recipe
Eat Your Greens: Kimchi-Loaded Sweet Potato Fries with Egg Recipe

“Sleep is one of the great unsung heroes of the human body and the immune system,” says Dr Mosley. “When you go to sleep, the body makes proteins that are called cytokines, and these are the cells that begin and then co-ordinate your immune response to viral infections. Not enough sleep means you become more vulnerable to viruses. It is the same in many ways for exercise. Regular exercise also stimulates your immune system.”


He cites a study done by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, in which 247 volunteers walked on a treadmill at moderate speed for 20 minutes before blood was harvested and analysed.

The researchers discovered that just 20 minutes of exercise was enough to inhibit production of a protein called tumour Necrosis factor (TNF) a protein that drives chronic inflammation. It also boosted production of an antioxidant known as extracellular super-oxide dismutase (EcSOD). Both reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, the major cause of death in COVID-19 patients.

mood, Mediterranean diet


  1. Reduce your waistline
  2. Try fasting two days a week (not consecutively)
  3. Switch to the Mediterranean Diet
  4. Get more sleep
  5. Boost your microbiome with more fibre
  6. Get regular exercise
  7. Reduce stress
COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus and the race for a vaccine
DR Michael Mosley’s new book COVID-19 What you need to know about the Coronavirus and the race for the vaccine is published by Simon and Schuster here.

Dr Michael Mosley is also the author of The Clever Guts Diet, The Fast 800, the 8-week Blood Sugar Diet, Fast Exercise, Fast Asleep and the Fast Diet.

The Carousel would like to thank Michael Sheather for the article.


By Michael Sheather


Michael Sheather was associate editor and news editor at The Australian Women's Weekly during the past 21 years. He has won multiple awards including five Journalist of the Year awards, two story the year awards. He has an extraordinary list of interviewees including Thredbo survivor Stuart Diver, Prime Ministers John Howard, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam, actress Nicole Kidman and actor Michael J Fox, among many others.



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