9th November 2020
As winter approaches many people will be looking to enhance their immune system, not just from the worst effects of COVID19 but also the seasonal flu and other illnesses. However, knowing exactly what to do in this regard isn’t always so clear cut, partially because our immune system is not just one single entity, but rather a complex system of different bodily functions that require maintaining balance and delicate looking after, something which cannot just be done magically overnight (and believe us, we wish that were the case too!).
In this article we are going to cover 4 ways in which you can provide a booster to your immunity, following some easy dietary and lifestyle changes.
Get the right nutrients that your immune system needs
Nutrients are essential to the healthy running of an immune system and can be found in multiple sources of fresh produce. While various supplements can compliment such food produce, they SHOULD NOT be your sole dependency on boosting nutrient count. The below is taken from BMI Healthcare(1) and highlights some important nutrients and what food sources have them:
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that fights free radicals in the body. This vital nutrient is found in many foods, not just citrus fruits. It’s also in leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, strawberries, carrots and many more fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight infection. Find it in spinach, broccoli, almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts.
Vitamin B6 is essential to your immune system. Bananas, lean poultry, tuna and chickpeas are all high in this nutrient.
A daily dose of vitamin D is one of the few things you may need a supplement for, though eating fatty fish (or fortified cereals and spreads) and being exposed to sunlight do help.
Brightly coloured foods often contain vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant. Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squash are all high in this nutrient.
Folate – also known as folic acid – helps our body create cells, meaning a deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system. Get yours from beans and peas or leafy green vegetables. You’ll also find it in certain fortified foods.
Iron helps your body carry oxygen to cells, including the white blood cells that are central to the immune system. Find it in lean poultry or in dark, leafy greens.
It’s thought that selenium plays a crucial role in the functioning of our body’s defences. Find it in garlic, broccoli, sardines, tuna and mushrooms, among many other foods.
Zinc is thought to help control inflammation. Zinc is found in oysters, crabs, poultry, beans and chickpeas.
Get enough sleep
Getting the right foods and nutrients into your system is one thing, but did you know that adequate sleep is also crucial? In one study of 164 adults(2), those who slept for less than 6 hours were more likely to catch a cold over those who slept for more than 6. Ideally, adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep, teenagers need between 8-10 hours and younger children/infants need up to 14 hours.
If you find yourself struggling with sleep then some tips are to limit screen time in the hour before you go to sleep, as the blue screen from electronic devices can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Regular exercise, sleeping in a completely dark room and going to bed at the same time are all good sleep hygiene tips too (3).
Staying hydrated won’t prevent you being infected from viruses per say, but it is important for our overall health. Dehydration can cause hindrances to our focus, digestion, heart and kidney function among other things, in turn making us more vulnerable to illnesses (4).
As a basic rule of thumb, you should drink when you feel dehydrated (and importantly, drink enough to make your urine pale yellow) and stop when you feel hydrated but it is important to note that older adults will begin to lose the urge to drink over time. This does not however, mean adults do not still need to drink regularly (4).
Teas and juices are also great for hydration (5).
Control Stress Levels:
Stress and anxiety can have physical effects on our well-being, including the promotion of inflammation and imbalances in immune cell function (6). One study even found a link between chronic stress related conditions and autoimmune diseases (7). Ways to reduce stress levels can include activities like yoga, meditation and journaling.
To wrap up, there are a multitude of ways through which we can boost our immune system. These include both ways of managing the fluids we intake into our body and other practices to improve our overall health, physical and mental. Never forget the obvious starting points of eating your 5 a day as well as avoiding too many salt and fatty foods but also check that you are following these steps and others too. Also be sure to see health professionals if you have any questions about specific health conditions that may impact the immune system.