Having a healthy, well-functioning immune system is critical today as we face a global pandemic. Our immune system is our internal defence against foreign invaders, such as viruses, which can cause infection. It is comprised of various organs and cells that work together to protect us against germs that we are exposed to on a daily basis.
The overall strength of our immune system is a determinant of not only whether we’ll contract an infection, but also how well we recover.
Following good hygiene by washing hands frequently and thoroughly and practicing social distancing is vital during a pandemic, however there are other measures that we can adopt to support our immune system.
Vitamins C is essential for proper functioning of the immune system, particularly the white blood cells. Vitamin C levels may be lower among smokers, alcoholics, those under stress and picky eaters. Certain medications, such as birth control pills, steroids and diuretics can also deplete vitamin C. Some of the best food sources include bell peppers, citrus, strawberries and dark leafy greens. If these foods are not part of your daily diet or you are at risk of deficiency consider a supplement. Look for a supplement that contains buffered vitamin C, such as Ester-C, which is easily absorbed, gentle on the stomach and clinically researched.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in helping the immune system identify viruses and bacteria. A deficiency can increase risk of getting infections and studies have found that the supplements can help in the prevention. Our body makes some vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. You can also obtain a small amount of vitamin D by eating mushrooms, fatty fish and egg yolks. During the winter months and in times where it is not possible to get natural sunlight a quality vitamin D supplement is highly recommended.
Echinacea and Elderberry have broad antiviral properties making them helpful for prevention and management of respiratory infections. These products can also help shorten the duration and severity of symptoms of viral respiratory infections. Look for products that are backed by clinical research, such as Echinaforce and Sambucol. Both are safe for children 2 years and above.
Probiotics provide the body with beneficial bacteria that play an important role in immune health: they help strengthen the gut barrier; increase resistance to infections; support digestion; and improve the absorption of nutrients from food. Foods such as kefir, yogurt, and yogurt drinks provide some beneficial bacteria, but it is difficult to get a consistent amount of probiotics. Plus, there are many factors that deplete or upset the balance of your beneficial bacteria, such as stress, smoking, antibiotics and antacids. Supplements can be taken to help support your gut and immune health. Look for a product that has clinically studied strains, such as Kyo-Dophilus. This supplement is also stable at room temperature so it doesn’t require refrigeration.
Reduce Stress. High levels of stress, as well as the things people do when they are stressed (smoke, drink alcohol and eat junk food) can reduce immune function and increase susceptibility to infections. Stress can also have a negative impact on gut health and upset the balance of beneficial bacteria. Regular, moderate-intensity exercises such as brisk walking and biking are great ways to relieve stress while also supporting your immune health and digestion.
Get adequate sleep. Having less than 6 hours of sleep at night can reduce activity of immune cells and increase risk of getting colds/flu. Make your bedroom dark, quiet and cool and avoid using electronics before bed. Keep the hour before bed a time for relaxing activities such as yoga, reading and deep breathing.
Minimize sugar. Eating a diet high in sugar can weaken the immune system and in particular it can hamper the ability of white blood cells to fight infection. We get naturally occurring sugars from eating fruit. Avoid the extra sugar, such as soft drinks, candy, cookies and other baked goods. Consider alternative sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia.
Avoid alcohol. Consuming a high amount of alcohol (more than 4 drinks) can impair immune function by reducing the function of the immune cells. Low-moderate intake of antioxidant-rich beverages, such as a glass of wine a day has the opposite impact. So choose your beverages wisely and drink in moderation.
Following these tips will benefit your immune system and your overall health.