Practical Tips To Help Boost Your Immune System

While many people may be feeling a little stressed in this evolving COVID-19 ‘atmosphere’, it is so important for everyone’s psychological health to be kind, remain vigilant and be as calm as you can. This too shall pass!

In the current climate, we thought it would be apt to do a little more research on this subject and pass it onto you: Our readers.

What exactly is your immune System

Your Immune System is your body’s first and foremost line of defence. It is comprised of a network of tissues, cells, and organs that work to keep out germs ie bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. If they manage to invade our body, it senses and triggers the release of special cells. These travel to where the trouble is, attack the intruder, and help get rid of it.

What else can I do to boost my immunity at this time?

Today we look at some practical advice and give you tips to help strengthen your immune system and help protect yourself and your loved ones from sickness.

  1. EAT THE RIGHT FOODS TO SUPPORT IMMUNITY

As we are spending more time at home, (well, many of us are), it is the perfect opportunity to experiment and maybe try a few immune-boosting recipes. (They will certainly be coming after this post). In fact, why not get the whole family involved and help create a week’s worth of meals that will help support your immunity?

As there is no vaccine available YET, we certainly should be doing everything we can to bolster our immune systems in any way we can. 

It has been well documented that people are especially more vulnerable to viruses and infections when they are not getting the right nutrients to fight them.

WHICH NUTRIENTS

We all know about ‘superfoods‘ and that certain nutrients can alter and aid cellular function and thus support our immunity.

These specific nutrients are found in higher and more stable quantities in particular foods. These nutrients are Vitamins A, B, C & D, zinc, iron and phytonutrients with an antioxidant role like beta carotene, selenium and copper.

Research has shown that people with deficiencies in these nutrients find it harder to recover from viruses.

  • Vitamin A is essential to the cells that line the mucosa in your lungs, nose and mouth. Without it, viruses have a better chance of getting through this first line of defence. University of Newcastle Professor Clare Collins likens it to:

“It’s like you have no front row in your football team. If you’re low in iron right at the time when you’re hit by a virus, you can’t ramp up, you can’t call on the back row to come and help the front row forwards.”

  • Iron: is essential for basic bodily function. It plays an essential role in cell growth and function but iron deficiency lurks in many people, especially women and children.
  • Zinc helps create and activate the white blood cells involved in the immune response and assists the immune system with healing. According to Professor Collins:

“It is required for making DNA and is often overlooked. You can’t make a new cell unless you have zinc.”

  • Phytonutrients have antioxidant properties which are also vitally important once a virus causes infection. During an infection, free radicals cause damage to the body. Professor Collins says:

“It’s like playing tennis when a machine that fires tennis balls is unexpectedly turned on. You’ve got to try and defend yourself or you’re going to get hurt,” she said. When there’s an infection in your body, free radicals punch through the walls of cells, making the contents of those cells leak and cause a metabolic mess that needs to be cleaned up.”

Phytonutrients have an antioxidant effect and can clean this mess up. 

  • Vitamin B-6 is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the immune system. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells.
  • Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to sweep the body of free radical damage which may help prevent or delay the onset of disease. Evidence has shown that it can decrease the length of symptoms as well. It is water-soluble and must come from the foods we eat on a daily basis. Vitamin C is also required by the body to aid in the absorption of iron.
  • Selenium: This antioxidant helps lower oxidative stress in your body, which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity. Studies have demonstrated that increased blood levels of selenium are associated with enhanced immune response.
  • Copper is a trace element and antioxidant that is crucial to our immune system. It has several functions in relation to our immunity. Put very simply, it acts like a vacuum cleaner to help clean up unwanted microorganisms and damaged cells.
  • Vitamin D: Research indicates that individuals who have lower levels of vitamin D are more likely to self-report upper respiratory tract symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose, or congestion, compared to individuals with adequate vitamin D levels. It is advisable to test your vitamin D level to make sure it is at an optimum.
THE BEST SOURCES OF THESE NUTRIENTS
  • Vitamin A: Cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk and yoghurt. Plant sources of vitamin A include yellow, orange and dark green vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach and broccoli.
  • Iron: Lean red meat, chicken and fish. Plant iron is found in beans and lentils. Iron can also be obtained from fortified breakfast cereal.
  • Zinc: Oysters and seafood. Vegetarians can get zinc from tofu, miso, legumes, wheat germ, wholegrain foods and nuts.
  • phytonutrients – that’s things like beta carotene, vitamin C, selenium, copper and riboflavin.”
  • Vitamin C: Sources include citrus fruits, mangoes, kiwi fruits, limes, strawberries, capsicum, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes.
  • Selenium: Mushrooms, brazil nuts, macadamia and hazelnuts, oysters, pork, beef, chicken and tofu.
  • Copper: oysters, lobster, spirulina, shiitake mushrooms, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, dark chocolate.
  • Vitamin D: The best source is a few minutes outdoors most days of the week. Food sources include salmon, sardines, egg yolk, prawns. The best vegan sources are fortified cereals, fortified soy milk, mushrooms, fortified orange juice and almond milk.

The recurring theme here is healthy, natural, basic foods, any edible food source that can be picked from a tree or out of the ground or that can be killed. Hunter-gatherer type foods. These are the superfoods which contain nutrients to help combat disease.

A WORD ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS

Some people might consider rushing out and buying supplements to get the vitamins and nutrients mentioned. According to Professor Collins:

“The problem with doing that is you can get your metabolism out of kilter,” she said, adding that greatly increasing the intake of one vitamin or nutrient could trigger a deficiency in another.

Also, you can ingest too much of a certain vitamin that way and create a toxicity.

Obtaining your nutrients predominantly from the right food sources, is one way of making sure you get them in proportional amounts.

Of course, there are other factors to consider when trying to boost our immunity, especially at this time. They include everyday preventive measures that have been well-publicized of late.

  1. HYGIENE & SOCIAL DISTANCING

These measures include washing our hands properly, using sanitiser, being ultra hygiene conscious and implementing social distance practices. This means avoiding public spaces where possible, curtailing social contact and keeping physical contact to a minimum. Here in Australia, we have not completely gone into ‘lockdown’ like many other countries – YET. 

We are also coming into the colder weather, which means – flu season. At lower temperatures, it is thought our bodies may produce fewer antiviral immune signals which leave us more vulnerable to infections. This is a time when according to University of Newcastle Professor Clare Collins people are

“… more likely to be hit harder by any sort of viral infection.” 

If you are able, please seriously consider getting the flu shot so that you do not have to contend with that as well as the COVID-19 virus.

  1. THIS IS WHY YOU NEED THE FLU SHOT

While the flu vaccine won’t help combat those with coronavirus, it could help indirectly, let me explain:

By getting vaccinated against the flu we are inadvertently helping relieve a hospital system already bogged down.

First, our valuable but exhausted health care workers are already burdened beyond belief coping with the current COVID-19 crisis, we certainly don’t want to be adding to that by catching those strains of flu that can be prevented.

Secondly, if people get their flu shots, fewer people come down with the flu and come into clinics with nonspecific symptoms such as fever and cough, which overlap with symptoms of COVID-19. And we know we don’t have enough test kits here to test everyone who presents with symptoms. Having fewer flu patients will make it easier to find patients with COVID-19.

And lastly, if you have the flu, your immune system is already severely challenged, adding another virus atop this is more likely to cause fatality.

We have included this excerpt below courtesy of healthdirect.com.au as it outlines some informative and valuable info for you to incorporate into your daily lives at this time.

  1. GET ADEQUATE SLEEP

Sleep is important for your immune system. Research shows that sleep-deprived people can have suppressed immunity, meaning that they’re more at risk of catching viruses.

If you feel worried or you are anxious (about COVID-19, for example), you’re more at risk of sleep problems such as insomnia. And if you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to be anxious.

So, if you’re reading this on your phone in bed right now, put the phone down — looking at a bright screen in the evening can disrupt your sleep. For more tips on having a good night in bed, go to our insomnia post here.

  1. CLEAN YOUR PHONE

As well as keeping you up at night, your phone may also transfer germs.

According to a new study, some viruses (including human coronaviruses that came before COVID-19) can remain infectious on surfaces for up to 9 days. So you should disinfect the ‘portable petri dish‘ that is your mobile phone regularly with a cleaning product that is 70% ethanol.

Another one to clean: Your handbag ladies, before you pop it up on the kitchen bench. While you’re at it, leave shoes at the door/bottom of the stairs, keys in a bowl and wash your hands as you enter your domain.

  1. HAND HYGIENE

Washing your hands regularly with plenty of soap and water for at least 20 seconds — or using an alcohol-based hand rub if the soap isn’t available — is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19.

  1. SHOULD YOU WEAR A FACE MASK?

If you’re feeling anxious you might be considering wearing a face mask for protection. But face masks are not recommended for the general population. Only people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who are caring for a person with suspected (or confirmed) COVID-19 need to wear a disposable (surgical) face mask.

  1. HELP WHEN YOU’RE FEELING ANXIOUS

Fortunately, if you are feeling stressed or worried about the coronavirus (COVID-19), help is available. Speak to your GP or contact any of these organisations:

  • Beyond Blue offers mental-health counselling 24 hours a day on 1300 22 4636. You can also speak to someone via online chat (3pm to 12am, 7 days a week).
  • Children and young adults (up to age 25) can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 to speak with a counsellor, 24 hours a day. Online chat is also available 24/7.
  • Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 to speak with a trained mental health supporter, 24 hours a day. Online chat is available between 7pm and midnight (AEST), 7 days a week. You can also text 0477 13 11 14 between 6pm and midnight (AEST), 7 days a week.

Source: the World Health Organization (WHO)

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