Kate Byng-Hall looks into some great natural and nutritious ways to help boost your immune system in the fight against coronavirus. | Health and Nutrition
Photo by Zamani Sahudi
The immune system is the biological barrier which operates within our bodies to protect us from threatening foreign substances, cells, and tissues by triggering an immune response.
As the pandemic virus Covid-19 gets increasingly closer to home, and with over 10,000 people dead globally from the disease this year, a healthy immune system is essential to prevent the virus becoming serious if you contract it.
What we consume can have a significant impact on the strength of our immune systems. Certain foods contain high levels of substances such as Vitamins C and E, zinc, and antioxidants which contribute to the development of our immune responses.
If you can manage to find any of these items in the shops, then their chemical and mineral properties could help to keep your immune system strong:
Citrus fruits e.g. oranges and grapefruit
Red bell peppers
Ginger – this can also help with sore throats
Papaya – one papaya provides 224% of the daily recommended vitamin C intake
All of these foods should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet – equilibrium in what we consume is what promotes health.
Even though self-isolation might tempt you to drown your sorrows, consuming alcohol in excess can impair the immune system, so drink in moderation.
Getting plenty of sleep is a must in order to allow your body time to develop the proteins it needs to fight infections. Adults should aim to be getting 7-9 hours’ sleep every night. Research has shown that just one night of poor sleep can reduce your immune cells by as much as 70%, so make sure to get enough shut-eye.
Smokers have an increased risk of catching infections and suffering severe complications from them because smoke inhalation compromises the immune system. Smoking is doubly inadvisable in relation to Covid-19 because the virus is especially risky for people with respiratory complications which smoking inevitably give you.
A positive change you can make is to incorporate regular exercise into your self-isolation lifestyle through walks or indoor workouts. You can find loads of guided programmes via online videos or exercise apps. Physical exercise can reduce inflammation and supports infection-fighting cells.
The endorphins released during exercise also help in stress-reduction, a key way to protect your immune system. Staying relaxed in this stressful time may seem difficult, but experiment with different activities to find the stress-busting methods which best suit you. Some ideas include walking, gardening, reading, yoga, and painting, as well as staying in contact with loved-ones.
Can We Really Boost Our Immune Systems?
It can be easy to presume that taking vitamin supplements can be a quick-fix to boost our immune systems. However, researchers at Harvard University argue that taking supplements only boost immunity in people who were initially malnourished.
"Unfortunately, the reality is that those kinds of products aren't really offering you any benefit," says Michael Starnbach, a professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School. "There's no evidence that they help in fighting disease."
In fact, consuming a large number of vitamin supplements can be so dangerous that it can lead to headaches and dizziness, or, in extreme cases, organ damage.
The immune system is incredibly complex, made up of hundreds of different types of cells performing specific tasks. We should not try to interfere with this.
The safest way for us to protect ourselves against coronavirus is to stick to a healthy, balanced diet, and not to follow any health crazes in excess.
In the coming weeks and months, the best way to protect ourselves is to wash our hands regularly and stick to social-distancing measures. See the World Health Organisation’s advice here, and government guidelines here.
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