The current worldwide crisis over Covid-19 has had many of us searching for ways to keep healthy. We’re all taking the recommended advice about washing our hands regularly and thoroughly, self-isolating, and avoiding touching our faces. But is there anything we can be doing to help our bodies fight off viruses and flu? Here, we’ll discuss tips to help your immune system – an intricate and complex network with numerous components – explaining why it could be a good idea to integrate these easy steps into your routine.
The workings of the immune system…
When our bodies come into contact with a new germ, firstly it has to bypass numerous barriers and defences such as mucus and microbes. When these disease-causing germs, called antigens, enter the body, the immune system is alerted of an attack and white blood cells (the cells of the immune system) produce antibodies that bind with these harmful cells — antibodies have a specific binding site that can only match up with each individual cell. Our immune system is incredibly smart, and when an antibody has been created to fight off a disease, it will be remembered for life, quickening our body’s response and providing immunity. However, our immune system also has some blind spots, where they might not recognise certain antigens, or those that have evolved sneaky evasion strategies.
If you get the flu vaccine and are exposed to the flu afterwards, your body will recognise and immediately fight it off. However, as the flu virus mutates every year, you need a vaccine every year. The same goes for the common cold — ever wondered why you catch it a few times a year and don’t become immune?
This concept is what drove the UK’s initial herd immunity strategy, where enough people would get mildly ill to become immune and the outbreak will fizzle out on its own. So, that brings us to the next section — what can we do to help our immune system stay healthy and improve its ability to help the body recover?
Is diet important?
Don’t ever underestimate the effect that a healthy diet has on your body and immune system. Self-isolating and staying indoors often leads to boredom, and boredom often leads to eating. We know that it can be easy slipping into an unhealthy comfort food diet, especially when there’s nothing else to do, but this won’t be doing any good for your immune system.
Eat more fruit and veg — trick those sugar cravings by switching out a chocolate bar for a clementine or satsuma. Nutritionists advise to eat five different coloured fruits and vegetables to get all the nutrients you need. These can be dried, frozen, and canned. A diverse diet helps your gut flora, which has a symbiotic relationship with our health, such as fibre, yoghurt, and fermented foods.
Proteins are good too, which doesn’t have to be a joint of beef or a roast chicken. Cheap tins of beans and legumes are available and can provide big portions. Plus, they keep longer, so you’d need to venture out to the shops a lot less.
Could a supplement help?
Evidence suggests that there are vitamins and supplements that reduce the chances of contracting a respiratory virus by 42 per cent and reduce the time a person is ill from a respiratory virus, which is what Covid-19 causes.
Scientific research has found that a health supplement like vitamin D3 regulates the immune system and adapts immune responses, supporting healthy immune function against disease. A randomised trial found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the contraction of influenza A, and low levels of vitamin D are correlated with frequently catching colds and flu.
Similarly, vitamin C is great for your immune system. An essential micronutrient, it is a strong antioxidant that contributes to immune defence and supports barrier functions against germs. Remember — don’t take health supplements as a replacement to eating well. You’ve got to do both for it to be effective and to stay healthy.
To be immunologically fit, you must be physically fit. Exercises keeps your blood flow mobilising, which is home to your white blood cells. The NHS advises that adults should do around 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, such as hiking, gardening, and cycling. For older people who are more vulnerable to Covid-19, any exercise possible is better than nothing. Don’t strain yourself and don’t meet with others — take a breather from staying at home and have a walk by yourself or do some gardening outside.
Not only is exercise good for our bodies, but good for our mind too. It’s well established that exercise reduces stress, which helps your immune system in tip top condition.
So, there we have some tips on how to keep your immune system healthy during the outbreak of coronavirus. Understanding why these factors are important is key to integrating them into your lifestyle.