As your body’s first line of defence, your immune system plays a crucial role in protecting your health by fighting against foreign viruses and bacteria. When attacked, your immune system triggers a response and releases antibodies to attach to foreign substances and remove them.
While you can reduce your risk of against foreign diseases (like the flu) by getting vaccinated, there are also other ways to boost your immunity. In this blog, we’ve outlined five ways you can strengthen your immune response today, and reduce your risk of catching anything in the next cold & flu season.
Five ways to boost your immune system
1. Maintain a proper diet
Your diet has a direct effect on your health, the majority of your minerals, vitamins, fibres and antioxidants comes from your diet and lifestyle — all things needed for a healthy immune system.
A proper diet includes:
- Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, we recommend five servings of fruit and vegetables daily as a minimum. There are many beneficial minerals and vitamins found in fruits and vegetables that boost immunity and fight infections. But be sure not to overcook them, or you will lose their nutritional value (such as vitamin C and folates, which can degenerate by excessive cooking).
- Try avoiding refined sugar (in sweets or junk food). There has been experimental evidence that found these to decrease immunity and increase susceptibility to infection.
- Avoid alcohol (especially binges), as increased intake can weaken your immune system too.
- Try not to smoke. Smoking harms your whole body, including your immune system as it tries to fight off the inflammation and damage caused by tobacco. So chest infections are more common in those who smoke than those who don’t.
2. Regular exercise
Physical activity has been found to help boost immunity too. In fact, regular and moderate exercise helps to improve all areas of your health.
Taking 45 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times a week would be sufficient to help your immune system. But be careful as you should not overdo it. Prolonged heavy physical training can cause stress and weaken your immune system, as well as cause harm to your health. If you are feeling unwell, listen to your body. Exercising while ill can be harmful, the lethargy you experience during illness actually helps the body to divert resources to combat the sickness.
3. Take supplements
Supplements can be taken to increase your deficiency in specific vitamins and minerals, but you should never consider them as a substitute for a healthy diet. Several supplements have been shown to improve immunity:
- There have been large numbers of studies that show vitamin C and an immune stimulant, antioxidant and antiviral agent. As your body cannot produce this vitamin, it’s crucial that you get it from your diet or supplements. Taking regular vitamin C will help decrease the severity of viral illnesses if you catch one (however, excessive vitamin C can cause diarrhoea and people with kidney disease should consult a doctor first).
- Cod Liver Oil. This supplement is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D, all of which can boost your immunity (again, excessive dosage can be harmful, don’t take more than 8,000 units of vitamin A a day if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant).
- The most popular supplement is the Echinacea herb (aka purple coneflower), which can stimulate the body’s immune system and decrease inflammation. For proper dosage it’s best to consult the instructions that come with your specific brand.
- There are also some extracts of mushrooms that may help strengthen immunity, the most widely known being the lion's mane mushroom. This mushroom is packed with antioxidants to help immunity strength.
All these supplements mentioned are readily available at Mannings, Watsons and other health shops. Doses are written on the packaging, but if in doubt, consult your GP or a nutritionist.
4. Good personal hygiene
One of the most effective ways to prevent illness is to maintain good personal hygiene. By following the precautions recommended by the HK government, you can stop the infection before it enters your body and avoid spreading it to others. Here’s what you should do:
- Washing your hands properly before preparing food and after bathroom use.
- Contain the germ spreading my coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve.
- Don’t pick at healing wounds or blemishes. Doing so allows germs to enter.
- Take caution in cooking. Separate raw food from cooked food to avoid cross contamination.
Viruses and bacteria can easily enter the body through your eyes, mouth and nose. Especially after touching public installations or equipment (public transport, handrails, elevator buttons, door knobs), which can quickly gather germs from many people using it. So remember to wash your hands before touching your eyes, mouth and nose. If you’re feeling unwell, you should seek assistance from a medical professional.
5. Reduce stress
It should be no surprise that stress can be bad for your health. Recent research has shown that psychological stress can unbalance the immune system, making it less efficient at dealing with viral illnesses.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid stress these days with so many competing demands for your time and attention (most of which we have little control over). But try to set aside some time each day to relax deeply, this can be listening to your favourite music or playing your favourite board game. Switch off your mobile phone, don’t read the paper, don’t talk about current affairs or listen to the news during this time. It’s also recommended to take plenty of sleep.
Need more help?
Although we don’t understand all of the factors that decide how any individual responds to a particular infection, the efficiency of an individuals’ immune system is one, if not the most crucial factor. Taking the above measures may help to improve your immune response and decrease the severity of any viral illness.
If you’re unsure about what to do next, you can talk to our practitioners at OT&P who can help set up a nutrition plan for you.