Public health has been at the forefront of our minds for month now due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While there still isn’t a vaccine to protect you from coronavirus, there are many steps you can take to ensure your immune system is healthy. Since March, there have been self-isolation rules in place, while we were also told to not touch our faces and wash our hands at every chance we get. But what about giving our bodies a chance to fight off viruses and flu? The intricate and complex network with numerous components that is our immune system needs our help to ensure it’s as healthy as possible.
So what can we do to help? Here, we take a look.
How does my immune system work?
So, how does it actually work? When our bodies encounter a new germ, it must 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 were to be vaccinated against the flu and then were exposed to it, your body would recognise this and immediately start fighting 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 was the concept which drove the UK’s initial herd immunity strategy. This is 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?
Have a healthy diet
You should never underestimate what role a healthy diet plays in keeping your body and immune system in good condition. 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.
Make sure you eat plenty of 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 also good. It doesn’t have to be a joint of beef or a roast chicken, either. 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.
Take health supplements
Evidence suggests that certain vitamins and supplements can lower the chances of contracting a respiratory virus by 42 per cent. This can also lower the time a person is ill from a respiratory virus, which is what Covid-19 causes.
Scientific research has discovered that vitamin D3 regulates your immune system, adapting immune responses and supporting a healthy immune function against diseases. 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 choice to help boost 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.
Get enough exercise
To keep your immune system at its peak, 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.
Exercise isn’t just good for our bodies, but it is good for our mind as well. It’s well established that exercise reduces stress, which helps your immune system in tip top condition.
So, there are some top tips to ensure your immune system is healthy at all times, especially during the outbreak of coronavirus. It’s important to understand why these things are good for you so you remember to enforce them.
Baeke, F., Takiishi, T., Korf, H., Gysemans, C. and Mathieu, C., 2010. Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Current opinion in pharmacology, 10(4), pp.482-496.
Urashima, M., Segawa, T., Okazaki, M., Kurihara, M., Wada, Y. and Ida, H., 2010. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(5), pp.1255-1260.
Carr, A.C. and Maggini, S., 2017. Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11), p.1211.