Last updated: September 23, 2020
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
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A healthy immune system is your body’s natural defense against germs and viruses. Keeping your immune system healthy can mean the difference between a healthy winter and a serious illness. Check out 5 ways to nourish your immune system.
2020 has brought a ‘new normal’ filled with masks and hand sanitizer around the world. While the masses try to eliminate germs through any means possible, it is also important to consider your immune system.
We all want a strong immune system. The ability to ward off viruses and bacteria would not only help to avoid the inconvenience of sick days, but allow you to feel healthy.
With the world now living though a pandemic, ever sniff or sneeze can lead to feelings of panic. A simple cold could cause a loss of several days of school or work (sometimes both), so it is best to try and stay as healthy as possible.
Being vigilent with hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing are all great tools. However, it is also important to keep your immune system healthy to fight off unwanted germs.
How can I boost my immune system?
Many products may claim to have the ability to strengthen or ‘boost’ your immune system, however this is actually not possible.
Your immune system is either healthy or compromised-it can’t really be ‘strengthened’. However, if you have a compromised immune system you can take steps to make it as healthy as possible. The healthier the immune system, the better it is at fighting off unwanted viruses and bacteria in the body.
The reality is that your immune system is just that-a system. It is comprised of white blood cells, antibodies, lymph nodes and other components.
No one change can affect the system as a whole. Researchers are still learning the many intricacies involved in the immune system.
Autoimmune disorders can be mild to severe. They may be present at birth or the result of environmental factors such as:
- Some types of cancer
- Certain Medical Treatment
- Viral Hepatitis
Boosting a weak immune system with healthy habits has not yet been proven to be effective. Choosing healthy lifestyle habits can help to maintain your overall health. These healthy changes in turn will also benefit your immune system. This can especially be seen in the elderly, where nutrient deificiencies can be linked to a weaker immune response.
There are many health benefits to quitting smoking. In fact, it only takes 24 smoke-free hours to reduce your risk of heart attack.
Many are quitting smoking to as a response to the risk of COVID-19. There are no studies to show that smokers are more vulnerable to COVID-19. However, the behaviors associated with smoking or vaping may leave individuals at a higher risk. The act of smoking or vaping involves moving cigarettes or a vape pen from the hand to the mouth which may increase the risk of the virus entering the mouth.
While there is currently no evidence that the use of vape pens or e-cigarettes increases the effects of COVID-19 on the body, the use of cigarettes does. This is because smoking damages the lungs and makes it harder for the body to fight off respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19. Research also suggests that smoking increases the risk of developing severe symptoms as a result of COVID-19.
Quitting also smoking reduces your risk of certain cancers. It can also help your body to become better equipped at warding off coughs and colds.
This is because one of the first parts of your body to heal is the cilia in your lungs. The job of cilia is the keep the airway clear of dirt and mucus.
Many smokers notice they are coughing more often after quitting smoking. This is because the cilia is growing and starting to function normally again. Normal functioning cilia make it easier for your body to fight off colds and infections.
There are many other health benefits to quitting smoking. Quitting smoking improves circulation, increases your oxygen levels and decreases inflammation. All of these help your immune system to work better. This is an example of how while quitting smoking does not directly improve the immune system, it causes positive changes which benefit the immune system.
Quitting smoking can actually make you feel sick. It is important to know that the effects of nicotine withdrawl on the body can be intense and feel similar to the flu. However, it is important to know that these symptoms are temporary.
Eat Lots of Fruit and Vegetables
There are many health benefits to eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, especially for the immune system.
This is because eating a low-fat, plant based diet can have a positive effect on the body. The body relies on white blood cells to produce antibodies that help the body fight off viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that vegetarians produce more white blood cells as a result of a low-fat, plant-based diet.
Low-fat and Plant-based Diets are Encouraged
Limiting the fat in the diet can also help protect the immune system. Studies have shown a link between a low fat diet and a stronger immune system. There is also research that supports the thought that high-fat diets may alter the gut microbiota that aids the immune system.
Fruits and vegetables are often high in antioxidants which aid the immune system by reducing oxidative stress.
Foods high in beta-carotene such as carrots, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables are very healthy for your immune system. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that can support immune function by increasing disease-fighting cells in the body and reducing inflammation.
Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C which is required by some immune system cells in order to function properly. A lack of vitamin C in the diet can cause a reduced immune system function. Vitamin C does not boost the immune system. It is necessary for normal immune function. Vitamins C and E help support the body’s natural immune response by destroying free radicals. In addition to citrus fruits, sources of vitamin C include strawberries, red peppers, broccoli and mangoes.
While a healthy diet supports a healthy immune system, there are not any foods to consume to ‘boost’ your immune system. Many are seeking a miracle food or supplement to avoid contracting COVID 19. According to the Association of British Dieticians:
“No specific food or supplement will prevent you catching COVID-19/Coronavirus. Good hygiene practice remains the best means of avoiding infection.”
Don’t Drink to Excess
Most people are aware that drinking large amounts of alcohol is not good for the body, but less is known about its exact impact on the immune system. The University of Massachusetts Medical School performed a study where they examined how the white blood cells that defend the body against infection- monocytes – reacted to chemicals that mimic bacteria and viruses after being exposed to alcohol.
Half of the cells were exposed to levels of alcohol similar to a person who consumes four or five alcoholic drinks daily for a week.
Exposed cells only produced a quarter of their virus-fighting molecule type-1 interferon. In addition, when exposed to the bacteria-like chemical, the white blood cells also overproduced an inflammatory chemical which could lead to tissue damage.
Alcohol does not offer COVID-19 Protection
Drinking alcohol does not protect you from contracting COVID-19. In fact, its consumption is likely to increase the health risks associated with COVID-19. Heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome
(ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.
In fact, alcohol will effect almost every organ in the body, both in the short and long term. There is no safe limit for alcohol in the body and the risk of damage to the body increases with each alcoholic drink consumed.
Reducing the stress is your life can have many benefits to your physical and mental health. Excess stress is linked to anxiety, depression, a lower libido and an inability to climax.
While many are under increased stress due to the current pandemic, psychological stress on the body has been linked to decreased function of the immune system.
When the body is stressed, its ability to fight off antigens is reduced. In addition, when the stress hormone cortisol is released it can also suppress immune system function.
Many people may also turn to unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking while stressed which also inhibit the healthy function of the immune system.
While it is not always easy to de-stress, especially in such uncertain times, it is essential to your whole body health.
There are many ways in which you (and your family) can relax your body and your mind:
Take a walk in nature: Many trails and conservation areas offer paths that allow for physical distancing while exercising and getting fresh air. Exercise improves mental health by reducing depression, anxiety and negative feelings. Exercise can improve cognitive function and self-esteem.
Read a book: Reading has been shown to put the body into a state similar to meditation. This may be a great option for those who are unable to mediatate but want to experience its health benefits. Regular readers have lower stress levels, lower levels of anxiety, depression and are able to sleep better.
Call a friend: While COVID-19 calls for physical distancing and avoiding gatherings, it doesn’t mean a loss of social connection. Supportive social ties have a direct impact on your happiness, mental health and stress hormones. While you may not be able to physically get together with all of your friends and family, you can still maintain those relationships through phone calls, messages and video chats.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Many people struggling with their weight focus on the importance of looking good on the outside. Yet in reality the health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight are far more important.
Maintaining a healthy weight can not only help prevent your body from getting many diseases but can also help control these conditions.
A low-fat, plant-based diet can also support weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight. Plant-based diets can be effective for weight loss because they contain foods rich in fibre, which help fill you up without adding excess calories. A lower body mass index (BMI) has been linked with increased immune function.
According to The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, if you are overweight or obese you are at a higher risk of developing serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and certain cancers.
Avoid the Waiting Room
Now more than ever, it is important to have easy access to quality health care. Your Doctors Online is an all-in-one health care management tool that makes managing your family’s health easier than ever.
With Your Doctors Online you have 24 hour access to connect with real doctors from the comforts of home. This means you can have your health care questions answered and avoid the germs of the waiting room!
Your Doctors Online also offers a wide range of tools to make managing your family’s health simple and convenient. These include immunization management, insurance card storage, medication reminders and more.
Take a fresh approach to your family’s health with Your Doctors Online. Download our app today.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
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