WITH flu season on the horizon and the continuing threat of COVID-19, Kyabram Regional Clinic’s Dr Priyatharshini Jayakulasingham has provided some tips to help ensure your immune system stays as healthy as possible.
The immune system is our first line of defence against infections and diseases. Different organs, cells and proteins form this system to protect the body.
And what a remarkable body we have – from the moment a child is born, it must be able to defend itself from a world full of germs.
These germs – bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites – are fought by the innate immune system. This innate immune system is what we are born with. It includes the skin, corneas, and mucous membranes – all of which form a physical barrier to block these germs.
Special cells of this system called phagocytes are able to surround, engulf and eliminate the threat.
When we are exposed to germs, with the help of the innate immune system certain cells in our bodies are able to make antibodies to protect us from any future exposure to that specific germ.
This is called the acquired/adaptive immune system.
As we age, this system also changes, and immunisations play a vital role in training the body to develop antibodies to protect itself from harmful diseases.
Times are changing, and the world of germs is getting trickier to handle.
So, what can we do to help our body's soldiers fight the good fight?
Here are some ways to help boost your immune system:
● Don’t smoke
Smoking and the effects of tobacco counteract the immune system. They aid the germs by damaging various organs and systems and increasing the chances of developing infections such as pneumonia. They also slow the body's ability to recover, and as a result give the perfect medium for the germs to multiply and cause greater harm. Smoking and the effects of tobacco also increase the risk of developing various chronic health conditions that can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of other infections.
It is a vicious cycle that weakens the immune system.
There are effective pharmacotherapies for the treatment of tobacco dependence, such as nicotine replacement therapies and other medications such as Champix and Buproprion.
See your general practitioner for advice on what is appropriate for you.
● Exercise regularly
You do not need to train for a marathon or a triathlon, but regular moderate physical activity is crucial for healthy living.
Studies have shown that exercise enhances the immune system. Over time, regular exercise improves blood sugar levels, cholesterol, reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases and reduces the effects of the chronic diseases on the body.
● Sleep well
Sleep is a silent warrior against germs, and studies have shown that lack of sleep can negatively impact your immune system.
More sleep may not enhance your immunity but less sleep definitely does not help it.
Sleep rests your mind, and during that time your body is able to rebuild and recover.
If you have less sleep, your mental and physical recovery will not take place or will not be at its best. This in turn makes your body more susceptible to infections and illnesses, and can lead to a mind that is not able to fully focus or cope with stress.
● Eat healthily and maintain a balanced diet
Make your plate colourful with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.
Fresh produce like spinach, broccoli, garlic, ginger, berries and citrus fruits are full of important nutrients that enhance the immune system.
Avoid sugar as high sugar intake has been shown to suppress the immune system.
Water is your best friend, so keep well hydrated.
● Minimise stress/anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in Australia, and it can negatively impact the immune system.
The current pandemic and its impact on our daily lives and economy is challenging to say the least.
Commit yourself to de-stressing activities like breathing exercises, mediation or listening to music.
If ongoing news or social media adds to your stress, limit your usage.
Access only trusted sources for information like the Australian Government Department of Health website, or the World Health Organization website.
Declutter your life and declutter your mind.
Regular exercise, staying organised, balancing your negative thoughts with realistic thoughts are some ways to cope with our worries.
Check on your friends and loved ones – reach out and support one another in these challenging times. Stay engaged and stay connected with the people in your lives who are meaningful.
Most of all, remember to keep looking forward to things and maintain short-term and long-term goals.
There are apps, websites and helplines for professional advice.
But understand that asking for help is one of the hardest and most rewarding steps.
See your friendly general practitioner and they can refer you to various avenues to help tackle stress and anxiety.
● Vitamins and minerals
Certain vitamins – A, D, E, B6, B12, folate and C – and trace elements zinc, selenium, copper and iron, are necessary for normal immune function.
And remember: the best way to stop the spread of germs is by practising good hand hygiene and social distancing.
If we focus on our mind, body and soul, we can fight the world of germs.
— Dr Priyatharshini Jayakulasingham, Kyabram Regional Clinic