There is a lot of talk about the immune system these days, with good reason. It is a complex and intelligent defense system capable of discerning microscopic enemies to our health and constructing an appropriate defense against them. When it fails to do either, people get sick and even die. So, it is indeed worthy of our attention.
Manmade attempts to “help” the immune system through antibiotics and vaccines have proven effective in controlling and even eradicating some diseases: Polio, smallpox, measles, mumps and the flu among them. It is hoped that this list will soon include COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
In the meantime, here are five simple things we can do to support the immune system.
Manage stress. Stress decreases the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower our white blood cell count, the more at risk we are for everything from the common cold to the coronavirus. Deep breathing, mindfulness and exercise can help bring down the stress hormones.
Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, throughout the day. Water flushes toxins and ensures that our cells get all the oxygen they need to function as they were meant to. It also helps produce lymph. Lymph carries immune cells throughout the body to the places they are most needed.
Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a time of restoration for the body, during which a special protein (cytokine) is released that fights infection. Too little sleep lowers the amount of these proteins and increases your chances of getting sick.
Eat a healthy diet. Eat your veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats. Without them, your immune defenses grow weak. Some nutrients that have been identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells include vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron and protein (including the amino acid glutamine). They are found in a variety of plant and animal foods.
Take a multivitamin. Supplements should not be considered a substitute for a good diet, but they can help fill the gaps. When you are choosing a supplement, ask: Does it provide the recommended dietary allowances (RDA)? Is it in a form my body can tolerate (for example, if you have trouble swallowing pills, look for a liquid or an isotonic form)?
Do those five things in addition to the basics: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Socially distance. And always check with your health professional before making diet and lifestyle changes.