With increasing reports of the pandemic causing serious complications for people with a compromised immune system, health optimisation has become more instrumental than ever before. In addition to WHO’s recommended protocols, such as social distancing and regular hand washing to limit the spread of infection, we need to find ways to strengthen the immune system.
Dr Priyanka Vaidya, our GP with a specialist interest in preventative medicine, has suggested some simple lifestyle measures which you can incorporate into your daily routine to kick your immunity back in gear.
Reduce sugar and processed food consumption
“Sugary drinks and snacks cause inflammation in the body. Whilst attempting to reduce the inflammation, the immune system can become dysregulated and dysfunctional. This can result in it not functioning properly when faced with viruses and bacteria. Due to this, Type 2 diabetes is found to be a significant risk factor in patients with Covid-19.
“Similarly, processed foods are laden with chemicals which can also trigger inflammation in the body, causing strain on the immune system in the same way as sugary foods. If we want to boost our immune systems, we should aim to reduce these foods to keep our bodies free from inflammation.
Increase intake of vegetables
“Vegetables, especially green vegetables, are filled with phytonutrients and antioxidants which aid the immune system in setting up its defence against harmful pathogens. Green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and rocket, can be added to salads, stews or smoothies and should be consumed on a daily basis to ensure our immune system can function correctly.
Increase prebiotics and probiotics in your diet
“A commonly forgotten fact is that 80 percent of our immune system resides in our gut, regulated by millions of bacteria living in the digestive tract. Prebiotics are a special form of fibre which provide healthy nutrients to our gut bacteria, ensuring that our immune system is healthy. Incorporating prebiotics, such as Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions and broccoli, is a key step to ward off inflammation and infection.
“Probiotics help restore the balance of good gut bacteria meaning that they strengthen our immune system further. This can either be in the form of probiotic supplements, which are available in health shops, or in the form of fermented foods such as yoghurt, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut and kefir.
Incorporate supplements in your daily routine
“On top of healthy eating habits, there are some supplements that can further improve our resilience to viruses and bacteria. Some of them can actually be found in your kitchen cabinet, including ginger, garlic, turmeric, black pepper and rosemary.
“Other supplements include Vitamin D, Vitamin C, zinc, antiviral herbs such as olive leaf extract, fish oil and medicinal mushrooms to name a few.
“It’s common knowledge that partaking in regular exercise is great for the body, it helps us to maintain a healthy weight and improves our cardiovascular efficiency. However, regular exercise also strengthens our immune system as it reduces inflammation in the body, making it easier for us to fight off harmful microbes. Exercise also promotes immune system surveillance, which means that our immune system becomes more efficient at spotting any threat from incoming pathogens.
“We are currently allowed to leave our homes to exercise so try jogging, cycling or going for a brisk walk around your local area. For those who are self-isolating completely, try out a home workout routine in your living room or garden. There are many free online resources to workout at home, I would suggest the 7 Minute Workout app as it provides a great combination of aerobic conditioning and resistance training workouts.
Get enough rest
“Ensuring that we get enough sleep is perhaps the most important lifestyle adjustment as it is directly linked to boosting our immune system. When we sleep the body produces proteins called cytokines which target inflammation and infection in the body. If you aren’t getting enough rest, the body won’t be producing enough cytokines for your immune system to function correctly.
“Also, during sleep our body undergoes a clearing process where all the used immune cells are discarded and newer, better functioning cells are produced.
“If you struggle to fall asleep cutting out caffeine from your diet, keeping the bedroom free of any technological gadgets, practising calming mindfulness exercises and lowering the temperature of your bedroom are all simple yet effective methods to help you drift off.
“Stress can not only impact our mental health but also our physical health. When we feel stressed, cortisol is released which triggers inflammation in the body and reduces the proper functioning of our immune cells, increasing the likelihood of illness.
“If you are feeling stressed, try relaxation techniques, such as mediation and yoga, as they efficiently lower our blood pressure and heart rate, making us feel calmer. Practising relaxation techniques ensures that the immune system can function correctly. Pocket Yoga is a great app for both beginners and advanced yogis to be able to practice at home.
Drink plenty of water
“Dehydration negatively impacts the function of the heart, liver and digestive system, meaning that the body isn’t working as efficiently as it should. By drinking plenty of water, we are ensuring that our vital organs can work to full capacity, making us less susceptible to illness.
“Unless you have a medical condition which requires restriction of fluid intake, you should aim to drink six- eight glasses, or 1.2 litres, of water a day. If you are struggling to drink this much, a simple trick is to write the time of day down the side of your reusable water bottle so that you know to drink up to a certain line of the bottle by that time. This ensures that you can spread out the amount into small sips throughout the day and is an easy way to show you if you are on track for your target.
“If you are feeling unwell and struggling with your immune system, we would always recommend discussing your concerns with a GP who will be able to advise on the best next steps for you. However, if you believe you may have Covid-19, you should not visit your GP or local hospital. Instead, you should self-isolate for seven days and use the NHS 111 online service or call 111 if you do not have access to the internet.”
If you are struggling to get an appointment with your NHS GP, at Pall Mall Medical we offer private appointments with GPs and Consultants, such as Dr Priyanka Vaidya, via telephone and video call.
You can book an appointment by calling 03300 58 44 55.