As the world recovers from the pandemic, it’s easy to lapse back into old habits, but if we want to stay healthy there are lessons learnt from covid that we should still carry with us. Flus and other bugs are back on the rise after two years of minimal contact and mixing, but while we can’t actually change our immune system, there are things we can do to strengthen it.
Dr Mitra Dutt is a GP and consultant doctor at Lloyds Pharmacy online. She tells YOU: ‘Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to boost immunity. Technically, we can’t boost our immune system, but we can strengthen it so it runs efficiently to fight off disease.
‘Essentially, the immune system is a defence system in the body that helps protect us against bacteria, viruses, parasites and other types of germs. These defences include our skin and the mucous membranes in our nose, mouth, ears, eyes, and more.’
How to strengthen your immune system
Vitamin D is key
The best source of vitamin D is also totally free – so get out in the sunshine as much as you can, with the right SPF protection, of course.
You can also get vitamin D through your diet. Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart PhD is a medical writer and researcher at Kings College London. She says mushrooms are another great way to boost vitamin D, and overall immunity. She says: ‘Mushrooms are high in beta glucans – natural substances that have been found to help ‘prime’ our immune system, making sure it’s ready for action to fight off bugs and germs. Certain types of mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake are especially rich in the most powerful beta glucans, so getting a daily dose of these mushrooms could be beneficial at times when we need extra support. A recent study found that maitake mushrooms have a protective effect against the flu virus and reduced cold symptoms, so it’s worth adding a dose of maitake to your health regime.
Keep washing those hands
While we may not need to sanitise every five minutes anymore, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of general hygiene. It’s still wise to keep sanitiser at hand for those times out and about where you may not be able to wash your hands straight away. Regular hand washing helps to remove dirt, viruses and bacteria and wearing a face covering helps prevent particles passing through to your mouth or nose.
This is particularly important if you’re travelling this summer on an aeroplane when you’re likely to be in close contact with others and their germs for hours at a time.
You are what you eat
Dr Dutt says: ‘Following a healthy lifestyle is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system working effectively. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies.
‘I know it can feel like doctors never stop talking about the necessity of a healthy diet, but right now, it really is paramount. A healthy diet fuels your body with all the macronutrients and micronutrients needed to support your immune system.’
‘Ensuring you’re up to date with all your vaccines is particularly important,’ says Dr Dutt. ‘By this, I mean vaccines like MMR that are part of your NHS vaccination schedule, as well as seasonal ones like the flu vaccine, and of course the coronavirus vaccination.’
Treat your gut
British Heart Foundation dietician Victoria Taylor says: ‘Although research is still in its early stages, a healthy gut microbiome – the range of bacteria and other organisms in your intestine – has also been linked to a role in our immune system. The best way to achieve this is to have a wide variety of high-fibre plant-based foods like fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.’
Fermented foods like live yoghurt or kefir might also be helpful. Try adding an extra portion of vegetables to your main meal, and try to eat more pulses. As well as helping to support your immune system, eating this way can help you feel better, and is great for your heart health too.
Sleep and immunity are interconnected, and inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness.
Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity, so try these timesaving hacks to enable you to sleep in a little longer every day without compromising your style.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from phones, TVs and computers can disrupt your circadian rhythm, its natural wake-sleep cycle.