We all know how annoying it is to come down with a heavy cold - spending all day blocked up and sneezing and not being able to settle off at night isn’t any fun for anyone. This year, on top of battling through cold and flu season, there’s now the added worry of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) as the number of cases in the UK continues to rise.
In its official advice, which includes information on how to prevent the spread of the virus, the government confirms coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with a weakened immune system so it’s important to do all you can to keep yours healthy.
What does your immune system do?
Your immune system is made up of cells, organs, proteins and antibodies which work together to protect you against bacteria, viruses and parasites by releasing white blood cells and other chemicals which help to flush out the invader - this is what can make you feel feverish or snotty.
How to keep your immune system healthy
Your immune system can become worn down by a combination of stress, toxins and poor diet which prevent it from being able to fight off sickness. With this in mind, here are some top tips for keeping your immune system healthy to give you the best chance of staying fit and well.
When you’re stressed, you produce higher levels of a hormone called cortisol which prepares your body for an emergency. While this state of high alert helps you deal with highly stressful situations, it also depresses your immune system leaving you more susceptible to colds and viruses - try to regularly practise an activity that relaxes you such as yoga, meditation, reading or walking.
2. Get enough sleep
When you’re sleep deprived, your body is less able to produce and release a type of protein called cytokines which target infection and inflammation while you rest at night. The less sleep you get, the less able your body is to respond to colds and viruses. Getting the right amount of sleep is, therefore, crucial - aim for 7-9 hours of sleep to give your body the support it needs.
3. Get your vitamins on board
Another key cause of a weak immune system is a poor diet which doesn’t provide you with the vitamins you need. There are a number of essential vitamins which support normal immune function that you need to make sure you’re getting enough of - here are a few of the most important:
Vitamin C has long been associated with preventing colds and stimulates the production of white blood cells which fight infection. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant which means it fights unstable atoms called free radicals that can cause illness, making it one of the best nutrients to consume if you want to stay healthy.
Top sources of vitamin C
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges and kumquats
- Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries
- Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Green and red peppers
- Vitamin C supplements
Vitamin E is another essential nutrient which can help to keep you fit and well. Much like vitamin C, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to help your body remove any harmful bacteria and viruses. If you don’t get enough vitamin E, you can become more prone to infections so make sure you consume some of the sources listed below.
Top sources of vitamin E
- Nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts and brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Red sweet pepper
- Vitamin E supplements
Vitamin D also plays a key role in helping your immune system, as demonstrated by a major global study into its role in reducing the risk of colds, flu and other dangerous infections. Often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, you can get your daily dose of vitamin D from sunshine in the warmer months but a lack of it during the winter months can increase your chance of getting ill so it may be best to take a supplement to keep your levels topped up.
Top sources of vitamin D
- Oily fish, such as sardines and mackerel
- Red meat, such as steak
- Egg yolks
- Vitamin D supplements
Another nutrient which helps your body to fight off illness and infection is Vitamin A. As well as protecting your body and maintaining a healthy immune system, vitamin A is also crucial for vision and growth to keep you fit and healthy so it’s important to get the recommended amount on board.
Top sources of vitamin A
- Milk and yoghurt
- Oily fish, such as sardines and mackerel
- Leafy greens, such as spinach
- Vitamin A supplements
Staying fit and well
While reducing stress, getting enough sleep and taking your vitamins won’t necessarily stop every cold and virus, committing to these practices, alongside a healthy amount of exercise and plenty of water, will give your body the best chance of preventing and successfully fighting off anything harmful that comes your way.
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