7 tips on how to look after your immune system from a pharmacist

7 tips on how to look after your immune system from a pharmacist

The immune system is the body’s way of protecting itself from infection and disease, fighting everything from cold and flu viruses to serious conditions such as cancer. Abbas Kanani, superintendent pharmacist of Chemist Click, shares advice on the best ways to look after your immune system as flu activity peaks at this time of the year.

Immune boosting workouts

“Regular physical activity is important for the optimum function of the immune system. Moderate intensity running, cycling, walking and aerobics can help to reduce inflammation and help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways”. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers. “Exercise gets immune cells moving throughout the body during activity and this helps your body respond to viruses more quickly”. To stay healthy, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines, on GOV.UK, state that adults should try to be active every day and aim to do at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week, through a variety of activities.

Vaccine protection

Vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, strengthen the body’s natural defenses by build immunity against specific diseases. “Vaccines educate your immune system on how to produce antibodies that protect you from diseases”. “It can often give you lifelong protection once your immune system knows how to fight a disease. It’s important to get your seasonal flu and COVID-19 vaccinations if you’re at higher risk of getting seriously ill from these illnesses.”

Get a good night’s sleep, regularly

Scientific evidence shows that a lack of sleep can negatively affect your immune system. “Sleep supports the body in replenishing its immune cells, which are responsible for fighting off bacteria and other things that can make you sick”. On average adults need 7 to 9 hours and children need 9 to 13 hours of sleep, but is generally determined by many factors, including age, genetics, sex and environment. “Cytokines are produced when we sleep and this protein targets infection and inflammation, creating an immune response. This is why it is important that you not only get enough sleep, but good quality sleep”.

Introduce fermented foods into a varied diet

Fermented foods containing probiotic bacteria and fungi can enhance the immune system. Kefir, plain yogurt, fermented vegetables and certain aged cheeses are all good sources for optimum gut health. “Various studies have shown that fermented foods increase microbiome diversity and decrease inflammatory proteins. They help your body by delivering a dose of healthful probiotics, crucial for good digestion”.  “There are 70-80% of immune cells present in the gut therefore keeping it balanced and healthy supports good immune health”.

Quit smoking

Cigarette smoke impacts the immune system and increases your likelihood of infections such as flu and pneumonia.It also worsens or prolongs the symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma, or respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. “When the immune system is exposed to tar, nicotine, and all of the other chemicals in cigarettes, it changes the balance of the immune system. Your immune system is suppressed when exposed to nicotine and smoking increases your risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions. It also makes the body less successful at fighting disease”. The immune system can bounce back and the body will start to heal itself once smoking is stopped. After 48 hours of quitting all carbon monoxide is flushed out. Your lungs are clearing out mucus and your senses of taste and smell starts to improve. After 2 to 12 weeks blood will be pumping through to your heart and muscles much better because your circulation will have improved. This is important because a well-functioning circulatory system is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system.

Consuming adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals

“Deficiency in essential nutrients weaken immunity and can increase susceptibility to infection”. Vitamins and minerals boost the immune system and support normal growth and development. “They help cells and organs do their jobs, fight infection, heal wounds and increase the strength of our bones“.  Most of us generally get all the nutrients we need by having a varied and balanced diet, but some people may need to take extra supplements.“Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium and zinc are essential for good immune function. Food sources for these include citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, oily fish, beans and lean meat”. 

Drink water

Drinking water can help improve the overall immunity of your body. “Staying hydrated helps your body eliminate the bacteria and toxins that can cause infection”. “Drinking the recommended 6-8 glasses of water per day helps to improve our lymphatic function which is important because it keeps body fluid levels in balance and defends the body against infections”. It also delivers oxygen throughout the body, aids weight loss and helps with the absorption of essential nutrients such as Zinc and vitamin Cwhich are all important for the proper functioning of the immune system.

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