The year just started but here we are, barraged by diseases left and right. Measles outbreaks increase in flu cases – these are just a couple of reasons why clinics and hospitals are swamped with patients scrambling to get treated. Doctors have always advocated that prevention is better than cure. Besides getting vaccinated against preventable diseases, here are some tips to strengthen your immune system so you can stay in tip-top shape all year long.
Immune system: Who, what, where?
The immune system basically serves as the body’s defense mechanism. Think of it as an army guarding a castle (your body) against an attack from invaders (viruses, bacteria, etc.). Like an army, it is composed of soldiers, captains, and generals. These components need to work cohesively as a unit and circulate around the body to be able to effectively maintain health and prevent infection.
When the immune system does not function properly, this can result in various disorders such as immune deficiency, allergy/hypersensitivity or infection. While some disorders of the immune system are innate, a properly functioning immune system can effectively keep out the usual bacteria and virus at bay.
How can we keep our immune system healthy?
Aside from timely and appropriate vaccination practices which can prevent particular infections, researchers are exploring the influence of proper diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle on the immune system. Below are some tips that can help you stay healthy:
Regular exercise contributes to a healthy heart, lower blood pressure, and helps you achieve and maintain your ideal body weight. It also increases your endorphins (popularly known as the happy hormone) which then improves your general well-being.
Studies have repeatedly shown that smoking diminishes overall health (which is needed for the immune system to work properly) and puts an individual at greater risk for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. So think twice before lighting that stick!
- Drink (alcoholic beverages) in moderation
Red wine has been shown in some research to provide some health benefits when taken in MODERATE amounts. However, drinking more than 1-2 glasses of red wine (and other alcoholic beverages for that matter) regularly can cause damage to the liver, stomach, brain, heart, and other organs of the body.
When we sleep, we let our body rest. The body has time to recharge and prepare for the next day’s challenge. What is the ‘right’ amount of sleep? We don’t really know but experts suggest somewhere between 7-9 hours of continuous sleep a day for adults should be enough.
- Don’t sweat over the small stuff
Chronic anxiety and tension have been shown to increase stress hormones in the body, which can affect not just the immune system but also various organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain.
- Surround yourself with friends
Being around good friends and maintaining healthy relationships with them, your family, and your significant other should keep you happy. Studies have shown that happiness and laughter have a positive effect not only on your mental health but also on the immune system, thereby helping the body fight infections better!
When you’re hungry, you tend to be weak and hot-headed. When you are chronically hungry, you become malnourished, which then exposes you to various ailments. However, we must watch what we eat as not all food items are created equal.
What can you take to improve your immune system?
There are various popular diets with fancy names available in the market today. Is one really superior to the others? As of now, we don’t know. However, some food items have long been proven to be beneficial to health (think green leafy vegetables). What other food items can help in boosting the immune system? Here are some:
At present, there have been big improvements in terms of extracting from plant sources, combining the right components and delivering these compounds to the body. Immunomodulators extracted from dietary sources is an exciting and promising area of research and study. In the meantime, the benefits of these natural immune boosters cannot be denied. Whether we take these as a pill or from various dietary sources, our take-home message is to eat healthy to be healthy. There is no substitute for good health. A healthy diet coupled with good lifestyle practices promotes healthy well-being. Now, before you start chomping on your lunch, may we inconvenience you with one more important reminder: ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS!
- Fish (salmon, tuna): These are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Blueberries, grapes, and green tea: These have been found to have flavonoids which have antioxidative properties that can boost the immune system. Some studies have shown that these can lessen the incidence of colds and other respiratory tract infections. So don’t hesitate to drink that green tea – it might not be enough to satisfy your caffeine craving, but it might help you avoid the nasty flu!
- Turmeric, ginger, and garlic: They don’t just spice up our dishes, they help our body as well! They have been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties which can keep certain diseases at bay.
- Carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash: These are good sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A. They can also be a good source of lutein as well. These can provide protection from UV light damage (hence promotes healthy skin) and enhance eye health.
- Broccoli, tomato, and citrus fruits: These are good sources of the well-known anti-oxidant vitamin C. Several studies have shown that vitamin C may help in the prevention of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, and in delaying the effects of aging. In addition, the lycopene found in tomatoes can help in the protection against the effect of free radicals in cells.
- Cereals (barley or oats), mushrooms, and yeast: What these foods have in common is that they have high beta-glucan content. Beta-glucan is getting more attention in recent studies as an immunomodulator. Beta-glucan might also play a role in the prevention of high cholesterol levels and diabetes.