Your immune system is an intricate, co-dependent structure of white blood cells, antibodies, complex proteins, networks, and organs. Some parts of the system act as literal barriers, preventing viruses and bacteria from reaching your organs like your brain, while others hunt and remove the invaders from your body.
Although your immune system is effective against many disease-causing germs and viruses, it requires time to familiarise itself with the enemy. In a lot of scenarios, it needs to be able to recognise an illness-causing pathogen as a danger before it knows it needs to be removed from your body. Of course, this is usually only possible once you’ve developed the specific antibodies from either having been sick with an illness or receiving a vaccine.
Before moving forward, here are some important words to know when understanding your immune system:
- Pathogens: Microbes that can infect the body and cause illness
- Antigens: Proteins found on the surface of pathogens
- Antibodies: Healthy proteins that can recognise and bind with specific antigens
When an antibody recognises the antigen of an invading pathogen, it binds itself tightly onto it. Once attached, it acts as a beacon, signalling other elements of the immune system to attack the invader.
The Immune System’s Limitations Against COVID-19
Most importantly, a strong immune system will not prevent you from contracting COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, is a novel pathogen. This means those who contract it have no existing antibodies to mount a defence against the virus. Because of that, it remains imperative to continue practicing social distancing, good hand hygiene, and cough etiquette.
In saying that, developing a strong immune system while you’re healthy can sustain your body as it familiarises itself with the new virus in the event that you get sick. Taking steps to boost your immune health can also help you fight other common bugs such as cold and flu viruses.
More research is necessary; however, it’s believed that quality exercise and activity, nutrition, emotional and psychological wellbeing, and lifestyle choices can benefit your immune system. Here are 7 tips and tricks to keeping your immunity strong during COVID:
Stay up to date on Recommended vaccines
Building a strong immune system starts with taking advantage of our scientific world. The best way we must protect ourselves from harmful illnesses: vaccines. Your immune system is smart, but vaccines train it to be even smarter – helping it learn how to recognise and fight off certain disease-causing illnesses. It’s much safer for your immune system to learn via vaccinations than through infection with theses harmful germs.
It's always important to be up to date on recommended vaccinations, especially the COVID-19 vaccine or booster as well as your annual flu shot. Of course, always talk to your primary care physician or general practitioner to help guide you in making medical decisions that are best for you and your family.
Maintain a healthy diet
As with most things in your body, having a healthy diet is key to a strong immune system. So make sure you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.
In addition to providing your immune system with the energy it needs, a healthy diet can ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients that are integral to maintaining your immune system. Some natural immunity foods include ginger, gooseberries and turmeric. Some of these superfoods are common ingredients found in Indian dishes and snacks. There are also several herbs that can help boost your immunity like garlic, basil, and black cumin. Certain seeds and nuts like sunflower seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, and melond seeds are excellent sources of protein and vitamin E.
Probiotics like yoghurt, Yakult, and fermented foods are also excellent sources to rejuvenate the composition of your gut bacteria, which is important for nutrient absorption.
Experts believe your body absorbs vitamins more efficiently from dietary sources rather than supplements, so the best way to support your immune system is to eat a well-balanced diet.
Physical activity is not reserved for building muscles or losing weight. It is an important part of keeping healthy, and you guessed it, supporting a healthy immune system. One way exercise may improve your immunity is by boosting your overall circulation, making it easier for immune cells and other infection-fighting molecules to travel easily throughout your body.
In fact, studies have shown that engaging in as little as 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day can help stimulate your immune system. This means it’s important to focus on staying active and getting regular exercise.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Water plays so many roles in your body, including supporting your immunity. A fluid in your circulatory system called lymph, which carries important infection-fighting immune cells around your body, is largely made up of water. Being dehydrated slows down the movement of lymph, which can lead to an impaired immune system.
Even without exercising or sweating, you lose water through your breath, urine, and bowel movements. To support your immune system, be sure you replace the water you lose with water you can use. Drinking up to 8-10 glasses of water every day is useful in strengthening your immunity. Other alternatives include citrus fruit juices and coconut water.
Whether stress comes on quickly or builds over time for you, it’s important to understand how stress affects your health, especially when it comes to your immune system.
During a period of stress, particularly chronic stress (this is stress that’s frequent and long-lasting), your body responds by initiating a stress response. This is supposed to help you handle the stressful situations coming your way. Unfortunately, this response also suppresses your immune system and thus increases your chance of inflection or illness.
Stress is different for everyone, as is how we relieve it. Given its effect on your health, it’s important to be able to identify stress for yourself. You should also be familiar with activities that can help you reduce stress such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, or exercise.
Don’t compromise on sleep
Sleep definitely doesn’t feel like an active process, but there are plenty of important things that happen while you’re not awake. This includes the creation of important infection-fighting molecules.
Studies show that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more prone to getting sick after exposure to viruses, including COVID. To give yourself the best chance to fight off infection and illness, it’s important to get plenty of sleep.
Avoid smoking, alcohol, and other addictive substances
Certain habits such as smoking, vaping, alcohol consumption and substance abuse have a direct correlation between weakened body defences and respiratory illnesses. Engaging in smoking and vaping is proven to weaken your lung capacity and destroy the cells lining in your respiratory tracts. These cells are crucial in fighting viruses that enter through your nasal orifices. To strengthen your immunity, it’s good to practice moderation. It’s also important to note, if you are dependent on any of these substances, speak to a medical professional who can help you regulate your consumption as sudden withdrawal can also prove risky.