Can You Really “Boost” Your Immune System?
Good old Facebook making a bad situation worse. Bad enough that there’s a pandemic. Bad enough people are freaking out and buying toilet paper like it’s an actual sh*tting disease and not a nasty flu. But Facebook have to go and pour petrol on the bonfire by spreading nonsense. You’ll have seen the posts; spurious ways to “boost your immune system”, some of it straightforward good practice, some old wives tales and some dangerous lies.
So is there any truth in it? Can you boost your immune system in a meaningful way?
Yes… Sort of
The immune system is a complex network of cells and organs that work to protect you from infection. It’s strength is partly based on the genetic cards you’ve been dealt, but lifestyle and environmental factors do play a part. But the thing to realise is there’s no magic bullet for improving it. You’ve got to create a general healthy environment for it to function.
Here are the key methods.
1 – Lower Your Stress – Easy to say when the world seems to be collapsing around us. But its a big one, and there are concrete steps all of us can take to do this. A series of well designed studies have shown that less stressed people get cold and flu less frequently.
In one remarkable study, couples had small wounds inflicted on their arms and then told to talk about either stressful issues or pleasant ones. The couples who ended up arguing took longer to heal.
The bottom line is that stress and the immune system are closely linked. Try some proven methods such as breathing exercises, meditation or long walks. Make them a regular part of your life.
2 – Improve Your Sleep – People who routinely get less that six hours sleep are 4.2 times more likely to catch cold than those who get adequate sleep. Sleep is a non negotiable necessity, especially at times like this. So an extra hour in bed is one possible upside for those now working from home.
But quality is as important as quantity. Avoid your phone, screens and eating for an hour before bed, and try a melatonin supplement.
3 – Eat Healthily – This isn’t where we list a bunch of supposed immune boosters like ginger and garlic… They are healthy foods that you should include in your diet if you wish, but there is no one magic food. Eating a wide variety of colourful fruit and veg while getting adequate protein from ideally organic sources is your best option. Just eat real, wholesome foods to create a generally healthy body.
4 – Limit Alcohol – Those who drink in excess are far more susceptible to respiratory illnesses and pneumonia. It might seem like the only option during those long housebound hours, but the goal here is not to get sick, remember? There are other forms of entertainment out there. HBO are releasing their streaming platform soon. Yes, we are suggesting you watch TV instead of get hammered. Surely that’s the easiest health advice ever.
How much alcohol counts as excessive? A lot less than you think, unfortunately. We’re talking a glass of wine a day for women and two for men.
5 – Boost Your Vitamin D Levels – Our bodies need vitamin D to kill the antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria. The sun is starting to poke out just a little, but this time of year supplementing is still probably your best bet.
6 – Exercise Regularly But Don’t Destroy Yourself – As with the rest of this advice, this is just good practice. The fitter and healthier you are the easier it’s going to be to fight off infection. But excessive volume and intensity can negatively impact your immune system. To be honest, this is not a problem for the vast majority of people who simply don’t exercise enough or properly. So by all means continue training, just don’t worry about setting any massive PBs in the next month.
The Bottom Line
There’s no magic cure, no special food and no particular supplement. The best thing you can do is still wash your hands regularly. But the healthier your body and mind, the easier it will be for you and those around you over the coming months.