As the old adage goes, ‘prevention is better than cure.’ With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, many are looking to boosting their immune system. In response to consumers demand, many retailers have put up advertisements touting immune-boosting concoctions enticing people to buy their products. However, many of these products are expensive and may not really work as advertised.
To be clear, it is important that we strengthen our immune system to ward off infectious diseases. The good news is: there are a few simple things that we can do to boost our immunity without costing us an arm or a leg. These measures are well-researched and backed by science. We’re happy to share with you the following points on how to ramp up your immune system – free!
Exercise – Without question, exercise is crucial to our well-being. A sedentary lifestyle often leads to weight gain and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and even cancer, among others. A lack of exercise can also lead to depression and poor quality sleep.
On the other hand, apart from the obvious health benefits exercise gives, numerous studies have established obvious links between exercise and a healthy immune system.
For example, a large Hong Kong study published in 2008 showed that mild to moderate exercise, done about three times a week had reduced the risk of dying during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1998. The study shows that people who did not do any exercise at all or had too much of it – of more than five days of exercise per week, were at greatest risk of dying compared with people who exercised moderately. Certainly, in this instance, moderation is key. How much exercise is recommended then? Experts recommend just about 30 minutes of exercise each time.
Sleep – Sleep for most us should come naturally. When night falls, and when we are tired, we sleep. Yet, surveys have consistently that during the last 5 years, Singaporeans are among the worst sleepers in the world. Stress, distractions caused by mobile devices, workload are keeping us at night. Yet, sleep is crucial to boosting our immunity.
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Cytokines naturally increase at night and in turn, induce fatigue. When we are under stress, or when we suffer an infection, certain cytokines need to increase. So, when we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies may decrease production of these protective cytokines. Further, when we do not get enough sleep, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced.
So, get sufficient sleep! Enough said.
Sunshine – Most of us know that we can get vitamin D freely from sunshine. Ironically, there is a global vitamin D deficiency globally across all age groups, even among people living near the equator. Apart from contributing to bone health, vitamin D is credited with modulating our body’s immune system response, bolstering our natural ability to fight infectious diseases.
Researchers from the Georgetown University Medical Centre also discovered sunshine has another hitherto undiscovered benefit on our immune system: blue light.
When our bodies are invaded by a virus, our immune system kicks into action. Lymphocytes in our white blood cells, particularly the T cells, move to destroy the invading pathogen.
The researchers found that low levels of blue light, found in the sun rays, cause T cells to move faster. According to Gerard Ahern, PhD, associate professor in the Georgetown Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, “T cells, whether they are helper or killer, need to move to do their work, which is to get to the site of an infection and orchestrate a response. This study shows that sunlight directly activates key immune cells by increasing their movement.” They found that sunlight makes hydrogen peroxide in T cells when they sense an infection. This causes T cells and other cells to mount an immune response, keeping the virus at bay.
So, get some sunlight! It is something free and easy to do.
Food and nutrition – We have always been told to eat a balanced meal. And this is even more important when we seek to bolster our immune system.
It is widely accepted that you should take vitamin C to strengthen your immunity. Often however, there are some from the ‘scientific’ camps who insist that vitamin Cs are not proven to boost your immune system. What is the truth about vitamin C and its efficacy in boosting one’s immune system?
In a detailed report conducted by the University of Otago, New Zealand in 2017, it confirms that Vitamin C first of all, acts as an antioxidant. This means that vitamin C neutralizes free radicals in our body. Free radicals can damage cells, tissues and genetic material if left unchecked. This can result in inflammation in our body.
In studies cited in this report, elderly people who are given vitamin C have seen their lymphocyte function improved. The elderly are susceptible to infections as they have a weaker immune system. Viral infections in the elderly can easily cause respiratory illnesses. Most elderly people also displayed lower levels of vitamin C in their bodies. It has been shown that hospitalized ones with respiratory illnesses fare better with vitamin C supplementation.
In short, vitamin C is proven to effectively improve your immune system. Your body needs it to launch an attack on pathogens while minimizing any damage to itself. However, because our body cannot make its own vitamin C, we need to take in vitamin C by means of a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Amino acids also play a major role in determining the body’s immune response. Amino acids are not only the building blocks of proteins but are also key regulators of various pathological and physiological processes, including immune responses, in our cells. Recent findings show amino acids play an important role in immune responses by regulating the activation of lymphocytes, which, we have pointed out earlier, are critical in helping the body deal with infections. Three common and most important amino acids found in the body are glutamine, arginine, and cysteine. Each has its place in keeping our bodies healthy.
When can we get our supply of these amino acids? It’s easy: these can be readily found in protein-rich foods like beef, chicken, fish, dairy products, eggs and vegetables.
The suggestions given in this short discussion may seem like a no-brainer. Often though, the simplest things are the hardest to do. Instead of spending huge amount of money on ‘wellness treatments’, why not invest in some of these simple suggestions to boost your immune system. Not only are they proven methods to improve your health, besides food, they cost nothing. Practising them consistently will also improve your mental health. However, more importantly: they may save your life!