How to Support Your Immune System When It’s Running Low

weak immune system

Here’s how to look after your immune system as flu season approaches.

We are naturally more susceptible to colds during the winter, but there are ways to fight back. While “boosting your immune system” is an inaccurate phrase, looking after your immunity is still important.

A strong immune system is the key to staying healthy no matter what the elements throw our way. The immune system “protects against disease by recognising and attacking infections

It functions in two ways: ‘innate’ immunity (protections that are programmed into all of us as general defences against disease) and ‘acquired’ immunity (specific measures in the body aimed against a particular infection once we have encountered it for long-term immunity – how vaccines work).

What are the signs of a low immune system?

A ‘low’ immune system simply means that you are more likely to experience symptoms when exposed to a common cold virus or bacteria. So, the most common sign that your immunity is low is that you have frequent or prolonged colds (pre-Covid, the average was around one cold a year, lasting seven to 10 days).

Why is my immune system low?

A low immune system caused by a number of factors including, diet, certain medications, infections, or having an autoimmune disorder. If you’re having frequent colds, difficulty fighting off infections, persistent fatigue, or digestive issues, you may have a weakened immune system.

sick women laying in bed

How can I support my immune system?

Getting in the right nutrients is essential for optimum functioning of the body – including the immune system. Vitamin D and vitamin C are what to focus on: research by the World Health Organisation has shown that taking vitamin D supplements can reduce your risk of experiencing at least one respiratory infection, including the common cold, influenza or pneumonia, by a third. Other studies show that vitamin C suppresses the activation of viral genes so that cold viruses cannot survive in cells.

While the NHS recommends taking a vitamin D supplement, especially during the winter months, we should also try to focus on “eating a Mediterranean style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, onions, garlic, oily fish and wholegrains” to ensure that we are giving our immune systems the nutrients it needs to function, says Dr Brewer.

Other lifestyle tweaks you can make to support your immunity include exercise, which can neutralise the harmful effects of stress hormones. “Exercise should be non-competitive, so avoid over-training and marathons [to support immunity] as physical stress suppresses immunity and increases the risk of developing symptoms when exposed to a common cold virus,” Dr Brewer advises.

boosting your immune system

Sleep Plays Important Role too in Immunity

 “During sleep, your body secretes hormones involved in fighting disease. People who sleep for  seven to eight hours have better immunity than those who are sleep deprived, and tend to live longer, too.”

Then there are natural supplements you can take. “I always keep some Pelargonium extracts on hand to start as soon as cold or flu symptoms develop,” says Dr Brewer. This is a traditional herbal remedy from a South African geranium, and clinical trials show that it is effective in treating acute bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis and the common cold.

Echinacea, another licensed herbal medicine, is also a popular cold-beater. “It has a natural, antimicrobial action, increases the number and activity of white blood cells involved in fighting infections, and has an anti-inflammatory action to reduce symptoms if an infection takes hold,” explains Dr Brewer. Echinacea has actually been shown to reduce the chance of developing a cold by 58% and shorten the duration of those that do occur by 1.4 days.

 Washing your hands is essential, as is wiping down keyboards, doorknobs and phones. Be alert to the key symptoms of coronavirus. Take lateral flow tests regularly to ensure that your sickness isn’t the virus. Dr Brewer also urges everyone to talk to their doctor about getting an annual flu vaccination.

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