Winter is coming in the southern hemisphere. In fact, it has arrived early in some parts with record cold, rain and even snow in May. It will come as a surprise to experts, bureaucrats, and politicians (but not regular readers here) that in winter there are an assortment of normal winter viruses which can cause cold or flu like illnesses. In an even bigger shock, the symptoms of these regular viruses may be the same or very similar to that caused by Covid19.
It never ceases to amaze me how little information is provided to people about how to look after their own immune system. This is in stark contrast to advice on how to look after heart health, lung health or mental health to name but three with an almost never-ending series of awareness campaigns.
There are numerous theories about this, but I am not going to speculate here.
What does matter is that there are ways of strengthening and “looking after” your immune system. None of these guarantee that you can never get sick. Not one of them by itself is any sort of force field. However, collectively they all have been shown in numerous studies over many years to either reduce the likelihood of getting an infection together with making a less severe infection and /or faster recovery more likely.
None are rocket science and again not surprisingly, all are part of looking after your health in general.
So what makes a difference?
Regular exercise or physical activity, a diet rich in nutritional value (good protein, good fats, vitamins, and minerals) as against one rich in refined carbohydrates, getting adequate sleep, regular relaxation and stress management all contribute to a functioning immune system.
Supplements can be helpful too, where diet does not provide enough vitamins or minerals. Research has shown that zinc can shorten the length of a cold like illness. Zinc supplements are easy to obtain and not expensive. Vitamin C comes in many fruits and vegetables and supplements are also plentiful. The worst thing that can happen if you take more than you need the body will excrete it.
Vitamin D is another critical vitamin and American data has shown a low level to be associated with higher mortality in infections (even including Covid). Sadly, many are deficient in vitamin D as the sun smart message can be taken too far. Getting some sunshine is not the same as getting burned. Around 10-15 minutes two to three times a week (depending on time of year and latitude) is a useful guide.
In a similar vein, many of us have an inadequate intake of omega 3 fatty acids (best sources are oily fish and flaxseed). A supplement is an option if need be.
Stress management and adequate sleep get little air play as there is no money in products. Simple tips for better sleep include regular exercise, switching off screens at least 30 minutes before bed, having a dark and quiet room and for some a warm shower or cup of herbal tea before bed. Guided relaxation, breathing or mediation before bed can also assist. And through all this, not stressing about sleep. Those apps can be dual edged!
None of this is difficult nor expensive. It shows, again, that the simple choices we make each day can have a significant influence on our overall health and wellbeing. All that which is good for the immune system is also good for our heart, lungs, kidneys, brains and essentially our entire body and all its systems.
Simplicity is out of vogue in these technological times. Yet it is the simple basics which have made a difference for thousands of years and continue to. The power is in your hands.
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases.