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Health and Financial Wellness

Understanding how the immune system fights viruses

Since the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic, many precautionary measures were strictly implemented including physical distancing. Numerous health tips also spread in different media platforms on how to avoid getting the virus and one of them is boosting the immune system.

Many human infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. And when these pathogens enter the body, the body defends itself by increasing local blood flow and calling on the white blood cells and antibodies produced by the immune system to fight the infection.

However, the immune system is not always successful against disease-causing microorganisms. When the immune system fails, that’s when sickness occurs.

In the case of COVID-19, our bodies are dealing with a new virus that has never infected human bodies at any previous time in history. This virus that aggressively attacks our immune system is still being studied by scientists. Hopefully, that research will ultimately result in a vaccine--but in the meantime, what we can do to protect ourselves is to keep our immune system strong.

How habits affect immunity

Our immune system level of function depends on how we treat our body. The first step in improving our immune system is to break bad habits. These bad habits include:

  • Staying up late. Getting enough sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. It is considered restorative for every bodily function, especially our immune system. Sleeping for less than six hours a day can deplete your immunity which makes you at higher risk for infection.[1]

  • This habit alone is bad for your other bodily functions, more so your immune system. Smoking can decrease the number of various immune cells and impairs its function.

  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Excessive alcohol intake affects your immunity because it could damage or even destroy immune cells. Too much alcohol consumption also depresses the nervous system.

  • Eating junk food. Researchers found that a diet that consists of high in fat, high in sugar, and low in fiber, can cause the immune system to act as if it is responding to baterial infections.[2]

 

Since having a poor diet is one of the main reasons for a weak immune system, it’s only logical that following a healthy diet is a key in helping the immune system become stronger. Here are some healthy-eating tips[3] you can follow:

  • Prioritize eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. According to a medical expert, there are a lot of plant-based foods that have antiviral and antimicrobial properties that could help us with infection. [4]

  • Minimize eating food with saturated fats and sugars. Some research suggests that refined carbs and sugar may impair white blood cell functions. Eating too much sugar may increase the risk of infection.[5]

 

Aside from bad health habits, some people have underlying conditions that compromise their immunity such as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer, and other critical illnesses.

These people need specific treatments and even maintenance medication for their illnesses. They should follow their doctor’s guidance and get proper treatment along with maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle to sustain a strong immune system.

Do vitamins and supplements help 

The idea that vitamins may boost the immune systems is quite true. Vitamins can help prevent some diseases; they can also be used to treat those who have illnesses and conditions resulting from malnutrition.[6]

But experts say that vitamin supplements have limited effects on those who are already healthy and well-nourished, so we should be careful not to bombard our bodies with unnecessary supplements.

With vitamin C, it’s a different thing. Unlike other vitamins like A, D, E, and K,[7] our body does not produce vitamin C, which is needed for immune function, bone structure, iron absorption, and healthy skin.[8]

How immunity changes as we age

As we grow older, our immunity becomes weaker. Since immunity is our body’s defense system, its ability to protect the body from pathogens as we get older also decreases[9].

Most older adults however wouldn’t respond well to vaccines anymore and are more likely to get sick because the recovery from injuries, infection, and illness becomes very slow.

There are no clear or signs that would indicate a person’s immunity is already getting weaker[10] and experts haven’t yet figured out how and why immunity decreases with age.

As we cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the anxiety and stress that we feel can weaken our immune system. One way to cope is to experience and cultivate positive emotions. This helps us deal with stressful events.

Most importantly, positive emotions can also increase our immunity. A study found that those people who were more positive in the way they cope helped them fight off symptoms of influenza virus and rhinovirus.[11]

As we go through the pandemic, this could be our chance to reconnect to our own bodies and make changes to our lifestyle. Let’s take this time to take charge of our health so that we come out stronger after this experience.

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References:

[1] Habits that weaken your immune system. (2016, January 3). Daily Republic. https://www.dailyrepublic.com/all-dr-news/solano-news/local-features/local-lifestyle-columns/7-habits-that-weaken-your-immune-system/

[2] Dale, A. (2018, January 15). This is Why You Should Avoid Eating too Much Junk... Labiotech.Eu; Labiotech UG. https://www.labiotech.eu/medical/junk-food-immune-system/

[3] Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What can you do to improve your immune system? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/what-can-you-do-to-improve-your-immune-system

[4] B, L. (2016, August 19). 10 Simple and Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System. EverydayHealth.Com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/white-seeber-grogan-the-remedy-chicks/ten-simple-natural-ways-to-boost-immune-system/

[5] Boosting Your Immune System to Fight the Coronavirus. (n.d.). Diet Doctor. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.dietdoctor.com/coronavirus

[6] Harvard Health Publishing. Can supplements help boost your immune system? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-supplements-help-boost-your-immune-system

[7] Vitamins and Minerals Explained. (2019). Pharmacy Times. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/otc/2015/OTCGuide-2015/Vitamins-and-Minerals-Explained

[8] Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, January 13). Can vitamin C prevent a cold? - Harvard Health. Harvard Health; Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/cold-and-flu/can-vitamin-c-prevent-a-cold

[9] Aging changes in immunity: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2017). Medlineplus.Gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004008.htm

[10] Pagán, C. N. (n.d.). The Immunity Challenge: How aging affects your immune system. WebMD. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/seniors-boost-immunity#2

[11] Waters, L. (2020, March 17). Silver linings: how to stay positive during the coronavirus crisis. The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/17/silver-linings-how-to-stay-positive-during-the-coronavirus-crisis