It’s winter, and COVID-19 is still with us.
We are all more vulnerable to catching viruses in cold weather, and Coronavirus is no different. If you’re concerned about the impact of the cold weather on the pandemic, or worried about coming face-to-face with people outside your household, you may be wondering how you can get your immune system up to scratch - especially if you have underlying health conditions.
To understand how to build your immunity up, we first need to understand how the immune system works.
The Immune System
There are two main parts of the immune system:
The Innate Immune System - The immune system that you are born with. This immune system has evolved over thousands of years and is the first line of defence against any foreign bodies. This system responds immediately with phagocyte cells, which surround and destroy the pathogen.
The Acquired Immune System - Following an illness, the B lymphocyte cells in your body begin to produce antibodies to prevent reinfection. Vaccinations work in the same way; by introducing a dead or harmless version of the microbe, the body learns to recognise and build immunity against it.
These two systems work together to provide protection from a number of diseases, and to keep evolving with any changes to pathogenic activity during an individual’s lifetime.
‘That Time Of The Year’ - Scientific Fact Or Old Wive’s Tale?
There’s an important distinction to be made here; we are more prone to illness during the winter, but cold weather itself doesn’t make us ill.
We become ill from the bacteria and viruses that we come into contact with - which is more or less the same at any point in the year.
However, we become ill more often in the winter because our immune systems aren’t working to their best capacity, because the illnesses going around are more virulent, and because of our altered lifestyles during the winter months.
Factors In Immunity
Vitamin D - Vitamin D is one of the vital building blocks for a healthy immune system. The T-cells, which attack and destroy harmful microorganisms, are activated by Vitamin D. As a result, if we don’t get enough Vitamin D, our immune systems are weakened.
Some viruses reproduce more quickly during cold weather - for example, the common cold or rhinovirus.
Central heating - some scientists speculate that cold and flu viruses travel quickly in warm, dry air, and several studies pointed out the importance of ventilation in homes.
Harvard researchers speculate that one of the reasons that colds and the flu are more common in winter is because cold air suppresses the immune response in the nose.
General health and wellbeing - our immune systems are at their best when we have a healthy, balanced diet with the complete range of nutrients, and when we exercise. But during the winter, we are likely to eat less fruits and vegetables, and less likely to go out for a run.
How To Improve Your Immunity When It’s Cold Outside
There are a lot of products and foods which claim to boost immunity, but in a lot of cases, research is still ongoing and evidence is limited.
There are, however, a few scientifically-backed ways of keeping your immune system up to scratch:
Don’t smoke - It lowers your natural immunity, reduces your ability to clear infection, and puts you at higher risk of developing complications such as chest infections or pneumonia.
Do moderate exercise daily - It helps to clear your lungs of bacteria and viruses when you’re out of breath, and causes white blood cells to change and develop. The heat change when you exercise may also help you to ‘sweat off’ an illness in the same way as a fever. Exercise also helps to reduce stress, which has a significant impact on immunity. If you struggle with your mobility, you could benefit from more gentle exercises such as yoga, pilates, or the Alexander Technique.
Get enough sunlight - go for a walk and pack in that Vitamin D!
Eat a healthy, balanced diet - Vitamin C is a core component of a healthy immune system.
Don’t drink too much - Like smoking, alcohol also suppresses the immune system by damaging immune cells.
Maintain a healthy weight - obesity has been shown to have an impact on immunity, just as being underweight does.
Get enough sleep, and find ways to manage stress more effectively - Both sleep-deprivation and stress can have a significant impact on immunity. You can find resources on improving your sleep quality and decreasing levels of depression, anxiety or stress here.
Get your vaccinations - getting the flu vaccine can reduce the chances of getting ill and having health complications this winter. Book in with your doctor or pharmacist today.
There are also some alternative remedies which are suggested to help with immunity, which you find helpful as an adjunct:
Echinacea - There’s a good amount of evidence to suggest that echinacea could improve immunity, but there have been some questions about the validity of the methodology in some studies. Have a read and decide for yourself!
Ginseng - Ginseng has been suggested to be an antiviral and antimicrobial, among other properties. The medical community is divided on this one, but there is a good amount of research to indicate some potential benefits.
Other Supplements - You may choose to supplement with Vitamin C, Vitamin D, or other immune-boosting nutrients, but ensure that the supplements you use are safe and approved by the relevant body. You can find more information on this here.
This year it’s more important than ever for us all to be in peak physical condition. So let’s start today and be ready for when the frost hits!