Cold, flu, gastro—find out how to strengthen your immune system and avoid viruses!
The immune system: an enemy combatant
It could be said that the human body is fully equipped to deal with foreign threats such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. The immune system is a highly complex defence system used by the body to ensure resistance to diseases. Imagine a tiny legion of soldiers ready to fight when met with a health threat. Fever and inflammation are examples of weapons used by the body to protect against potential threats.
Unfortunately, the immune system’s ability to defend the body is not foolproof or unchanging, but instead, rather variable. Therefore, at certain times, and in the presence of various factors, the immune system’s “capability” can sometimes be compromised.
Here are some examples of factors known to “weaken” the immune system:
- chronic stress and overwork
- lack of sleep
- poor diet
It is important to note that some people may have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, cancer or HIV) or treatments (e.g. such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy). This text is of a general nature and is geared to individuals who are usually in good health and not for those who require specific medical care.
The truth regarding products meant to boost the immune system
There is currently no medication or product officially approved by Health Canada to strengthen the immune system for people who are generally in good health. However, certain products available at the pharmacy have shown promising results during clinical studies. For example, this is the case for:
- vitamin C
- trace elements
- omega 3
It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of most of these products because study results are sometimes contradictory or inconclusive. However, it should be noted that these products are usually considered to be well-tolerated, safe and otherwise beneficial to health.
Other effective measures
Your lifestyle influences your health and immune system. Here are 10 effective ways within your reach that can help protect you from infection.
- Quit smoking. Smoking weakens your immune system considerably and greatly increases your risk of contracting certain infections and of developing cancer. Your pharmacist can help you with the smoking cessation process.
- Eat well. Choosing healthy eating habits contributes to your health in many ways. Among other things, it helps to stimulate your immune system.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is an excellent means of letting your body recuperate so it can perform its numerous functions. Sleepless nights cause problems and weaken the immune system. Make sleep hygiene a priority—your health depends upon it.
- Exercise regularly. Studies have shown that regular physical activity helps to strengthen your immune system in addition to offering you a number of other health benefits.
- Reduce your stress level. Being stressed or exhausted weakens you and your immune system. Resting, taking care of yourself, and having a positive attitude are ways to help reduce your susceptibility to infections.
- Use a saline solution. Keeping your nasal passages well-hydrated, especially during winter when the air in your home is particularly dry, reduces your risk of contracting a respiratory infection. Using a saline solution and, in some cases, a humidifier, can be beneficial.
- Take a vitamin and mineral supplement. Some people consider taking a daily vitamin and mineral supplement. A sufficient intake of certain nutrients can effectively contribute to immune system health, but it is best to build on a healthy diet.
- Wash your hands often. Handwashing is a simple and effective way to greatly reduce the risk of infection. It’s a good practice to adopt for you and your entire family! The use of antiseptic gels can have certain benefits.
- Get a flu shot. Fortunately, in this day and age, it is possible to get vaccinated against the flu and to reduce the risk of catching it and having to deal with its consequences, which can sometimes be very serious.
- Limit contact with infected people. If someone close to you is infected by a virus, try to avoid close contact with them, such as kisses and handshakes. Remember that certain viruses may also be transmitted by contact with infected objects.
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about the prevention of infections.