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.
Your lifestyle influences your health and immune system. Here are 10 effective ways within your reach to help protect you from infection.
- Quit smoking. Smoking significantly weakens your immune system and greatly increases your risk of getting certain infections and 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 boost your immune system.
- Get sufficient sleep. Sleep is a great way to allow your body to recover 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 and provides many other health benefits.
- Reduce stress levels. Being stressed or exhausted weakens you and your immune system. Resting, taking care of yourself, and having a positive attitude will 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, can reduce your risk of getting 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. Getting a sufficient intake of certain nutrients can help keep your immune system healthy, but it is best to start with 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! There may be some benefits to using antiseptic gels.
- Get a flu shot. Fortunately, in this day and age, it is possible to get a flu shot and to reduce the risk of getting it and having to deal with its consequences, which can be very serious.
- Limit contact with infected people. If someone close to you is infected with a virus, try to avoid close contact, such as kissing and handshakes. Remember that some viruses can also be spread through contact with infected objects.
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. Some products available at the pharmacy have shown questionable results on this point in clinical studies. For instance, 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 often contradictory or inconclusive. Additionally, it should be noted that these products, although considered to be generally well tolerated, may pose certain health risks (e.g., drug interactions).
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about the prevention of infections.