With only a tiny proportion of our population jabbed up against Covid-19, it’s a good idea to do a personal health check.
As well as wearing masks, washing or sanitising our hands and maintaining the correct social distance, we should also be taking care of ourselves as best we can.
All the research suggests people with comorbidities and poorly functioning immune systems are at the highest risk of getting really ill from Covid-19. And although you can’t suddenly reverse a comorbidity or instantly boost your immune system, now is a good time to make your health and natural defences a priority, says head of operations at Bonitas Medical Fund, Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa.
He offers some advice on how to boost your immune system and keep it strong.
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What is the immune system?
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. It also keeps a record of every germ it has ever defeated, so it can recognise and destroy it quickly if it enters the body again.
Dr Mkhatshwa says the fact that Covid-19 is a new pathogen means our bodies don’t have any existing antibodies to mount a defence. For that reason, it’s vital to continue wearing masks and practising social distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
Vitamins and supplements
There is no magic pill that will instantly boost your immune system, Dr Mkhatshwa says. But, together with healthy lifestyle habits, various supplements can boost your immune system and give you a fighting chance
For general health, he recommends a combination of five essential vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy.
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold. It can be found in oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, strawberries, red bell peppers, and tomato juice, among other foods.
Vitamin D can help maintain strong bones and fight off infections, which is why it’s been talked about a lot in connection with Covid-19. It is found in salmon, mushrooms, milk, cereals, and breads.
Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protects against infections by keeping your tissue and skin healthy. It can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, and spinach.
Vitamin E is an essential antioxidant that helps fight cell damage. Nuts and peanut butter are full of Vitamin E.
Zinc works as an antioxidant, boosts the metabolism, and heals wounds. It’s needed for immune cell development and communication and plays an important role in inflammatory response. Meat, shellfish, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds are high in zinc.
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The way we breathe impacts our body chemistry. Our immune and lymphatic systems are chemical based, so we are essentially a collection of chemicals, from our brains to our bones. Breathing is important because the air we inhale converts into chemicals that we need to fuel our cells.
Learning to breathe deeply, activate your diaphragm, and fix your posture can help trigger positive immune responses. It is one of the most effective things you can do right now for your wellbeing, Dr Mkhatshwa says.
The immune function and auto-immune disease are complex topics and a holistic approach to health will always beat quick fixes, he adds.
The flu vaccine
Flu vaccines don’t protect you against Covid-19 – they have been shown to reduce the risk of influenza illness, hospitalisation and death.
This makes them an important conservation measure for scarce healthcare resources, especially in the time of an ongoing pandemic. For that reason, a flu jab might be worth considering.