Looking for a magic pill to nip flu in the bud?
If there was one, we’d probably all be taking it, and albeit appealing, this does not exist for numerous reasons, explained GP Dr Jill Gamberg of Double Bay Doctors.
“The immune system requires balance and harmony to function well. Researchers also do not [entirely] know how the immune system works. There are no specific [medications or] supplements that boost your immunity with excellent scientific evidence.
“This does not mean an unhealthy lifestyle cannot affect [immunity],” Gamberg stressed.
“Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, not smoking, and drinking alcohol only in moderation” can provide extra immune support, the GP said.
Diet and lifestyle
“There is some evidence that deficiencies in nutrients such as iron, zinc, folic acid and vitamin D can alter immune responses...Replacing certain nutrients via the diet (for instance by having our daily two fruits and five vegetables) can help make people feel better,” Gamberg said.
And not that we need reminding, “regular exercise is an essential part of a healthy life. It helps control body weight and protects against a variety of chronic diseases…Does it help boost immunity?
Probably having a healthier body will help you remain well in the short [and] long term. But again, more studies to be done.
“And not that you have to drink this much, but the safe recommendation is no more than one standard drink per day for women, and one to two standard drinks per day for men, with two days off from alcohol every week.”
Stop the spread of infection
“Wash your hands regularly (before eating and after being on public transport for example) and cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.
“And get an annual influenza immunisation,” Gamberg said.
What about supplements?
“While always better to replace nutrient deficiencies with real food, supplementation can also be used to improve nutrient deficiencies,” Gamberg said. “The issue is whether correcting the deficiencies can boost your immune system. More research [is needed]. In my opinion, as long as there is no harm, [replacing] nutrients with a healthy diet and supplementation can be useful.”
“Why is it we get sick after preparing for months for a work presentation, or a series of university exams? Chronic (long-term) stress, [be it] physical, emotional or psychological, can suppress the immune system,” Gamberg said.
Her stress-alleviating tips? “Listen to music, [try] deep breathing exercises or yoga, reduce caffeine intake, and laugh; go watch a comedy show or hang out with a funny friend.” And again, exercise regularly; “[this] helps lower stress by releasing endorphins.”
“Poor sleep affects how [we] feel and function,” Gamberg said. “A perfect example is when parents with a newborn have months of sleep deprivation…They get sick more often due to the stress this puts on their bodies.”
For those of us not in this position, it’s worth implementing measures to improve sleep quality, for instance stopping screen-time two hours before bed.
“A healthy body is especially important at a time of year such as winter [when] people tend to get sick much more often,” Gamberg said.
So while there is no magic immune-boosting pill (yet), “a good way to start boosting your immunity is to get your body in tip-top shape to help give your immune system the upper hand.”
- Visit HealthShare for more information on improving the health of regional Australians – a joint venture with Fairfax Media. Or you can find a specialist near you using the health tool below.