1. Eat well
Every second post on the ’gram right now is telling you exactly what to eat to “boost” your immunity. But, fun fact: “you can’t ‘boost’ your immune system,” says public health nutritionist Shelley Judge.
“Instead, it’s about maintaining it.” To keep it running well you simply need food. “A healthy, balanced diet, with all foods in moderation, can play a role in ensuring we’re getting adequate nutrients.”
Naturopath Jules Galloway adds, “The old ‘eat the rainbow’ is a cliche because it works. There’s so many different nutrients in different-coloured foods, so it’s important to try to get lots of colours onto your plate.”
While you’re there, add some salmon, avo or raw nuts. “Healthy fats have also been shown to support the function of our immune cells,” Judge says.
2. Think zinc
“We definitely know that dietary deficiencies, such as not having enough zinc, can negatively impact the immune system,” says GP Dr Preeya Alexander (she’s the brilliant mind behind
@thewholesomedoctor on Instagram).
This mineral is so important, Galloway calls it her “desert island nutrient”. “It’s needed for a strong immune system and a healthy immune response,” she explains. “It’s also needed to keep the gut healthy – and given that a high percentage of our immune system cells are made in the gut, a healthy gut equals a healthier immune system.”
Dose up on pepitas, oysters, red meat and – if you can handle it – “organ meats like liver and kidneys can help to get levels up pretty quickly,” adds Galloway.
3. Be mindful
Strange but true: you can fight bugs with your mind. Stress isn’t just an emotion, it causes a physical response, too – one that can suppress the immune system, explains Mindful in May founder Dr Elise Bialylew. This is where your Jedi skills come in – with mindfulness, you can learn to switch off stress.
“Mindfulness cultivates self-awareness … this empowers us to catch ourselves in loops of thought that have the power to keep our bodies in a stress response,” Bialylew says.
There’s science to back up its effectiveness at fighting infections: a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that participants who took an eight-week mindfulness program had a stronger immune response when challenged with the flu injection compared to those who’d skipped the meditation course.
4. Get moving
Does exercise help or hinder your immunity? It’s complicated. Generally, experts say that regular exercise, as part of a healthy lifestyle, is a good thing. But the jury’s out on whether you can have too much of that good thing, thanks to a theory that intense exercise (think: elite athlete training) can open a “window” of heightened infection risk afterwards.
Researcher Dr James Turner from the University of Bath has recently refuted that hypothesis, saying evidence that intense exercise impairs immunity is weak. In the short term, he says, exercise can increase the immune system’s efficiency, and in the long term, delay the effects of ageing on immune function.
Bottom line? “Regular, daily exercise will help better maintain the way the immune system works – not suppress it,” says Turner. Jog on.
5. Catch Zzzs
Good news, nappers: sleep is vital for your immunity. “During sleep, the immune system releases a protein called cytokines, and these are needed to combat infections,” explains Alexander.
Trouble is, during a global crisis, sleep can be harder to catch. If anxieties are keeping you awake, the Sleep Health Foundation suggests scheduling “worry time” during the day to consider your concerns, and prioritising your shut-eye with a wind-down routine.
6. Soap and space
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the number one power move against viruses of any kind is good ol’ soap.
“Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways you can protect yourself against a myriad of illnesses,” says Alexander. You should also consider your days of soldiering on through a cold over.
“When people cough and sneeze, respiratory droplets can travel a fair distance,” Alexander explains. “If you’re unwell with a cold or cough, then please, stay at home.”
But what about…
Research indicates it’s more useful in reducing the severity of a cold than preventing one. Deficiencies can impact immunity, Judge says, but “for most people, an orange, or a cup of strawberries, chopped red capsicum or broccoli will provide enough vitamin C for the day.”
There’s no evidence that burning oils will protect you from getting ill, says Alexander. And drinking them in water is a big no-no, Galloway adds, as they can burn the digestive tract and wipe out friendly bacteria in your gut.
Heard they could be used to prevent COVID-19? “At the moment there are lots of therapies being explored to battle the current outbreak,” says Alexander. “Some HIV therapies are also being investigated, but at this stage it’s too early to tell [if they’re effective].”
Watch this intriguing space!