Boost your immunity
Find out some ways you can supercharge your immunity and strengthen your health during this time.
Besides observing good personal hygiene and practising frequent hand washing with soap in light of the situation here with COVID-19, we should take preventative measures to supercharge our immunity and strengthen our health. Having a stronger immune system is a way to reduce the risk for coronavirus infections, just like any other pathogen.
Ageless Online speaks to Dr Melvin Look, director of PanAsia Surgery at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Parkway East Hospital, on the importance of a strong immune system and what we can do to boost it. Dr Look is a consultant surgeon in gastrointestinal, laparoscopic and obesity surgery, and has a special interest in endoscopy and treatment of digestive diseases.
Why is it important to boost one’s immune system?
Our immune system has a vital role in keeping our body safe from harmful germs and toxins that we come into contact with from the environment and from the food and drinks we ingest. These germs include various bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that can make us very sick if they enter our body and are allowed to grow. Our immune cells also help us get rid of cells that have become defective and may become cancerous if they start to proliferate.
Our immune system consists of white blood cells, antibodies, lymph nodes and organs such as the spleen, all working together to form a complex defence system. It can be weakened by smoking, poor nutrition and chronic diseases such as diabetes. Our gut is also a large immune organ as 70 percent of our immune cells are found there. That is why a healthy gut with thriving good microbiota is also important in immunity.
Does our immune system reduce as we age? And how does this reduction then affect seniors?
Age is another important factor in immunity. Our body produces fewer immune cells and they take longer to work when they are called upon to fight an invader. The elderly also tend to eat less due to decreased caloric requirements but the ageing gut also becomes less able to absorb vital micronutrients from the food they eat. This snowballs into what we call the “nutrient gap” and the immune system becomes less efficient because it does not have the proper building blocks to function.
That is why we should consume more nutrient dense foods such as what we can find in a plant-based whole food diet that is well-balanced by fish, lean meat and healthy fats. Cut out the sugars and processed foods as sugars are exactly what viruses and bacteria need to survive on.
As we age, we should also consider taking supplements that can give us a wide range of vitamins and micronutrients. Those that important to boost our immune function include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins C, B6, E and A. Probiotics also help to maintain good gut health for proper immune function.
What are some ways seniors can do to supercharge their immunity during this period?
Besides good nutrition and supplements, seniors should also adopt healthy lifestyles. Stop smoking, have plenty of sleep (at least seven to nine hours of quality reparative sleep), de-stress by practicing mindfulness and meditation, and exercise regularly.
Thanks for bringing up exercise as it is noted as key to boosting one’s immune system. Can you explain more? But given the current situation and the advice to avoid groups, how can seniors still exercise and enjoy the benefits?
Exercise promotes good health and improves circulation to our organs so that our immune cells can reach where they are needed. Exercise also improves immune cell function. You don’t need to exercise vigorously. Just 45 minutes of brisk walking four to five times a week will help you feel better and get you some fresh air and sunshine.
Vitamin D is a natural hormone vitamin that is produced by the body when directly exposed to sunlight. It is useful in maintaining strong bones and is an important pro-survival molecule in the immune system. Having adequate Vitamin D reduces our likelihood of getting viral infections such as influenza. Besides sunlight, we can also get some from food sources such as salmon, sardines, egg yolk, shrimp, and fortified milk, cereal and juices.
** MORE TIPS: Dr Julian Ng from DTAP Clinic recently shared an article on having a strong immune system and noted the importance of getting enough sleep, stop smoking cigarettes or cigars, doing regular exercise and consuming healthy foods. He shared his list of some of the many foods that have high vitamins or micronutrients that may help boost our immune system:
- Sweet potatoes – 769 percent Vitamin A daily value (based on 200g).
- Kale – 206 percent Vitamin A and 134 percent Vitamin C daily value (based on 67g).
- Sunflower seeds, almonds – rich in Vitamin E.
- Legumes – rich in magnesium.
- Oysters – rich in zinc.