With the colder season around the corner, your immune system should certainly be top of mind – especially in this new age of COVID-19. Getting colds frequently is annoying at the best of times, but especially now that a common cold can bring your entire household’s life to a halt for days, many are taking additional precautions to stay healthy.
There is evidence that healthy lifestyle choices can improve a person’s resistance against viral infections and bacteria and reduce the severity or duration of an infection. Basic recommendations for a strong immune system include enough quality sleep, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet. In turn, an unhealthy diet, a high-stress job or the home environment (hello quarantine situation) can set you up for infection by weakening the immune system.
While supporting the immune system is paramount, it raises the question: What are the signs that our immune system is lagging in the first place? Look out for the warning signs and give your immune system a boost if necessary.
1. Your stress-level is sky-high
It is anything but a coincidence that you tend to get sick following a big project at work or an important event at home. Scientific evidence shows that psychological stress disrupts immune regulation.
Avoiding stress can contribute to a well-functioning immune system; but this is not always in our hand. Reflecting on our own life, this year has not been short of challenges so far. Homeschooling and childcare without the support of our families, while keeping our young business alive, has certainly added to our stress levels. So we also have to look at improving our coping mechanisms, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, breathing techniques or simply some quality alone-time. No matter how crazy times are, you need to prioritise yourself from time to time.
You can also try to supplement your diet with adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha or Maca root. They have been used for centuries to reduce psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression.
2. You can’t seem to shake off that cold
Often a poor immune system manifests in frequent colds or infections. Two to three colds per year are considered normal for healthy adults; lasting between seven to 10 days. If it takes you longer to recover, or you keep getting colds, sinus or ear infections, your immune system might be functioning less than ideal.
If you keep getting colds, you may want to support your body in as many ways as possible. Your first line of defence is, of course, a healthy lifestyle. Making healthy choices, from diet to exercise, is the best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Certain nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin C (especially from natural sources), may give your immune system the extra boost it needed.
3. You are constantly feeling exhausted
Feeling constantly exhausted can also be a red flag, because when your immune system struggles, so does your energy level. That’s because your body directs the energy towards fuelling your immune system so it can fight off germs.
Chronic fatigue can have many causes and should be checked out by a health practitioner. But healthy lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise and a nutritious diet help the overall health and thereby the immune system. Try getting at least 8 hours of good quality sleep. Bedtime routines, meditation and breathing techniques may help with a healthy sleep routine.
4. Your diet is lacking nutrients
A healthy immune system needs good, regular nourishment. There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — can weaken the immune system. If you think your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs — for instance, you don’t like vegetables or simply don’t have the time for a balanced home-cooked meal every day, your immune system might not function to its full potential.
As conscious urban women, we are certainly into eating healthy and balanced – most days at least. However, if your busy lifestyle doesn’t allow for nourishing home-cooked meals every day, consider supplementing with a multivitamin that covers occasional nutritional gaps in your diet.
5. Your skin is red, itchy and breaking out
The skin is often a window into what’s going on inside your body. Itchy, red skin and inflammation can be a sign that something inside the body is not functioning as it should, including the immune system.
Have you ever noticed that whenever you have a cold or flu, your skin seems to suffer too? That is because the healing process of damaged skin relies on healthy immune cells. But if your immune system is weak, your skin can’t regenerate and wounds have a hard time healing. In fact, a weak immune system can manifest in all kinds of skin problems, including eczema, allergic reactions, bacterial, fungal, and viral infections such as herpes. Because your immune system is preoccupied with fighting off the intruder (virus or bacteria), other areas of the body, like your skin, might not get the same level of attention.
Address the immune-related skin problems at the skin level and from within. On the topical level, use gentle, unscented personal care products with as little chemicals as possible. Keeping your skin moisturized can help support a healthy skin microbiome. Ideally use creams and serums with anti-inflammatory and skin soothing capabilities, for instance, products with zinc and liquorice extract.
Boost your immune system naturally
If one or more of those signs are true for you, it can be an indication that your immunity might be impaired – or will be soon. The good news is, that with a few healthy lifestyle tweaks, you can improve your body’s natural defence mechanism. It is not new, but good advice never gets old:
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep
- Eat wholesome and nutritious foods and avoid refined sugar
- Find out which relaxation practice works for you
- Move your body once a day (but don’t overdo it – excessive workout might have the opposite effect)
- Wash your hands regularly
If you are looking to give your body an extra boost for this time of the year, consider taking high-quality multivitamins, ideally with natural ingredients.