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Boosting your immune system

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our way of life for now. Times are challenging, and if we are currently healthy it seems the best we can do is look after ourselves and self-isolate as a way of caring for others.

But first – a disclaimer: in no way do we pretend to have medical training and you need to decide which advice is best for you and your family right now. That said, we’ve put together some information we think might be helpful in boosting your immune system.

 

First of all – what is the immune system? 

Your immune system defends the body from infection, and it is a like a web of networked cells, tissues and organs in your body. Your immune system is found in:

  • skin
  • bone marrow
  • the thymus, a gland in your upper chest
  • white blood cells, which fight infection
  • lymph, a milky fluid carrying white blood cells
  • the lymphatic system, a network of tiny vessels that carry lymph around the body
  • lymph nodes, small lumps in your groin, armpit, around your neck and elsewhere
  • the spleen, an organ under your ribs on the left
  • mucous membranes, like the lining of the inside of your mouth

 

How does the immune system work?

The skin and mucous membranes are the first line of defence against bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances. They act as a physical barrier, and they also contain immune cells.

When your skin has a cut, harmful microbes (tiny particles) can enter and invade your body. The cut triggers certain immune cells in the bloodstream that try to destroy the invaders.

In an infection, white blood cells identify the microbe, produce antibodies to fight the infection, and help other immune responses to occur. They also ‘remember’ the attack.

A Balanced Diet for a Stronger Immune System

Nutritionists agree that you can generally get all the nutrients you need for a strong immune system from a balanced diet. And with a couple of exceptions — folic acid for pregnant women, for example — most healthy people do not need to use supplements.

The 5 Food Groups are the acknowledged and benchmarked standard for nutritional balance. Each food group has important nutrients. The amount of each food you need will vary during your life, depending on factors such as how active you are and whether or not you are growing, pregnant, breastfeeding and more.

 

The 5 Food Groups are:

 

A word on vegetables and legumes (beans and peas)

Vegetables and legumes have hundreds of natural nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. To get the most from this group:

  • choose vegetables and legumes in season
  • look for different colours:
    • greens like beans, peas and broccoli
    • red, orange or yellow vegetables like capsicums, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin
    • purple vegetables like red cabbage and eggplant

 

Get more sleep

Sleep is important for your immune system. Research shows that sleep-deprived people can have suppressed immunity, meaning that they’re more at risk of catching viruses.

If you feel worried or you are anxious (about COVID-19, for example), you’re more at risk of sleep problems such as insomnia

There are some great apps and podcasts that can help you to sleep. We love the Calm app and the podcast Sleep With Me.  

 

Sanitise your phone

According to a new study, some viruses (including human coronaviruses that came before COVID-19) can remain infectious on surfaces for up to 9 days. So you should disinfect the ‘portable petri dish‘ that is your mobile phone regularly with a cleaning product that is 70% ethanol.

 

Pay Attention to your Mental Health

If you are feeling stressed or worried about the coronavirus (COVID-19), help is available. Speak to your GP or contact any of these organisations:

  • Beyond Blue offers mental-health counselling 24 hours a day on 1300 22 4636. You can also speak to someone via online chat (3pm to 12am, 7 days a week).
  • Children and young adults (up to age 25) can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 to speak with a counsellor, 24 hours a day. Online chat is also available 24/7.
  • Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 to speak with a trained mental health supporter, 24 hours a day. Online chat is available between 7pm and midnight (AEST), 7 days a week. You can also text 0477 13 11 14 between 6pm and midnight (AEST), 7 days a week.

 

Try and Have Fun

We won’t try and tell you how to have fun, but there are some fun things to do right now:

  1. Have an online dinner party. Use Zoom or Google Hangouts and see your friends online. Canva has even developed some fun virtual backgrounds to spice up your Zoom social occasion.
  2. Join an online choir. You can join in and sing songs with people from around the world. It’s incredible and uplifting at a time when we need it. 
  3. Do any number of free, creative things online. 

 

Source: The World Health Organization (WHO)

 

Sources:

Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (General information about the immune system)MedlinePlus (Immune response)myVMC (Human Immune System)National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Overview of the immune system)

National Health and Medical Research Council (Eat for Health Australian Dietary Guidelines)eatforhealth.gov.au (Five food groups)NSW Department of Health (Choose water as a drink)Australian Bureau of Statistics (Australian Health Survey: Nutrition)

 

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