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Am I doing all I can to support my immune system?

Recently I watched the BBC programme “The truth about….. boosting your immune system”.

As someone with Fibromyalgia, I’m conscious of the importance of keeping well and being healthy so I was watching this programme to make sure that what I’m doing is still current advice and to see if there’re any new suggestions.

Dr Ronx Ikharia began by exploring supplements that are widely available. There are many bottles to be found on the shelves of the pharmacy or health food shop all reporting to support the immune system but are they effective? Dr Ikharia stressed that it’s important to buy good quality supplements as some have such small quantities of the ingredient it doesn’t have any therapeutic benefit. Echinacea has some of the best research behind it when it comes to supporting immune health with herbal remedies. Professor Michael Heinrich from the UCL School of Pharmacy was quoted saying:

“Echinacea is one of the best-studied herbal medical products and the evidence is certainly reasonable. It makes therapeutic sense to help prevent, and in many cases also treat, symptoms of the common cold and mild flu with echinacea.”

Published evidence supports echinacea's benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold (1)

So, if you want to boost your immune system Echinacea is a good place to start. Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D were also mentioned to support the immune system. Vitamin D can be produced when the ultraviolet rays from the sun hit the skin but, depending on skin colour and where you live, you may not be getting as much Vitamin D as you need.

Certainly, during the winter months in the UK and as we’re tending to spend even more time indoors with lockdown, many of us will be deficient and would benefit from a supplement. The NHS website gives this advice:

You should take 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day between October and early March to keep your bones and muscles healthy.

Personally, I take Vitamin D all year round.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods including:

· oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel

· red meat

· liver

· egg yolks

· fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals.

Vitamin C is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables.

Good sources include:

· citrus fruit – such as oranges and orange juice

· peppers

· strawberries

· blackcurrants

· broccoli

· brussels sprouts

· potatoes.

Good sources of zinc include:

· meat

· shellfish

· dairy foods – such as cheese

· bread

· cereal products – such as wheatgerm.

Tying in nicely with the suggested dietary ways of getting vitamins and minerals, the programme also mentioned the importance of gut health. A diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, thus providing plenty of fibre, with reduced sugar and carbohydrates, helps to regulate the gut bacteria to a level that’s optimum for supporting the immune system.

As well as a healthy and varied diet, Dr Ikharia also looked at lifestyle changes that could also support the immune system. Plenty of good quality sleep, moderate exercise, reducing alcohol intake and reducing stress were all mentioned.

One activity that some may be surprised to hear, (but not me, of course) was that massage can boost your immunity. Yes, we’re all aware that massage is relaxing and often seen as a treat, but it’s so much more than that. When Government restrictions allow, do your immune health a favour and book a massage, it’ll help relieve stress and promote relaxation. Especially if you also book to use the hot tub which has numerous health benefits too.

My conclusion from watching this programme was, I’m doing well at supporting my immune health and could improve it further by upping my exercise a little, reducing my alcohol intake and probably eating a bit less chocolate – so that’s something I can focus on as I move through 2021.

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