The Importance of Strong Immunity
Having a strong, healthy immune system is imperative in helping to fight off potentially harmful viruses and bacteria, such as the coronavirus. When your immune system is low, you are much more susceptible to picking up infections and diseases with the effects being much more serious, so it’s important to support it in order for it to function at its very best.
When caring for somebody living with dementia, it is vital that you remain strong and healthy so you can deliver the best care, whilst also ensuring they have a high functioning immune system to protect them against any debilitating illness. Dr Emer MacSweeney, Medical Director at Re:Cognition Health shares her tips and favourite foods for helping maintain a strong immune system:
A fresh Mediterranean diet filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, protein, seeds, grains and pulses is instrumental in supporting a healthy immune system.
Below are some of the best immune boosting foods to support a healthy mind and body and remember you can also use frozen produce which still retains nutritional quality. Batch cooking and freezing is an excellent time-saving and cost-effective way to prepare meals.
Vitamin C helps build up your immune system and increases the number of white blood cells which help fight infections, attacking bacteria, germs and viruses. Vitamin C is found in oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, berries, mango, pineapple and papaya.
Red Peppers: Did you know that red peppers have the highest concentration of vitamin C? (twice as much as citrus fruit) They are also a rich source of beta carotene, helping to also keep your eyes and skin healthy.
Broccoli: this delicious superfood is supercharged with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre and is thought to boost our immune system as we age. Other cruciferous vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and bok choi also help fight free radicals in the body and eliminate toxins and carcinogens.
Spinach: Packed with beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin A and antioxidants, spinach is healthiest when eaten lightly cooked (where it releases it’s vitamin A content) or raw so it retains its nutrients.
Almonds: Rich in vitamin E, antioxidants and healthy fats, almonds are delicious immune boosting nuts. A half cup serving will provide the recommended daily requirement of vitamin E.
Chicken: Chicken soup is often a feel-good recovery remedy for colds but it can also help protect you against getting one. It is rich in vitamin B-6 which plays an important role in the body with chemical reaction and the formation of new red blood cells.
Shellfish: Rich in zinc, shellfish such as lobster, crabs, mussels and clams helps boost the immune function.
Sunflower seeds: Rich in vitamin E, phosphorous and magnesium which help regulate and support a healthy immune system.
Dark leafy greens: An excellent source of fibre, folate, calcium, iron and vitamins C & K, dark leafy greens help regulate the immune system, helping the cells in the gut to function effectively.
Tea: Green and black tea are renowned for their immune-boosting properties and are also thought to help protect the body against certain harmful bacteria– put the kettle on!
Spices: Add Garlic, ginger, turmeric and curcumin to your cooking for extra anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits.
Salmon: Filled with an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower blood pressure and inflammation, salmon also contains B vitamins and potassium which also help improve cognitive function.
Yoghurt: live and active cultures in yoghurt help to stimulate the immune system to help fight disease.
In conjunction with healthy lifestyle habits such as diet, sleep and managing stress, exercise can help boost the immune system. Exercise helps promote sleep and reduces stress hormones, which can weaken the immune system, and releases endorphins (feel-good hormones). It improves metabolic health, has anti-inflammatory influence on the body and helps delay the onset of ageing. Exercise helps more oxygen to be absorbed into the blood, helping to flush away bad bacteria and improves circulation.
Dancing is an ideal way to keep active, not only does it help with cardio fitness but learning new routines is also a great workout for the brain as you remember new moves and routines.
Sleep: Sleep is an essential function for the body helping to maintain a healthy brain function, physical health, executive function and emotional wellbeing. It also helps promote a healthy immune system. Cytokines, a type of protein which is made and released during sleep, targets infection and inflammation in the body and creates an immune response. Without sufficient sleep, fewer cytokines are produced which results in weaker immunity.
7-9hours are recommended each night, and naps are also a great way to top up on the slumber (particularly good for people living with dementia who may not be sleeping well through the night)
Hydration: Drink plenty of water to help stave off infection and support your body to naturally eliminate bacteria and toxins. The mucous membrane, which covers the surface of the organs in the body, is your first line of defence against infection and if this dries out bacteria and viruses can get through more easily. Ensure your water is room temperature and try to sip water every 30 minutes for the best protection.
Other things that seriously compromise the immune system:
Reduce stress – Stress causes the brain to produce cortisol which impairs the function of the immune system over prolonged periods. Meditation and yoga are great stress-reducing exercises and are a great practice to incorporate into the daily routine.
Stop smoking- Nicotine, whether inhaled through cigarettes or e-cigarettes, increases cortisol levels, reduces cell antibody formation and damages the lungs which makes them more susceptible to infection.
Reduce alcohol consumption – Drinking in excess impairs ciliary function of the lungs which works to keep the airways clear of dirt and irritation. It also reduces the immune system’s response to bad bacteria, increasing the risk of infection.
Socialise – The increased anxiety associated with loneliness can be detrimental to the immune system. It’s important to keep socially active, even if it’s staying in touch with loved one via technology such as Facetime, WhatsApp Skype or messenger. Virtual group gatherings through apps such as Zoom can also be arranged – it’s a great way to stay connected with friends and family throughout the challenging times we are currently living in.