“You don’t want your immune system to be stronger, you want it to be balanced. Too much of an immune response is just as bad as too little response.”Suzanne L. Cassel, MD
To succeed, a false slogan must contain an element of truth. In the slogan ‘Boost Immunity, Beat Omicron,’ better the immunity better the chance of beating Omicron is the truth. That immunity can be boosted, is the lie. Because no scientific evidence yet that immunity can be boosted.
Why Immunity cannot be boosted
Immunity is not a single entity. It is an intricate system of many types of cells that respond to diverse types of microbes in diverse ways. These cells must act in harmony for a correct immune response. How many of each type of cell, or what mix of cells, produces optimum immune response is not known.
In fact, much about immune response is unknown. Why some people have a more balanced immune response than others is not known. No scientific proof that lifestyle or food or drinks can enhance immunity. Effects of age, diet, exercise, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response are still being researched.
What can be surmised from the available limited information about the working of the immune system is that certain factors weaken it, and certain factors improve it.
Factors that weaken Immune response
Immune response reduces with age. This may be because thymus atrophies with age and produces fewer T cells to fight the infection. Or maybe because bone marrow becomes less efficient and produces fewer stem cells of the immune system.
The elderly is therefore more likely to fall to infections and cancers, and more likely to die from them, as compared to the young. Respiratory infections, influenza, the COVID-19 virus and pneumonia are a leading cause of death in people over 65 worldwide. Also, vaccines are less effective in persons over sixty-five than in children.
Mind and body are intricately linked. Chronic emotional stress is linked to a variety of maladies such as stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease. Chronic stress may reduce immune responses, and, or may aid autoimmune diseases.
Vitamin D deficient persons may be more prone to infections. A study showed that enough vitamin D might reduce the risk of Covid infection by 54%. Also, vitamin D-sufficient persons have a significantly lower risk for serious complications from COVID-19.
Vitamin D is often called “the sunshine vitamin” because natural light is one of its best sources. UV lamp, fatty fish and seafood, liver, mushrooms, egg yolks, Vitamin D-fortified foods, and Vitamin D supplement are its other sources. The pandemic may keep people indoors and thus reduce their exposure to natural light and cause Vitamin D insufficiency. Even otherwise many persons suffer from Vitamin D insufficiency.
Lab tests show that micronutrient deficiencies – for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E – alter immune responses in animals. Whether this happens in humans is not known.
Elderly eat less and have less variety in their diet and are therefore more prone to micronutrient malnutrition. Multivitamin and mineral supplements may help the elderly to maintain better immune response.
Factors that Improve Immune response
Health is the only precursor of immune response. Better the health better the response. Factors which improve health, also improve immune response.
For better health and thus better immune response:
- Have a balanced diet. Include more fruits, vegetables, leafygreen vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and high fibre foods (whole grain, nuts, dried fruits, etc.) in diet. Some studies show that eating probiotic foods such as yogurt, sour pickles, and traditional buttermilk, and ginger, and garlic may also be beneficial.
- Do not use tobacco in any form, especially do not smoke.
- Do not drink alcohol, or drink only in moderation.
- Avoid or reduce drinks and foods high in caffeine such as dark chocolate, coffee, energy drinks, sodas, green tea, and black tea.
- Maintain a healthy weight (BMI: 18.5 to 24.9).
- Remain hydrated. Hydration is a part of good immune functioning. Water is the best hydrator. Do not waste money on pricey ‘immune boosting’
- Get adequate sleep (7-9 hours a day for adults). Set sleep schedule, reduce light and noise in the bedroom, and eat a light dinner.
- Minimize stress and anxiety. Do yoga, meditation, deep breathing. Practice ‘mindfulness.’ Listen to soothing music. Spend time with friends and family.
- Exercise promotes good circulation, and this makes the immune system more efficient.
- Include cardiovascular exercises such as walk, jog, run, swim, and cycle 45-60 minutes, five days a week. Maintain heart rate of 64-74% of the maximum heart rate for your age (to get that, subtract your age from 220) during the exercise.
- Do strength training exercises two or three times a week. Exercise all major muscle groups. Do a single set of each exercise using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.
Good health begets good immune system. Some preparations may alter some components of immune function, but no evidence that it improves immunity. Similarly, some herbs may raise levels of antibodies in the blood but no evidence that it is beneficial to overall immunity.
Give immunity a chance. Take all recommended vaccines. They enable the immune system to recognize infections and fight them off before they settle in the body. Do not load your immune system with infections, especially infections like Omicron. Avoid crowed places, especially enclosed crowed place, keep social distance, wear mask, and wash hands frequently.
Take care of your immune system and it will take care of you.
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