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From cutting back on salt to taking your statins, how to keep your immune system fit

For the time being, there is no miracle cure that offers protection against coronavirus.

And while vitamin C supplements are sold in huge amounts, hard evidence is still lacking for their effectiveness in preventing even colds.

JO WATERS reports on the ways in which you can keep your immune system in good condition.

Eating a varied and colorful diet can help boost your immune system in case of infection

Eating a varied and colorful diet can help boost your immune system in case of infection

TRAINING CAN REALLY HELP YOU STAY HEALTHY

“Exercise is my most important tip for staying healthy,” said Professor Janet Lord, an expert on immunity and aging at the University of Birmingham.

‘Using muscles during exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps immune cells, called neutrophils, get to an infection site more quickly.

“It also helps other immune cells called macrophages -” guard “cells that patrol the body for signs of attack – function better,” she explains.

Exercise can also reduce the effects of aging on the immune system. A study of 125 avid cyclists ages 55 to 79 found they had immune systems from people decades younger, Aging Cell magazine reported in 2018.

“The thymus [a gland with two lobes behind the breastbone]Called immune cells T cells, they begin to shrink from the age of 20 and produce fewer T cells, ‘explains Professor Lord.

“In this study, cyclists’ thymuses made as many T cells as those of a young person.”

Another study, conducted by the University of Birmingham, involving 200 people over the age of 65, found that those who regularly walked 10,000 steps a day had the neutrophil function of a person in their twenties.

“Any regular exercise that increases your heart rate seems to be able to” reverse “the immune system, says Professor Lord. “We don’t know how little you need to do to make this possible, although 10,000 steps a day seem enough to circulate neutrophils throughout the body.

“But any exercise is better than none. You should move as much as possible, even if it only goes up and down a few times in an armchair or you walk up and down the stairs a few times a day. ‘

Exercise can keep your immune system fit and ward off disease (stock photo)

Exercise can keep your immune system fit and ward off disease (stock photo)

Exercise can keep your immune system fit and ward off disease (stock photo)

DRAIN THE SALT

A diet high in salt may reduce immune system efficiency, according to a study published last week.

When scientists fed mice a high-salt diet, they became more susceptible to bacterial infections.

And when human volunteers doubled the recommended intake of 6 g of salt per day (the amount in two servings of burgers and chips), their immune systems deteriorated in fighting bacteria.

COUNT YOUR CALORIES

“People should be careful not to overeat, because obesity can cause inflammation in the body,” said Arne Akbar, a professor of immunology at UCL and president of the British Society of Immunology.

Fat cells produce toxic chemicals that can affect the body’s immune response – we compare the effect of these chemicals to ‘friendly fire’. However, older people should not cut costs. “Not many people in their eighties are overweight,” adds Professor Akbar. “It is possible because their metabolism is changing, so they need their calories and should not limit them.

“But younger people need to maintain a healthy weight.”

The study authors, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, said that the body produces hormones to remove excess salt and that glucocorticoids – a group of hormones – have an immunosuppressive effect.

“It is also known that excess salt may increase a certain type of cell called T-helper 17 cells, potentially increasing harmful inflammation,” added Jenna Macciochi, an immunology professor at the University of Sussex.

READY FOR OFFICIAL GUIDELINES

While it’s tempting to have a few drinks locked, excess alcohol isn’t good for the immune system. “Drinking too much can affect the production of immune cells in the bone marrow,” says Jenna Macciochi. “These are needed to replace older cells that are less effective.”

When scientists exposed white blood cells in a laboratory to the equivalent of five units of alcohol (about three glasses of wine) daily for a week, the cells produced 75 percent less of a molecule called type 1 interferon, which is essential for mounting an antiviral response, reported the journal BMC Immunology in 2011.

“Alcohol is also a sleep disruptor, and poor quality sleep can also damage immunity,” adds Jenna Macciochi. Excess alcohol can also damage the gut wall, where 70 percent of the body’s immune system is located.

So stick to the government’s recommendation not to consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Getting plenty of sunshine is also recommended. Boris Johnson has said that British people can do one exercise outing every day

Getting plenty of sunshine is also recommended. Boris Johnson has said that British people can do one exercise outing every day

Getting plenty of sunshine is also recommended. Boris Johnson has said that British people can do one exercise outing every day

ADD THE SUNSHINE VITAMIN

“Vitamin D has many beneficial effects on the immune system,” said Arne Akbar, a professor of immunology at University College London and president of the British Society of Immunology.

Many people in the UK are deficient at this time of year because the body needs exposure to sunlight to make it, so a supplement is helpful. I’ll take one myself. ‘

The recommended daily dose is 10 mcg per day in winter, as the sun in the UK is not strong enough to allow the body to produce itself. You can get some vitamin D from your diet, but it’s hard to get enough of eating alone – for example, you should be eating large amounts of shiitake mushrooms and fatty fish.

A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that elderly people in care homes who received high doses of vitamin D – equivalent to 90 mcg per week – were 40 percent less likely to experience acute respiratory illness.

CONTINUE TO TAKE THE STATIN

About seven million people in the UK use cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, and this can have unexpected benefits for their immune system.

A study of 64 patients at the University of Birmingham found that those over 55 years of age who were hospitalized with pneumonia and who received 80 mg simvastatin daily for seven days had higher neutrophil function than those who received placebo.

The study, last year in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, also found that after a year, those in the statin group had a lower death rate than those in the placebo group.

“As we age, neutrophils reach the infection site more slowly and when they get there they are less effective at killing the infection,” says Professor Lord.

However, in this study, statins seemed to rejuvenate neutrophils. This has not yet been modified as standard practice because we need larger studies to confirm these findings.

“In the meantime, if you’ve already prescribed statins, don’t forget to take them.”

It is also recommended that everyone eat a range of fruits and vegetables to keep their immune systems healthy and ready to fight infection (stock image)

It is also recommended that everyone eat a range of fruits and vegetables to keep their immune systems healthy and ready to fight infection (stock image)

It is also recommended that everyone eat a range of fruits and vegetables to keep their immune systems healthy and ready to fight infection (stock image)

EAT MANY COLORS

Despite the hype surrounding certain foods, there is no “superfood” that only boosts your immune system, says Megan Rossi, a dietitian at King’s College London. What’s important, she says, is feeding your gut microbiota, the trillions of microbes that call your gut home.

“Your microbiota has been associated with stronger immunity and plays a key role in training, maintaining and supporting our immune system,” said Megan Rossi.

To maintain a healthy microbiota, she recommends eating a wide variety of plant foods. “The more variety, the better: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (beans and legumes), nuts and seeds,” she says.

Frozen, canned and dried all count and go for different colors – think red and yellow peppers, green and black grapes.

“That way you feed your diverse team of microbes their favorite food.”

AND FINALLY … ZINC IS GOOD FOR US

Older people ages 55 to 87 who took zinc supplements had a lower infection rate than those who took a placebo, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007.

“There is some evidence that zinc is good for the immune system, but we don’t know how much is beneficial and how long you should take it,” said Professor Akbar.

The NHS recommends that men receive 9.5 mg per day and women 7 mg. Zinc is found in meat, shellfish, dairy products and fortified grains.

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