Top pharmacist tips to get your immune system in tune

As we muddle our way through our third lockdown, with vaccination in sight and hope for a return to ‘normal’ in our hearts, now is the time to make sure your immune system is at its absolute best. Research has shown that an immune system which is not properly fuelled or is impaired can raise the risk of a poor response to vaccination.

The European Food Safety Authority notes, the vitamins A, B6, B9, B12, C and D and the minerals zinc, selenium, iron and copper are all needed for the immune system to function as it should and to reduce the risk of infection.

Pharmacist Sinead Mullins from Mullins CarePlus Pharmacy in Salthill, Co. Galway has compiled a list of the seven best ways to supercharge your immunity and give your body its best shot at health and immunity prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.

Eat Well - “Maintaining a healthy diet keeps the immune system balanced and ready to fight against infection and viruses”, says Sinead. “When it comes to shopping for fruit and veg, a rule of thumb is: the more colour the better. It is also important to note that a strong immune system is built by maintaining healthy eating habits over time”.

Keep Moving - “Engaging in regular, moderate exercise, such as a daily 30-minute walk can help your immune system to fight infection”, says Sinead. Regular aerobic or moderate exercise prior to receiving the Covid-19 vaccination can help improve antibody responses post vaccination in older people, according to researchers at Trinity College Dublin.

Hydrate - Drinking water can do wonders for your immune system, as it can help your kidneys to flush toxins effectively from the body. Sinead says water offers a wealth of benefits: “It also helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells. You should avoid too much of anything that will make you dehydrated – such as coffee – and eat more hydrating foods, such as cucumber, celery and watermelon”.

Stress Less - When we are stressed, our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, making us more susceptible to infection. Sinead explains the science: “Excess stress levels increase the hormone cortisol and inflammation in the body as a result. When your cortisol levels are elevated for a prolonged period, this can suppress immune function, making you more vulnerable to illness”.

Sleep Soundly - This is closely related to the stress concerns, according to Sinead: “As with stress, sleep deprivation can also cause an increase in the body’s levels of cortisol and resulting inflammation in the body, suppressing immune function over time”. Research has shown approximately 2/3 of adults around the world do not get enough sleep, with the World Health Organisation recommending that we aim for around 8 hours a night.

Take your Vitamins - Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections. As the body does not produce or store it, you need a daily intake of vitamin C. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, making it easy to add this vitamin to any meal, while supplements are also available. Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system and boost our body’s natural defenses against disease. As it is difficult to get sufficient vitamin D from dietary sources such as salmon and eggs, and we do not get sufficient sunshine in Ireland, it is advisable to take a vitamin D supplement to boost your immune system. Vitamin E is also key to a healthy immune system.

Super Supplements - A deficiency of single nutrients available in supplements such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper and folic acid, along with vitamins A, B6, C, D and E can alter the way in which your immune system responds to infection. These nutrients work together as antioxidants, supporting growth of immune cells and producing antibodies.

Sinead has also been taking probiotics herself for 20 years and believes they have something to offer most people: “I’ve been recommending them to people for so long now that customers come in saying ‘I hear you’re the woman to talk to about probiotics’! They can be a great help for all kinds of digestive concerns including IBS, diarrhoea, tummy bugs, indigestion and problems people might not expect too, like eczema and other atopic conditions. If a customer comes in and asks about probiotics, I’ll have a good chat with them about any existing conditions and medication they’re on before discussing the right kind of product to suit them. It’s amazing that when you ask people how they’re feeling, they might say ‘I’m fine’, but when you delve in, they might say bloating is an issue, or heartburn, something they don’t see as a major problem. I’m also a big believer in prevention being better than cure, and if probiotics can help these issues, why not give them a try?”

If you have any concerns about how you can boost your immune system or even if you would simply like to know more, your local CarePlus Pharmacist or GP can offer you expert advice.