As our population age’s scientists have discovered that our immune system deteriorates. This is immunosenescence, where there is a loss of effectiveness in preventing disease and infection and is associated with an increased susceptibility to infections. Our immune system is the first line in defence against invaders such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Therefore it is vital to support our immune system as we get older as you are more likely to experience a longer recovery, poorer response to treatments which may lead to hospitalisation or more serious complications to your health.

Viruses and bacteria are spread by coming into contact with the infected water droplets that are sneezed or coughed out, then inhaled by the next unsuspecting person. “Prevention is better than cure” is a cliché and apart from becoming a recluse over winter to avoid catching the flu or a cold, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk. Such as:

  • Wash your hands
  • Use hand sanitiser
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has an infection – the most contagious period is within the first 2 days of a cold starting
  • If you have initial symptoms of a cold avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth – which are easy entrance target points for bugs to get in
  • Use a tissue, or offer to someone who is obviously unwell to avoid spread of the infection.
  • Timely vaccination against influenza, pneumonia and booster immunization for shingles

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The best ways to help support immune system are:

  • Eat a healthy well balanced diet rich in micronutrients is the most important thing
  • Exercise regularly at least 4 times a week
  • Maintain hydration
  • Reduce stress levels and improve your sleep to at least 7 hours a night
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that you take, as steroids lower your defences
  • Make sure your blood pressure is well controlled and that you have a healthy weight
  • Control your sugar and cholesterol levels.

Many of our actions can lower our immunity so avoid the following:

  • Malnutrition of micronutrients (such as Vitamin D, C, E, Iron, Selenium and Zinc) – commonly seen in the elderly as they have a much smaller appetite and narrow range of foods in their diet
  • Alcohol
  • Stress
  • Excessive sugar intake
  • Obesity and sedentary lifestyle
  • Several courses of antibiotics over short period of time – inhibits gut bacteria which is the body’s largest area of defence against invaders

There are many over the counter remedies touted to combat a virus but the science behind many remedies is shakey. What has been shown is that it is important to have a good balance of micronutrients which aid your immune system by improving the function of your white blood cells. The most important of these are Vitamin C, D, E, aswell as Zinc and selenium and folic acid. These can all be found in a multivitamin or immune support supplement. The evidence is out on whether Echinacea helps or not.

As we age it is important to have a fighting fit immune system so that we can combat the common cold easily and avoid a prolonged recovery.

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