Arrivals & Departures Boost your immunity

STEPHEN SCOURFIELD looks at how to keep viral infections at bay


If we remember one thing about viruses, it’s that treatments just help with symptoms while you wait for your immune system to fight off the virus.

We have a natural army inside us, ready to take them. That’s its job. And there are things we can do to arm that army, our immune system.

“Boosting our immunity” isn’t quite as easy as that because there are lots of different types of cells in our immune system (which is handy because they are facing so many different incoming microbes).

Scientists know that the body continually makes immune cells, but it’s fair to say there’s no consensus as to how many cells or what the best mix of cells the immune system needs to do its best work.

As we grow older, our immune responses reduce, allowing more infections and, incidentally, more cancer. Many studies have concluded that, compared with young people, the elderly are more likely to catch infectious diseases, and more likely to be severely affected.

Some researchers have concluded that this is to do with a decrease in T cells, maybe from the thymus atrophying and making less of these. T cells fight off infection. But whether other factors are at play is, it seems, not fully understood.

But there does seem to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in older people. Even in wealthy countries “micronutrient malnutrition” is actually quite common. Micronutrient malnutrition is when someone is deficient in essential vitamins and trace minerals.

A variety of diet and supplements may help older people maintain a healthier immune system, but this should be discussed with a doctor well versed in geriatric nutrition.

There are those who believe that olive-leaf extract can support the immune system. There are yoga practitioners who believe that asana practice is a natural means of supporting the immune system. Those practitioners seek to lower stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline, which compromise the immune system. Asana focuses on the lungs and respiratory tract, and stimulating the lymphatic system to expel toxins from the body and bring oxygenated blood to organs.

As news of a virus spreads, the societal stress caused by the “panicdemic” creates a more favourable environment for the virus to worsen into a pandemic.

We’ve turned to a wide variety of sources to bring advice on how to support and boost the immune system — our internal defence against viruses. We’ve picked out just a handful of front runners … maybe good for travel, and good for everyday life, of course.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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