The immune system protects the body from health issues caused by bacteria, viruses, and toxins as you go about your daily activities.
It also facilitates the removal of foreign bodies and malignant cells from the body and is responsible for the downregulation of the immune responses against harmless external triggers such as food and medications.
However, if you are immunocompromised, meaning you have a weak immune system, your body won’t experience all these benefits. You will pick up infections and infectious diseases more easily, with effects that could be serious and even life-threatening.
Immune System and the Common Cold
The condition of your immune system plays a crucial role in determining how your body can defend against the cold and flu viruses.
Health experts say that people with a weak immune system are more likely to catch the common cold.1 This contagious upper respiratory infection comes with a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including headaches, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and cough.
If you are immunocompromised, you are more likely to get a cold during winter or when the temperatures start going down. Even if you try to minimize your exposure to people who are ill, the time you spend on buses and trains, working in the office, and at home can cause you to get sick too.
Additionally, the rhinovirus and other types of virus that cause cold and flu tend to stay and live longer in colder and drier conditions. As such, they stick around longer during winter, which makes it easier for you to acquire them.
Strengthening Your Immune System to Fight the Common Cold
Taking the right medications can help you get rid of a chesty cough, congested or runny nose, sore throat, and other symptoms of the common cold. However, you will have a better chance of avoiding getting sick if you boost your immune system during winter.
Below are some tips for strengthening your immune system during the cold season:
1. Eat more immune-boosting foods.
Certain nutrients have been proven effective in boosting the immune system and keeping it healthy.2 These include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Having a balanced diet ensures you get all these immune-boosting nutrients.
Some of the best foods that have all these nutrients, which you need to include in your diet are:
- Citrus fruits
- Green tea
- Kale, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables
- Red bell peppers
- Tuna, salmon, and other fatty fish
2. Boost your probiotics intake.
Probiotics give the body various health benefits. These include enabling you to have healthy gut flora, preventing and treating diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disorders, and decreasing the severity of some allergies.
Probiotics can also help you boost your immunity.3 They do so by preventing the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut bacteria, which affects the immune system.
Certain strains of probiotics also promote the production of natural antibodies and immune cells, such as IgA-producing cells, T lymphocytes, and natural killer cells, in the body.
All these boost your immune system and help you stay healthy and keep cold viruses at bay.
3. Avoid eating processed foods.
Having a balanced diet and getting all the important nutrients you need for a stronger immune system can be canceled when you eat plenty of processed foods.
Processed foods contain unhealthy ingredients, such as sugars, fats, and other additives. The most harmful ones include aspartame, carrageenan, sucralose, and trans fats.
Although these substances improve the taste and texture of snacks and other foodstuffs, they can weaken your immune system.
Examples of foods that you will do well to avoid are:
- Processed and canned meat
- Microwavable meals
To boost your immune system, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables during meal and snack times.
4. Get more sleep.
The immune system rebuilds and revitalizes itself at night. As such, you need to get enough sleep to help strengthen it.
Adequate sleep plays a crucial role in keeping your immune system healthy and functioning properly.6
While asleep, your body produces and releases signaling proteins called cytokines that rebuild and reinvigorate the immune system.
Also, T-cells, a type of white blood cell that are essential components of the immune system, stick to their targets better when you get sufficient sleep.
Keep in mind that many studies show that people who are frequently sleep-deprived are more likely to catch flu and the common cold.7 As such, give your body and immune system enough time to rebuild and recharge and themselves at night sufficiently by getting seven to eight hours of sleep daily.
5. Work out regularly.
Regular exercise and physical activity are good for your physical and mental health and your immune system.8
Frequent workouts stimulate the circulation of white blood cells, allowing them to respond efficiently to invading extracellular parasites. They also boost the cellular immune response, which helps eliminate intracellular infections, including viral infections of the upper respiratory tract.
Adequate exercise also allows your body’s B-cells to produce antibodies to fight off viruses.
Try to get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise weekly. While the weather is still mild, work out and engage in some physical activities outdoors to get vitamin D – another nutrient that helps boost the immune system.
6. Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
Excessive nicotine use and alcohol consumption also have various negative effects on your health and immune system.9
Nicotine depresses your immune system since it suppresses the antibodies created by your body that fight cold and flu viruses. On the other hand, alcohol consumption can weaken your immunity by destroying its protective barriers.
Additionally, smoking and drinking alcohol excessively have also been associated with weight gain and dehydration, which taxes your immunity and creates a conducive environment for viruses.
The sooner you quit these unhealthy habits, the better it is for your body and your immune system.
Aside from these immunity-boosting tips, drink more water and wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Moreover, keep your home well-ventilated and disinfect surfaces regularly.
Make sure you also stock up on supplements, cough medicines, and other medications that can help you treat symptoms immediately.
All these practices will boost your immune system and help you avoid getting a cold during winter.