When it comes to fighting off the flu – or any illness for that matter – a strong and healthy immune system has a big role to play.
For people living with diabetes, ensuring your immune system is fighting fit can be particularly important when it comes to managing the condition, especially if you get sick.
In the event of global pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak, having a healthy immune system – as well as complying with the official health recommendations around social distancing and practising good hygiene – may help you ward off the virus.
And with the arrival of the cold and flu season, it’s important now more than ever to ensure you are in the best possible health.
There are many ways you can boost your immunity, even if you are still isolating at home.
Here are some ways to help ensure your immune system is fighting fit this winter.
‘You are what you eat’ is more than just a saying.
By filling your diet with wholesome, fibre-rich foods, you’re not only fuelling your body the right way but you can stop the winter weight from creeping on.
Think a variety of fruit and vegetables, low GI carbohydrates like wholemeal bread and pasta, and fibre-rich foods.
Diabetes WA nutritionist Melissa Robinson says it is especially important to maintain a diet rich in these foods to give us the nutrients we need to support a healthy immune system and help keep blood glucose levels stable.
“Foods that are rich in fibre can fill us up for long periods of time, making us less tempted to reach for foods high in sugar, salt and fat,” she says.
“Fibre-rich foods also help to slow the release of glucose into the blood stream, resulting in better management of blood glucose levels.”
Probiotics (found in yoghurt) can help improve gut health, while omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish and flaxseed) as well as fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C can also help boost immunity.
“Specific nutrients that are essential for producing cells involved in the immune system include zinc, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E,” Melissa adds.
Making sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water is another way to ensure a healthy immune system as it helps with body function and flushes out toxins.
Whether it’s getting out for a walk, doing housework or a spot of gardening, as long as you’re moving your body, it all counts.
While you may be feeling flat or unmotivated when it comes to exercise, it’s a sure-fire way to get those endorphins flowing, which will make you feel better in the long run.
“Exercising at a moderate pace – brisk walking or equivalent – for 150 to 300 minutes per week will also help to boost our immune system, maintain our waistlines and provide us with ‘feel-good’ hormones that we undoubtedly need during this time,” Melissa says.
Performing regular, moderate intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week can act as a defence for the immune system to fight illness, decrease body inflammation, improve the body’s metabolic health and reduce stress, which can help you manage your weight.
SOAK UP MORE SUN
Getting out and about in the sunshine (keeping in mind social distancing measures) can improve your vitamin D levels which can help strengthen your immunity.
Recent research by Laval University has also suggested that vitamin D supplements may improve the action of insulin, which can help with blood glucose management and cell function.
AVOID ALCOHOL AND STOP SMOKING
You may think that stocking up on bottles of wine will help get you through periods of isolation, but alcohol can stop the immune cells from doing their work, therefore impairing your defence system. It’s also worth considering the benefits of quitting smoking, which can actually increase your risk of developing infections like the flu or pneumonia.
KEEP YOUR BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS IN CHECK
If you get sick with viruses like the flu, it can wreak havoc on your blood glucose levels (BGLs) by sending them too high or too low. High BGLs in particular can throw off your entire immune system and impact its ability to fight off an illness, meaning a longer recovery time which could potentially land you in hospital.
GET YOUR FLU SHOT
As we start to venture out more as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, if you’re living with diabetes, you should consider getting your annual flu shot if you haven’t already.
Why? Getting the flu jab may help prevent you from developing other flu viruses that can impact your immune system and if you’re living with diabetes, you may have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if you get the flu, with pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections among some of the complications you can develop.
“Winter often brings an increased risk of contracting a cold or flu,” Melissa says. “This risk can be higher in people with diabetes due to fluctuating blood glucose levels and a compromised immune system.”
In fact, people with diabetes who contract the flu are three times more likely to end up in hospital than those without the condition – which is all the more reason to make sure you get vaccinated as soon as you can.
While it is preferable to get your flu shot before winter kicks in, it’s better to be late than not at all.