For so many, the threat of the fast-spreading coronavirus is all-consuming. For people living with diabetes, that threat seems even more real.
While current evidence suggests that type 1 diabetics are at no higher risk for contracting or suffering complications from the disease, any illness can have profound and debilitating effects on your blood sugars. For that reason alone, it is a good idea to prepare your immune system just in case you are exposed.
Unfortunately, there is no panacea to strengthening your immune system despite the claims of hundreds of supplements and self-care companies.
There are, however, a few steps you can take that have been scientifically proven to increase disease resistance and prepare your immune system to effectively fight off viruses.
Here are five of the most effective ways of boosting your immune system.
5 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System
While there are studies that show the power of certain vitamins and herbs to shorten the duration of viral symptoms, these same supplements will not boost the immune system before infection.
This makes sense considering the complex nature of our immune systems which rely on multiple pathways, cell types, and even the bacteria in our gut to function properly. Trying to strengthen this system with a single vitamin is like replacing the bolts on a rollercoaster and expecting it to run faster.
To support your immune system and give it a fighting chance against COVID-19, you need to provide it with a long list of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, prebiotics, and other micronutrients that naturally exist together.
And the best way to do this is through a healthy diet that consists largely of colorful fruits and veggies as well as some healthy fats.
Dark leafy greens, orange fruits, and other deeply pigmented plant foods are rich in vitamin C, inflammation-reducing antioxidants, and other important nutrients that aid in immune function. Healthy fats like olive and flaxseed oils also play a role in reducing inflammation and providing energy for your immune cells.
As a bonus, a diet rich in healthy plant-based foods also tends to increase insulin sensitivity and can make managing your diabetes easier while reducing your insulin needs.
Regular moderate exercise has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the immune system.
By increasing your heart rate, exercise naturally reduces inflammation that can otherwise impair your immune system’s ability to fight off infection. This same increase in blood flow can also help increase the amount of immunosurveillance happening in your body, allowing your system to detect and fight off invaders before they establish.
The key to using exercise to strengthen your immune system rather than depress it is to keep your activity at a moderate level. Intense or prolonged exercises, such as long-distance running and extreme weight lifting, actually have the opposite effect on immune function and are more likely to make you susceptible to infections like COVID-19.
Focus on regular moderate exercise. According to the Cleveland Clinic, examples of this kind of healthy exercise would be walking or biking for 30 minutes, running for 15 minutes, or walking stairs for 15 minutes.
Not only will doing these types of exercise regularly boost your immune system, but they will also help increase metabolism, help shed excess weight, and decrease insulin resistance.
If there is one positive to social distancing and being forced to stay in, it’s that you finally have the chance to catch up on your sleep. And, according to research, those extra Z’s can have a huge impact on your immune system’s ability to function properly.
While there are still many mysteries surrounding sleep and why it is so essential, one thing we know for sure is that sleep is restorative. Getting rest allows your immune system to reset. This could be one reason why researchers have found that adults who sleep more than 6 hours per night are less likely to catch colds than those who sleep less.
So, if you find yourself with less to do these days, catching up on your rest is a valuable way to spend your time. But don’t confuse sleep with simply being sedentary. In order to gain the immune-strengthening benefits of sleep, you actually need to be sleeping, not just resting while watching TV or playing video games.
Stress has a lot of negative side effects on the body. Hormones like cortisol increase cravings for unhealthy foods while simultaneously causing your liver to dump glucose into your bloodstream.
But stress doesn’t just cause issues with blood sugar.
Stress can also depress your immune system and make you more susceptible to viral infections. One study showed that long-term stress increased inflammation and the odds of the subject developing a cold when exposed to a rhinovirus.
By taking steps to decrease your stress levels and find healthy management techniques for long-term stress, it is possible to strengthen your immune system. And, since stress has a negative impact on diabetes management, focussing on de-stressing can create positive changes all around.
Of course, lowering your stress levels in the middle of a pandemic is much easier said than done. If you are struggling to keep your stress in check, here are some tips to help you relax.
Tame Bad Habits
Sometimes strengthening your immune system has less to do with what you are doing and more to do with what you’re not.
Many habits can have a negative effect on immune function.
Eating junk foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats increase inflammation and offer little in the way of nutrition that is needed for proper immune system function. A sedentary lifestyle has similar negative effects on your body.
Other bad habits that can negatively affect immune function are drinking and smoking.
While drinking alcohol in moderation can have a slight positive impact on present stress levels, drinking too much or too frequently can impair the function of immune cells and even allow more pathogens to pass through the gut into the body.
Of course, if you smoke, drink heavily, eat poorly, are inactive, and you have type 1, this is probably not the first time you have been encouraged to change your ways. And now, you have one more very good reason to do so.
Special Considerations for Diabetics
While these tips for boosting your immune system are helpful for everyone, there are additional steps people living with diabetes should take to help keep themselves safe.
Elevated blood sugars cause inflammation in the body which can contribute to a depressed immune system and immune dysfunction.
Keeping your blood sugar levels within the normal range is always important, but during this uncertain time, it is even more so. Frequent blood sugar checks and focused insulin management are the first steps to achieving better diabetes control.
Following the above tips will also help increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar fluctuations in addition to boosting the immune system.