We are all susceptible to colds and numerous viral infections, but in Hong Kong, where we are densely populated and face high levels of air pollution, stressful living, and rapid weather changes, the probability is even greater. Then there are those who are more susceptible: the elderly, pregnant women, and young children. According to Dr Benita Perch, naturopathic physician and homeopath at the Integrated Medicine Institute, your best line of defence is your own immune system.
But First, a Word of Caution
You may think that a course of antibiotics is your best defence against a virus, but the truth is quite the opposite. Antibiotics should never be used to treat a virus. While they can be helpful for more severe infections, such as strep throat and bronchitis, taking them unnecessary can actually do more harm than good. Misusing or overusing antibiotics can weaken your immunity and cause the body to build up a resistance to the drugs, which can have a detrimental effect on your future health – at a time when you might need them to treat a severe bacterial infection.
How To Boost Your Immunity
There are some simple steps that you can take to minimise your chances of catching a bug – or at the very least, lessen symptoms and reduce sick time – and this begins with a strong and healthy immune system. So how do you keep your immune system in tip-top condition?
1. Maintain a Healthy Diet
This means eating lots and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and if you can buy organic, that’s even better. Organic foods have twice the number of anti-oxidants in them as non-organic. Fruits and vegetables have all the essential vitamins and anti-oxidants we need, including A, C, E, zinc, and iron. Juices are also a great way to pack in the vitamins and nutrients and nourish your immune system (check out some of the best smoothie bars in Hong Kong). You can also take a daily dose of good-quality vitamin supplements which you can find in various health stores around the city.
2. Exercise Regularly
We know that regular exercise is important for our general good health, as it improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. A medical study conducted among 1,000 people by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that staying active nearly halved the odds of catching cold viruses and made the infection less severe, so make sure you get regular exercise every week.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
A good sleep pattern is vital for strengthening immunity and directing energy towards recuperation. Studies reveal that adults who sleep less than 7 hours per day are 3 times more likely to get sick. So try to get to bed at a reasonable hour and aim for the recommended 8 hours of sleep every night.
4. Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking water supports a healthy metabolism, aids digestion, and flushes out toxins from the body. This is even more important when we are fighting a cold and at risk of dehydration, particularly if we are running a fever. Water also helps protect us from getting ill and assists the body in maintaining adequate production of mucus, which protects our lungs, airways, digestive system, and other parts of our body. Therefore, aim to drink around 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.
5. Get Plenty of Vitamin D
Research shows that more than 60 percent of people in Hong Kong are Vitamin D deficient, and Vitamin D is crucial for fighting off a multiple of diseases and infections including the common cold. The main source of Vitamin D is UV radiation from the summer sun, but this doesn’t help us during the winter months or when we are cooped up inside buildings all day. One sure way of getting enough Vitamin D is to add a good-quality supplement to your daily diet, so again, check the health stores around the city where you can find these on the shelves.
6. Take a Probiotics Supplement
Approximately 80 percent of the body’s immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract, which means that our gut is a major focal point to our overall health. Research shows that probiotics reduce the number of upper respiratory tract infections by a whopping 47 percent, therefore eating foods that are rich in probiotic microorganisms will help keep your gut healthy and reduce the chances of getting sick. Taking a good-quality probiotic supplement helps to replenish the good bacteria. Just bear in mind that probiotics need to be stored in carefully controlled temperature and humidity conditions in order to keep the strains alive, otherwise you are just wasting your money.
7. Reduce Your Stress Levels
High levels of stress elevate two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol, which can suppress our immune function and lower the body’s ability to fight an infection. Activities like meditation, yoga, and exercising outdoor – even if it’s a brisk walk – will help to decrease stress levels, regulate stress hormones, and keeps you from being bed-ridden.
8. Wash Your Hands Frequently
Finally, it is really important that you wash your hands frequently, scrubbing your palms, the back of your hands, and between your fingers for no less than 20 seconds, as this helps to stop infections from spreading.
If you suspect that your immune system isn’t performing at its optimal best, and you notice that you frequently catch colds (more than twice a year), or suffer with recurrent cold sores, then it is possible that your immune system is compromised, or that your diet or lifestyle choices are not providing you with the adequate vitamins and minerals that your body needs. A visit to a qualified naturopath can help you identify any imbalances. At IMI, for example, you can have a comprehensive patient evaluation, perform diagnostic tests to identify and treat deficiencies, and remove obstacles to healing such as toxins, allergens, and heavy metals. The aim is to optimise immune function and reduce illness.
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