How to strengthen your immune system and protect others during the pandemic
Regular exercise, a healthy diet and mental well-being strengthen our immune system and help the body fight pathogens such as viruses. This is especially important during a pandemic, when we are concerned about other people’s health as well as our own.
As the weather in many parts of the world now grows colder, we are experiencing the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more and more people are paying attention to their own and their family’s health to ward off viral and bacterial infections. Getting outdoors has been especially popular: fifty percent of Germans have been taking more walks since the pandemic began than they did previously. Although swimming pools, fitness studios and other sports facilities have repeatedly had to close, 13 percent of Germans – and 24 percent of those working from home – have been getting more exercise.1
Nearly a third are cooking for themselves regularly and using more fresh ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, than in the past.2 Google searches for vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals that strengthen immune defenses have also been up during the pandemic.3 A healthy diet, exercise and other measures to strengthen the immune system, such as reducing stress and getting more sleep – in combination with social distancing, frequent handwashing and routinely wearing a mask – currently offer the best protection against infections.
The immune system: our body’s defense system
Even aside from the current pandemic, we are exposed to innumerable viruses and bacteria every day. “When something foreign, such as a flu virus, enters our body, our immune system calls out the guards to ward off the invaders,” says Dr. Robert Eichler, a virologist and head of research for nutritional supplements at Bayer. Our immune system often combats these pathogens without us noticing anything. Sometimes we have symptoms when we’re fighting something off.
More information about the immune system can be found here.
However, these symptoms are often caused by our immune system’s response to infection, not by the virus itself. As soon as we are infected with a virus, the immune cells in the affected area send out messenger proteins to help the immune system respond efficiently.4 The blood vessels in the nose and throat expand, so that more white blood cells can flow into the affected areas to combat the virus. At the same time, mucus secretions increase, working to flush away the virus cells. We are all familiar with the results: a stuffy nose, blocked sinuses or perhaps a fever.5
“For most viral infections, treatment often alleviates the symptoms, giving the immune system time to combat the virus. Therefore, preventive health care includes strengthening the body’s own physiological defense system,” says Dr. Eichler. In addition to warding off the common cold, a well-functioning physiological defense system can also deter COVID-19 viruses or help make the course of an illness less severe. People who take care of their health and strengthen their immune system are not only less susceptible to illnesses themselves – they also help protect the health of the people they come in contact with every day.
How can we protect ourselves against viruses?
There are a number of measures we can take to protect ourselves, but also our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, from infections:
When you wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, you protect yourself and others against many pathogens. Thorough handwashing reduces the number of germs on your hands. This lowers the risk that pathogens carried on mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes will enter the body or be transmitted to family members, friends and colleagues. This is especially important during a pandemic.6
To prevent airborne transmission of the coronavirus, rooms where several people spend time should be ventilated at regular intervals. Wearing an appropriate, ordinary cloth mask can also minimize the risk of transmission. In addition, wherever possible, we should practice social distancing, staying at least 1.5 meters away from other people.7
Because chronic stress also increases the risk of inflammation that can affect the immune system, we should also pay attention to our mental health. This includes getting plenty of sleep, taking time to rest and doing activities that reduce stress (find more here).8
Eating well plays an important role in promoting good health. In particular, fruit and vegetables provide important vitamins and nutrients that can strengthen our immune system.
Nutrients to bolster your health this winter
Even with healthy eating, many people suffer from nutrient deficiencies. More than one in four Germans (28 percent) regularly take dietary supplements,9 most commonly magnesium, calcium and iron.10 Supplements are becoming increasingly popular thanks to a wealth of research about the positive impact they can have on your health. For example, vitamin C demonstrably strengthens the immune system and can reduce the severity of colds.
The mineral selenium is also an important component of the body’s own defense system and promotes immunity. Vitamin D is important for the immune system as well as for bone growth. Studies have identified a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and warding off various infections, such as in the respiratory system.11
During a pandemic, protecting your own health also protects others in your community
In view of the continuing emergence of new viral diseases, Bayer is intensifying the development of nutritional supplements to boost the immune system. Studies show that the intestinal tract plays a key role in immune defense, and it contains 80 percent of the body’s immune cells. “Therefore, we are developing products with probiotic bacterial cultures and other innovative ingredients. These can help prepare the immune system to meet new challenges,” says Dr. Eichler. Strengthening the immune system should always be a priority. But it is even more crucial during a pandemic: When our health has a direct influence on the health of our neighbors, friends and family, strengthening our health becomes an act of selflessness and solidarity that will help to overcome the coronavirus crisis.
Our innate immune defense system reacts quickly and nonspecifically to bacteria and viruses. Scavenger cells (macrophages) surround the foreign body, break it down and present it on their surface. Then they release messenger substances that attract additional immune cells. The scavenger cells also play a role in triggering the next stage of defense: They send the T-killer cells a signal to destroy all foreign cells. What makes it a little different is the immune system stores the characteristics of the pathogen. If a new infection occurs, the body can respond more rapidly and more effectively. Vaccines also use this principle.12